CAMDEN—Though not on the official roster, Jack Churchill’s steampunk buggy was one of the more memorable additions to September’s Mini Maker Faire. A functional art piece on wheels, the buggy is Churchill’s latest project that took two and a half months to build with the help of local electrical engineer, Alex Taliadouros.
“I wanted people to stop on the street, look at it and say ‘WTF?’” he said.
The ‘73 VW dune buggy was in a dilapidated state when he’d purchased it earlier this spring.
“The engine worked great; it was basically just a frame,” he said. “We towed it home and stripped it down. Alex did all the welding. I did all the steampunk stuff.”
The street rod, though it looks like it might fall apart, is actually street legal. Churchill had to classify it as an antique, so he didn’t have to go through the hassle of registering it, but if needed be, the buggy would pass inspection. He retrofitted it with all new disc brakes, ball joints, working turn signals, seat belts and even a back-up camera.
Steampunk accents are evident in the details; in the rivets, leather, copper, brass.
“All of the things in Victorian era which comprised steam machines,” he said.
To get the authentic rusted-out look on the aesthetic parts of the buggy, Churchill applied three coats of vinegar, followed by a coat of hydrogen peroxide and salt.
“It started to rust in 10 seconds,” he said.
Then, he left it out a couple of weeks to let Mother Nature finish the job.
At the Faire, when Churchill took it for a spin in town, the buggy attracted people like bees to a flower. It’s a vehicle rife with inside jokes, such as the “Violation” ticket in the upper left hand corner of the windshield.
“It’s the kind of thing where if you get closer, you start walk around the whole car, noticing more and more things that will make you laugh,” he said. “It’s basically a honey trap. When people come over to look at it really closely, that’s when the fun begins.”
A retired film director, Churchill paid homage to the industry and people who love films with a number of hidden meanings in the buggy, such as the Red Rider BB lever-action gun from A Christmas Story.
“I was going to originally put the phrase ‘You’re going to put your eye out, kid’ on the buggy, but let the prop tell the story instead,” he said.
Prominently displayed on the right rear side is a “dead” upside down stuffed parrot in a cage, a tribute to the Dead Parrot Monty Python sketch.
“That’s probably the funniest thing Monty Python ever did in a sketch,” he said.
Then there are the subtle details, such as the vent on the hood of the buggy which is a set of “barn doors” or a light modifier with a paper clip attached to it.
“In the days of forced lighting with barn doors, you always had to have a piece of blue film clipped to the barn doors to balance the daylight,” he said. “That one is for the filmmakers.”
“Everybody loves two things on the car,” said Churchill. “One, that the headrests are made from old catchers’ mitts and two, that the bumper is fitted out with two Crocs so you don’t hit your shins on it. I added those details to give people some glee.”
Churchill has been asked several times if he planned to sell it and he says no, and that’s not the point.
“The point is just to have fun building it,” he said. “I’m sure it will end up in a museum somewhere, but now my attention in onto the next thing.”
Check out our video of getting a ride in the steampunk buggy.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org