Art on Wheels

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    Funkiest Autos: Laguna Beach

    Get the inside scoop on Laguna Beach’s funkiest autos.- By Dana Nichols | Photos by Rick Graves

    From the hustle-bustle of Coast Highway to each narrow shaded street and driveway, the cars we drive tell the world a little bit about who we are. Self-expression on the road is one of the most timeless dialogues in Southern California, so grab a spot in the passenger’s seat of Laguna Beach’s most customized, off-the-wall rides.

    Local Talent
    Artist Anthony Valdez is the man behind the paint job of many of Laguna’s restored cars and motorcycles. “I’ve done pretty much all the classic cars in town. You could sit on PCH and within an hour you’ll see at least one car that I’ve painted,” says the Laguna Beach resident of 23 years.  Among the restored vehicles to roll in and out of his Laguna Canyon studio are city councilman Kelly Boyd’s Laguna Beach Classic Car Show favorites, including a 1940s Ford Ragtop, guitarist Pete Vedder’s 1966 T-Bird, and surfboard shaper Fly’s two-tone 1955 Chevy Bel Air Peggy Sue, painted gypsy red and shoreline beige. “She’s a proud looking ride now,” says Fly (born Pierre Van Swae), who restored Peggy Sue in just two years. “It was painted under a canopy outside. I was a little hesitant, but when all’s said and done, you’d never know.” Up next, Valdez plans to work on Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins’ Corvette. But one of Valdez’s most inspired works sits in his own driveway. The old Bronco with an airbrushed wave on the side “has a pretty interesting story,” explains the artist. It was originally red when he and Tom Binkley, who taught him the auto-painting business, rebuilt it together and sold it off. Years later he was in the Salt Creek parking lot and recognized the vaguely familiar car interior. “They guy was selling it for $1,500. I was looking for a truck, so it ended up back in my hands,” he says. A little primer and wave art make it one of the best-looking vehicles seen on the off-roading trails. “It’s definitely a Laguna piece,” Anthony says. Not bad for something that’s rolled over three or four times in the dirt.
    Keyboard Mosaic
    Not many cars come with a glue gun in the back, but the 1998 Mitsubishi Galant that Susan Yoon bought 3.5 years ago in Los Angeles did. It also came with a bag of extra old-fashioned teleprompter keys with commands like “single space” and “here is” for doing patchwork to the yellow, pink, white, blue and lavender mosaic that covers the car’s entire body. Designs include Homer Simpson, a peace sign, a set of eyes, the looping infinity symbol and a rainbow. If you’ve seen the car at a local intersection, you’ve probably noticed “Have a Nice Day” spelled out on the back; well, next time look closer for Bob Marley’s face on the right rear door and the yin and yang symbol on the roof. Someone obviously put a lot of work into this, but who?

    “As much as I would love to take credit for it, it was two owners ago—an artist—a girl in San Francisco,” Susan says. Susan, who is a sushi chef at the artsy 242 Café Fusion Sushi, bought it from a subsequent owner in Glendale. They wouldn’t have sold it to her if she hadn’t been a creative type.

    “I was moving to Laguna and that was a selling point for them. They wanted someone who was artsy, who wasn’t going to be a grump when people ask questions about it,” she explains. “I thought it was perfect for me and it would be appreciated here.”

    Getting a lot of double-takes on the road can have its snags: Imagine changing lanes with the car next to you trying to speed up for a better look, or, naturally, added attention from the police. “When I get a ticket the cop writes ‘multi’ for the color,” Susan says with a laugh (the original color is maroon). With all these distractions, it’s not surprising that the car has been in a fender-bender at least once. “When I bought it, it had been in an accident on the right side,” she says. “But he had picked up all the keys.” Gun of silicone epoxy to the rescue (at least repair work doesn’t require a password).

    Big Wheels for the Well-Heeled

    Victoria Hawlish’s friends always know how to find her—without any phone calls—because her black Hummer H2 airbrushed in hot pink is such a standout. “Everybody knows us here by our cars,” she says. “I’ll be at a restaurant and my friends will see my car, and all of a sudden it becomes a group of 15.”

    Victoria and her husband Jeff, who have lived in Laguna Beach since 2006 with their two high-school aged children and family-owned specialty construction company, have a collection of nine show cars and 18 motorcycles, but her 2007 Hummer H2 and his 2006 Mini Cooper are their everyday cars. The intricate $20,000 custom paint jobs are by Laguna Beach Village Gallery artist Patrick Guyton, who the couple has followed and commissioned to paint a mural in their home as well. So when it was time to have “two of the most interesting cars in Laguna,” Victoria says, they ordered the cars and started talking design with Patrick. On hers, auto paint in grey, pink and magenta show a Van Helsing vampire and Victoria herself. It’s been called “Monster Truck” by others, but to her, it’s about freedom: “It makes the statement, take the chains off. Free yourself from the binds and shackles of everyday life.” On his Mini Cooper, with custom seats for his 6-foot-8-inch frame, skulls, spiders and flames engulf the car in an overpowering work of airbrush art.

    The cars have made appearances at the SEMA auto show in Las Vegas, airbrush industry magazines and on an episode of “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” but their favorite place to get noticed will always be on the streets of Laguna Beach. Victoria envisions a pearl white Bentley with faded flames of yellow in her driveway next—a sure thing of beauty against a Laguna Beach sunset.

    When Norman and Ying Clark customized their 1948 Willys Jeepster six years ago into a Polynesian cruiser with real bamboo poles and a thatch roof, they completed one of the biggest and most transportable additions to the family’s collection of South Pacific flair. What they didn’t anticipate was how much the family English bulldog, Hobie, would love riding shotgun. “Whenever he hears the engine start, he perks right up,” says Ying. Hobie has been the subject of countless strangers’ snapshots out for weekend cruises up and down Coast Highway, from Newport Beach to San Clemente. Ying laughs: “People are constantly taking photos.”

    The car, originally a convertible, is upholstered in Hawaiian flower print and painted ocean blue. It reflects the couple’s love of Tahiti—they were married there in 1995 and own property on Huahine Island—and Hawaii, where they travel often. But since they recently found a detailed keepsake replica of their rare, one-of-a-kind car on the shelves of Albertsons, it’s fair to say these wheels are 100 percent Laguna Beach.

    Moon Doggie 

    When Norman and Ying Clark customized their 1948 Willys Jeepster six years ago into a Polynesian cruiser with real bamboo poles and a thatch roof, they completed one of the biggest and most transportable additions to the family’s collection of South Pacific flair. What they didn’t anticipate was how much the family English bulldog, Hobie, would love riding shotgun. “Whenever he hears the engine start, he perks right up,” says Ying. Hobie has been the subject of countless strangers’ snapshots out for weekend cruises up and down Coast Highway, from Newport Beach to San Clemente. Ying laughs: “People are constantly taking photos.”

    The car, originally a convertible, is upholstered in Hawaiian flower print and painted ocean blue. It reflects the couple’s love of Tahiti—they were married there in 1995 and own property on Huahine Island—and Hawaii, where they travel often. But since they recently found a detailed keepsake replica of their rare, one-of-a-kind car on the shelves of Albertsons, it’s fair to say these wheels are 100 percent Laguna Beach.

    The Bug from Outer Space

    The most meaningful reactions Scott Alangets when he’s driving his space-groovy 1961 Volkswagen Beetle around Laguna Beach are from kids in adjacent cars, probably wondering how someone got a life-sized Neytiri character from “Avatar” on his hood.

    “One time I was driving down Crown Valley Parkway and an SUV full of kids were all looking and pointing,” says the self-employed artist. “And then I see mom going, ‘Don’t look.’ ” He wants to correct her: “No look, it’s art!” But then he jokes: “She probably didn’t want them doing that to her car.”

    Alan bought the unpainted, dingy old car in 1995 when he was a hairstylist working in San Francisco. A group of graffiti artists offered to paint over its unsightly appearance with a space theme and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as an extra terrestrial. “I was like, well, I’ve been collecting art, I might as well drive it.”

    Since Alan moved to Laguna Beach in 1999, he’s moved on from Our Lady of Guadalupe and evolved the space theme. “I’ve since grown with it. I have kind of become an artist through that car,” he says.

    Five interchangeable hoods include the Y2K bug, Darth Maul, Marvin the Martian, Silver Surfer and “Avatar,” plus an illuminated “space dragonfly.” He uses found objects, memoirs of friends and a bit of lacquer; each hood costs $15 or $20 in materials. Its usual parking spot is on Forest Avenue in front of Scandia Bakery & Coffee Shop, where Scott displays a sign in the driver’s seat asking for donations.

    “I put everything I make back in the car.” he says. “People from all over the world have taken pictures of it; that it’s going all over the world means more to me than making cash.” Once a year he takes his “bug” on tours to art car enthusiast gatherings.

    “The fewer cars out there that are boring black and white the better,” he says. “Who wants a car like that?” LBM


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