It’s Time to Enjoy Burning Man Art Cars Again!

Famous event will return after a three-year hiatus. It is time for us to talk about the unique art cars that have been an important part of Burning Man since the 1980s!

2017 Krewe of the Dusty Playa by John Valentino (source: Ales aka Dust to Ashes)

After the last official edition held in 2019, Burning Man will finally happen again! From the simple bonfire ritual that took place in 1986, the event has grown a lot. It is now a very large non-profit project that aims to “bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community, and civic engagement.”

On AutomoBible, we have a particular interest in all that because of the famous Burning Man cars. To be more specific, the countless art cars that appear there year after year. They perfectly represent the spirit of freedom and self-expression that characterizes the event. If you want to get started by learning about this car type in general, take a look at our page. Now, if you are ready to go, just keep scrolling here!

What is Burning Man all about?

The event embodies ten principles which give us a good idea of how to answer that. Basically, it strives to be a safe space for people to express themselves and gather in a spirit of community. While each one has all that freedom, they also have the duty to respect one another. Hosting such event at an empty beach is a nice idea because it provides a literally huge space. It is open for pretty much all expressions of art.

Bathtub Art Car at Burning Man
Bathtub Art Car by Henry Wu

Another important part of the Burning Man event is that it protects the environment. The “Leaving no Trace” principle defends that any activity must end keeping the surroundings the way they were or better, whenever possible. Such train of thought is very important in the age of music festivals, where everyone is obsessed with social media. Most of those events end in a huge mess of discarded materials of all types. It is always a tough challenge for the local authorities to dispose of all that in a sustainable way.

Speaking of music festivals, another beautiful difference in favor of Burning Man is Decommodification. In other words, the event uses no commercial sponsorship or advertisement. This is essential for its proposal of creating a whole new experience of community. The whole event embraces the idea of gifting, of good actions executed without expectations of a reward. Consumerism is definitely not a target here.

Tell me about Burning Man vehicles

As usual in vehicle art, the only similarity with regular cars is the presence of wheels and powertrain. That is actually part of why art cars are so interesting. They are a whole new interpretation of what a car should be. Most of them stay closer to the concept of a moving sculpture rather than a device for transportation. Now, while there are no rules for what they can show, they do have to comply with some requirements.

The Epiffany & Co. Art Car at Burning Man
The Epiffany & Co. by Scott London

The event uses the term “mutant vehicles” to refer to them. Having that in mind, it is only natural that the entity that regulates them is a very special… DMV. Motor Trend once reported that attendees must apply months ahead to earn an invitation to take their vehicle to the event. Everyone has to reapply every year because the goal is to bring fresh art cars. Since the number of spots is limited, expectations are high. Many mutant vehicles are very expensive to build.

As the photos anticipate, there is everything from small projects based on golf carts to huge, extravagant mutant vehicles. The DMV’s main requirement for approval is that there is no visible trace of the base car. According to the event’s principles, it is also good that participants are willing to share their experiences. Another perk is that drivers are open to receiving guests; some cars have onboard bars and dance floors!

Mayan Warrior art car

A regular attendee among mutant vehicles is the Mayan Warrior. A group of Mexican tech entrepreneurs partnered with artists to develop what has become a major attraction. An International 4400 heavy-duty truck received blazing neon, laser lights, loudspeakers, a DJ booth, and the signature Mayan head which replaces the cabin. Pablo Gonzalez Vargas is the responsible for the creation of the Mayan Warrior.

Mayan Warrior at the 2018 Burning Man
Mayan Warrior by Nicholas K. Hess

While the car itself is a big hit, it offers much more. In short, it hosts a DJ show that goes throughout the night like a rave party. Vargas brings a different DJ every year along with laser shows and a 100% Mayan decoration. As NBC has published, “Colorful, geometric bracelets constructed by Huichol people are coming along for the ride”. Vargas says that “each bracelet is handmade and it takes one day to make.” However, the event places rules to prevent it from making a music festival of its presence.

As you can see, “mutant vehicles” are important to Burning Man for countless reasons. Harrod Blank is a prominent car artist and has attended multiple editions with his Oh My God! art car. According to him, “the real difference between the art cars and Burning Man is that once the man is burned and everyone goes home, the art cars continue to carry the torch year round… And against the flow of traffic!”

Frequently asked questions

How many art cars does Burning Man have?

In 2019, the event accepted a total of 600 cars. Volunteer judges received over a thousand applications.

What are art cars at Burning Man?

They are a big attraction at the event. Basically, the requirements are to hide any traces of the base car and to develop a high-quality customization. There are cars of all types of themes you can imagine.

What is OMG Sale Burning Man?

It is essentially a last-chance sale of tickets. Besides, it follows the first-come, first-served style and requires registration. Event organizers usually make a large number of tickets available at first. Since there are always some people who drop out last minute, these unsold tickets go to the OMG sale.

Author Profile

Danillo Almeida has explored his passion for cars in two distinct ways. The first one is his graduation course in Mechanical Engineering, which will hopefully lead to a job position in the field. The other one is expressing his knowledge and opinions on the matter through writing. Almeida has already contributed to blogs, stores, and websites in general writing automotive content in many formats.