If you happen to be in the Reno area this week, you might see some strange-looking vehicles, some running under their own power, but most riding on trailers. It’s that time of the year when the crazy Mutant Vehicles (or “MVs”) begin arriving for Burning Man.
We got a chance to get a sneak peek at several MVs being built or modified for the 2019 Burning Man. They ranged from well-known MVs undergoing minor changes, such as Henry Chang’s famed, giant stainless steel, tubular-framed, rolling art masterpieces, to brand-new creations based on anything from motor homes to electric golf carts—or built entirely from scratch.
For the past few months, hundreds of “burners” have been working their butts off as they finish creating MVs that will trek to northern Nevada’s infamous Black Rock Desert for the 34th annual extravagance (don’t call it a festival) that runs August 25 through September 2.
Mutant Vehicles have become an increasingly popular way for people to create some amazing pieces of rolling art (check out last year’s highlights here). Because of the growing number of MVs, Burning Man has created a Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV). And like any bureaucracy flexing its muscles, it has become much stricter in what it approves, despite the laissez-faire attitude of the event.
The fundamental rule is that no part of the donor vehicle (aside from the lower edge of the tires) should be visible. Oh, and the nighttime light displays need to be awesome.
Once an MV is ready for Black Rock City on the Playa, it’s difficult to see what’s underneath its clothing. The reverse proved true when we saw more than a dozen MVs in partially built form—it’s often difficult to envision what they will look like when completed. For that we need to wait another week to see them in their glory.
Here, then, is a brief look at some semi-naked MVs out of their natural habitat.
David Shields, who constructs props for the movie industry, has been building MVs for several years, both for himself and for other participants. His major build this year was fabricated from scratch on a Crown Victoria chassis. Originally, he planned to bondo the hand-fabricated steel bodywork and paint it. But once he had welded all the parts together, he felt it would look better left alone and covered in a clear coat. Last year’s Wet Pussy bathtub (hey now, family website…), which was built on an electric golf cart chassis, has been modified this year.
Las Vegas-based Henry Chang, a talented industrial art designer, brings his three MVs each year. These intricately built Mutant Vehicles might not carry many passengers, but they draw crowds. This year he has altered the rear axles and suspension on his Flux Capacitor.
Bill Real, who with his father, has an interesting fabrication shop in Pasadena, California, is another burner who creates MVs for himself and for friends. Additionally, he rents out space for other MV builders and artists who might not have their own space. This year he’s adding wings to his cute electric-powered Bumble Bee. At the same time we visited, his friend Benny Parkes was busy welding a frame on his electric golf-cart-based MV.
Yes, you can even make an art car out of a wrecked Mercedes-Benz E 300. Kevin Marion, who lives in Santa Barbara, turned his into an MV last year. He managed to get it approved but was told he’d need to substantially improve it before appearing this year. He and friends have created a new MV that has soft foam covers with platforms for passengers and a “brain” that will be mounted high above the vehicle. Unlike most MVs we’ve seen, he chose to use wood for framing since nobody on the team has welding skills.
When we first saw Chris Germano’s impressive high-tech electric MV in the L.A. area, we immediately noted what looked like a braking system from a regular car. Yes… that’s the front suspension, steering, and brake system from a Mazda Miata. The rear axle, suspension, and diff were also taken off an old Miata. He then built an aluminum frame using preformed aluminum extrusions bolted together—no welding. It’s a skill he hasn’t yet mastered, and since his garage is in a high-density townhouse community, it probably would be frowned upon anyway. He used a 3-D printer to make custom packs for the 760 battery cells that power the 3-kW electric motor and the 12,000-plus LED lights. The 3-D printer also created plastic semi-transparent bodywork.
“Pyrobar” is a regular on the Playa, built on a 1956 Ford C600 truck chassis that has evolved and changed over the years and is now powered by a ’73 Ford 460 big block. The current owner, Mark Goerner of Santa Barbara, is fortunate to live in a mixed-use part of the touristy town, so he’s able to park this giant MV in his yard without raising any eyebrows. It’s even visible in satellite view on Google Maps.
Believe it or not, David Cox is able to park Torch, his fire-breathing dragon MV, outside his home in Costa Mesa, California. Luckily, he’s on a quiet suburban street and kids of all ages are more than happy to see this MV in their neighborhood. Last year the engine in the GMC Safari minivan seized. Only after some searching was he able to find a mechanic willing to swap the engine in the mutilated minivan.
Scott Miller is an IT professional who lives in Santa Maria, California. Despite having no experience with vehicles, he built this electric chassis from scratch, learning on the fly the welding and electrical skills for reliable running in the heat and incredible dust thrown up on the Playa. The major change under the “hood” on this year’s small remote-controlled 6WD vehicle is installation of battery packs from a wrecked Nissan Leaf in place of the old lead-acid batteries.
Stone Larkin normally spends his days creating metalwork art. But he goes big with his MV, which is built on an old diesel pusher motorhome. This year, “Savage Island” is being extensively modified with even larger dance platforms. We visited him in a remote area of the Mojave Desert in California, which just happens to also be the home of Ian Rousse, the host of Full Custom Garage. The build is being documented and will be shown on a future episode.
Many MV owners rely on financial help from fellow burners who join them in specific camps at Black Rock Desert. Some, such Maria Poliak from Toronto, go as far as organizing a show for locals in order to raise funds. She is heavily involved with several Canadian MVs currently convoying from Toronto.
Along with 70,000-plus Burning Man participants, we now wait in anticipation to see these particular MVs fully dressed, as well as many of the other 500-plus art cars and Mutant Vehicles that will traverse the Playa Black Rock Desert at no more than 5 mph.
We’ll bring you a collection of some of the best MVs of 2019 Burning Manin a photo feature sometime in mid-September.