Route 66 Series: Crazy Car Art

It’s a thing, I’m telling you. All along Route 66, from Chicago to LA, you will find it. Charming small towns, unique souvenir hunting, memorable stops, and… car art. Old cars that have outlived their usefulness on the road, that have rusted away to nothing but a hollowed-out hulk, but they still have that potent mix of charm and nostalgia. They can still draw crowds, and they still have something to give. What to do with these old hunks of junk that remind us what driving used to be like? The answer, according to many towns along Route 66, is to turn them into art.

It was one of my favorite things about traveling on the Mother Road. So many towns had old fashioned cars sitting outside of old fashioned gas pump stations. Hovering in the corners of old motels. Sitting happily in auto mechanic parking lots. In part thanks to the movie Cars, many of them had eyes put into the windshields to give them happy humanistic features, almost making them look like an old friend you could carry on a conversation with.


Like this stop in Galena, Kansas. A historic pump station that used to be owned by four women who called it “Four Women on the Route.” Now, the place is called “Cars on the Route,” and it pays direct homage to Pixar’s Route 66 masterpiece. When you stop at this little charming place in Galena, you can actually meet beloved Tow-Mater and Red, the shy, plant-loving firetruck.

But it isn’t only the movie Cars that has inspired the people along Route 66. In most cases, it is graffiti art that has given those old rusty cars a whole new look. The most famous example has to be Cadillac Ranch – an iconic line of old Cadillacs shoved face-down in the dirt, and then dabbled with spray paint and graffiti by several visitors over several years.


Cadillac Ranch can be found just outside of Amarillo, Texas, and it was brought to you in 1974, by an art-hippie group known collectively as the Ant Farm. That, and the funds of an eccentric millionaire named Stanley Marsh. Together, they decided they wanted to place a piece of art in the vast Texas fields that would baffle both the locals and the tourists. So they baked up the idea of burying some Cadillacs face-down in the dirt. Allegedly an attempt to show off the evolution of the Cadillac tail-fin, but probably more to just have fun burying some cars in the dirt. Sounds like a real gas (does that count as a car pun?)

Whatever their motives, once the artwork was in place, tourists and locals alike made quick work of coming out to the field and destroying the cars – either by adding their own graffiti gusto, or by ripping and pulling off pieces of the cars to take home as souvenirs. While the Ant Farm was at first annoyed by these juvenile stunts, they soon saw the beauty and bright colors the graffiti art brought to the old automobiles, and they eventually encouraged people to add their own personal flare to their work.


As the decades have passed, the Cadillacs have been painted over so many times, by so many people, that they’re absolutely covered in dry, cracked, spongy, and rubbery old paint. It’s not hard to imagine the paint layer being a few inches thick in some spots. And as for souvenir hunters, they’ve stripped the cars down to the bare minimum, although that doesn’t seem to have taken away from their immense appeal. Today, Cadillac Ranch remains one of the most iconic stops on Route 66, attracting people from all over the world for photo ops, Instagram selfies, spray painting, and all other kinds of roadside antics.

My husband and I had the great pleasure of visiting Cadillac Ranch in 2019. Although a cloudy day kind of messed up my chances for some of the more picturesque desert-y shots, it’s hard to get ugly pictures of Cadillac Ranch. Because the place is truly unique… if you can handle the spray paint fumes, which permeate the entire field.

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And while Cadillac Ranch does have its own special kind of charm, it’s not the only place on Route 66 where one can find cars buried face-down in the dirt. Not far away from Cadillac Ranch, in the quiet town of Conway, Texas, travelers can also make a pit stop at VW Slug Bug Ranch. An obvious parody to its Cadillac counterpart, VW Slug Bug Ranch sits on a mostly abandoned property, with an empty, dilapidated motel and pump station nearby. It consists of about a half-dozen old slug bugs buried face-down in the dirt. The same rules apply. People can come spray paint and pose with the cars as they see fit (watch out for rattlesnakes though – they love to nest in those cars).

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Despite its charms, the history of Slug Bug ranch is a bit clouded in obscurity (or spray paint). Some accounts credit the ranch to the Crutchfield family – a family who, in 2002, got pitted against corporate America when their two small businesses were overshadowed by a large travel plaza. In order to entice more customers to their shops, they came up with VW Slug Bug Ranch. It wasn’t enough to save their businesses, but the idea still stuck. While it never reached the level of fame as its Cadillac counterpart, VW Slug Bug Ranch still attracts a lot of photographers and curious travelers. Including my husband and me, who enjoyed this little stop every bit as much as we enjoyed Cadillac Ranch. Honestly, it was actually kind of nice to be able to get some pictures without having to dodge so many other tourists.

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While VW Slug Bug Ranch and Cadillac Ranch might take the cake (as well as VW Rabbit Ranch, photographed below, which can be viewed at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch (click here)), there are lots of other shining examples of car art along the old Route 66. Some of them much more on the simple side. Like the colorful old cars in Seligman, Arizona. An old hippie van plastered with stickers and writing, a rusted old automobile from the 1920s, and lots of vintage pickup trucks round out some of the cheerful, happy displays on this cute little roadside town. Some of the cars there have even been turned into planters, bedecked with potted flowers and vibrant desert plants.




Then there are the cars that just sit silently underneath the faded neon signs of barely visited old hotels. Quietly reminding people what life used to be like when those lights shone brightly. When people swarmed these places. When the road was so much more alive. Also a reminder that old things don’t always have to be tossed aside and forgotten. They can be repurposed. They can still make people smile.


At the very least, it certainly made me smile. Not just because I have a taste for vintage things, but also because it’s just kind of neat, isn’t it? In a uniquely human way, Route 66 locals have turned something that others might deem useless, that others might have even tossed into a junkyard, into a priceless works of art. Art that has paid for itself time and again with making people who glance upon it happy. And in today’s world, smiles and happiness go a long way.

Route 66 may have been bypassed by the modern world, but its spirit lives on. Thanks in large part to the stunning car art, and the new life it has breathed into an old, forgotten road.



 Route 66 Road Trip – 2019

The Illustrated Route 66 Historical Atlas – J. Hinckley

Route 66 Road Trip – Moon & C. Taylor



Photos by M.B. Henry – for more from Route 66, click here.



73 Comments on “Route 66 Series: Crazy Car Art

  1. I was going to say maybe someone could plant some flowers in those cars – but, well, someone beat me to that . 🙂
    This was a great post!

    • 🙂 I wish I had taken a picture, because it was quite cute! Someone had taken an old rusted out pick up and just covered it with potted plants!

      • Thanks, Dave! The 66 is a treasure trove for unique old cars!

  2. Neil Gaiman’s book “American Gods” explores our fascination with cars and roadside attractions on old highways. It seems to be one of those things that is uniquely American.

    • We do have a strange obsession with cars! And it is especially evident on 66. I’d be interested in checking out that book.

  3. Here I am living vicariously through your travels on the 66! Sigh. Lovely post, me and my camera would be so happy there!

    • Oh my goodness, you would have a wonderful time on 66, and I can only imagine the fabulous pictures you would get, since you’re so talented!

    • It remains one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken! Highly recommend!

    • It’s a blast! 🙂 I highly recommend it if you ever have the opportunity!

  4. These pictures are amazing and the story was excellent! My faves are Slug Bug and Cadillac Ranch. Awesome artwork! It brings back memories of my Flower Child years!

    • We didn’t add any of our own spray paint flare, I was just happy to be able to take some pictures! But a lot of people there were spray painting and it looked like fun!

  5. Thank you for this fun post, M.B. I enjoyed your photos and think you capture the spirit behind the recycled cars with the following words: “Also a reminder that old things don’t always have to be tossed aside and forgotten. They can be repurposed. They can still make people smile.”

    • Yay! It’s such a great old highway with lots of charm still!

  6. I love the “Cars” selfie! That bit about the motels made me wonder: Did you stay in the old funky motels all along the route? And if so, did you ever regret it?

    • We didn’t typically stay in the older hotels – we camped when we could and then stayed at more modern places when we did have to hotel it. If there is a next time for us doing 66, I’d like to try staying in some of those older places and see how it is!

      • I’ve grown used to the comforts of places like Hampton Inn when I’m not van camping! Totally understandable.

      • Same! 🙂 Plus I have a bit of a bed bug paranoia so I like to stay in places I’m familiar with.

  7. Always great to see the old famous Route 66, great car art, its interesting how someones idea can be changed by others carrying a can of paint!! That got me to thinking why would one travel with with rattle cans eh! I must remember to pack some on our next trip Ha Ha.
    The other thing that amuses me is the way Americans pronounce Route, as in rout, we say it as Root,food for though how things are pronounce differently from state to state, country to country.
    Now to the serious side!! Finished the book in record time and absolutely loved it, so well done,so exciting even though it was set in horrific times, a big pat on the back and I’m sure we all look forward to your next treasure. Full points to your husband and the team that helped you come up with such an amazing book.

    • Yay!! I’m so glad you finished the book and that you enjoyed it! There’s been some delays for book two, but I’m hoping to have something else out real soon! It makes me very happy that you enjoyed it so much!

    • There’s definitely something to be said for the simple, gentle, rusted old cars that are a little quieter 🙂 I enjoyed those just as much. And I’m glad the gas pun counts!!

  8. It’s something I always wanted to see!
    “Get your kicks on Route Sixty-Six!”

    • You would love it! And yes, one can still get many kicks on that old highway! 🙂

  9. Dear M.Bl, Your name came up in my email and I couldn’t WAIT to get here this morning. As GP stated, “Get your kicks on Route 66!” Friend, Springfield, MO has its annual Route 66 festival. Years ago I enjoyed traveling and stopping at the places you so wonderfully shared (yes, Cadillac Ranch!). I’m sure that my quotes, “Life is too short for bad coffee” and, “You are Loved” have been sprayed over many many times since 2019. Thinking of you my friend while I’m in a surreal and strange world of my own. My apologies I’m not more present here. Thank you for bringing joy and love through shared history! You’re a kindred sister! Much love, hugs, and prayers-Karla

    • My historical soul sister! 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and that it gave you a smile! Happy to be able to do that for you! Thanks so much for visiting, it’s always a pleasure to hear from you!

  10. Wondrous post! My personal favorite was the Cadillac Ranch, but I actually loved them all.
    I have often wondered about the long forgotten sad cars abandoned in fields of dreams, and now I see creative folks have made them come alive again! Route 66 continues to rock!

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  12. Peggy and I love Route 66, MB, but most of our time on it has been Out West. We have also enjoyed other historic routes such as the Lincoln Highway. I never had seen the buried cars. That would be a kick. Thanks for the tour.

    • The western half was probably my favorite! 🙂 Especially Oatman. I’d love to take the Lincoln Highway too, especially after reading Amor Towels’ book about it! 🙂

  13. I have been in Amarillo and driven on Route 66 but somehow we missed Cadillac Ranch! The shot of you and the CARS characters was great. K x

    • It’s in a field outside of town, a bit of a ways off the road, it can be hard to spot if you’re not looking for it!

      • That explains it! We were traveling in a Mustang through unexpected deep snow so our eyes were on the road. 👀

      • Yikes! Definitely want to keep your eyes on the road in the snow!

  14. Ah, Route 66. I travelled it as a kid, and there was so many kitschy little tourist stops. I’ve seen pictures of the Cadillac Ranch before the graffitti — I think like it even better now!

    • I think I like the graffiti better too! It gives it a bit more colorful flare! 🙂

  15. Part car, part tombstone. A Khartoum? As colorful as they are, I’d be tempted to shoot them in black and white.

    • I actually wish I would have grabbed a few shots in black and white, because I agree it would probably look amazing!

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  17. I’ll say it: I much prefer the non-commercialized, rusting away farm equipment and cars I find here and there to those that have been utilized as advertising or so-called art. I never would go a mile out of my way to see the Cadillac Ranch; I think it’s an ugly blight on the landscape. (Now I’m wondering: what’s the female version of a curmudgeon?) That said, the Seligman Sundries truck appealed, and the one advertising the Fabulous Forty Motel. I notice it has a vacancy, but I think I’d pass on that one!

    • Haha! Yeah we didn’t stay there either! So I don’t blame you. And to each their own with the car art! 🙂 I can agree that it’s not for everybody! And I also agree that there’s something extra charming about the rusting old cars that remind us of an earlier time.

  18. I have mixed feelings on “car art”. I find old cars to be art in themselves, so things like the Cadillac Ranch strike me as more the slo-mo obliteration of art.

    I prefer the cars and trucks that are left alone, but then I’m sad that nobody fixes them up. Yes, I’m weird.

    • I don’t think you’re weird! 🙂 I totally get it – the car art definitely isn’t for everyone, and there is definitely something endearing about those quiet old cars that are left alone. I also agree that it’s always nice to see them fixed up and restored.

  19. Love, LOVE the colours and art on both car exhibits. These ideas would never have occurred to me. How daring to half-bury the Cadillacs that way!

    • The 66 is just filled with quirky little things like this, we very much enjoyed that trip! I’d love to go again someday 🙂

  20. What an amazing post! My absolute favorite was the Cadillac Ranch, but I honestly loved all of them. I’ve always wondered about those old, abandoned cars left in fields, but now I see that creative people have brought them back to life! Route 66 is still awesome!

    • Route 66 definitely hasn’t lost all of its charms 🙂 So glad you enjoyed the post!

  21. Nice reflection M.B. You are a fill of historical passion!♥️♥️☕️☕️

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