Having endured lousy reviews and the insults of Panhandle weather, one of the stars of Cadillac Ranch is entering rehab.
The roof has rusted away from a junker Caddie, a first at the mercurial monument rising from the Earth off Interstate 40 just west of Amarillo.
Stanley Marsh 3, the Ranch’s patron saint, isn’t sure when the top dropped from the vintage auto situated second from the west in the row of 10 buried nose down in the flatlands. But he knows what needs to be done: Amarillo artist Lightnin’ McDuff will have to operate.
“Eventually it will have its head back on,” said Marsh, the millionaire and jester who orchestrated the move of the roadside wonder in 1997 to its current location from a spot two miles east. “Lightnin’ McDuff is a real good welder. I always get the best and give them credit.”
Observers have described Cadillac Ranch, installed almost four decades ago, as everything from “a serious place in the history of the ridiculous” to “an American folly” to a mere “point of interest.” Marsh describes the line of four-wheeled relics more whimsically.
“The dominant feature of the Panhandle is the horizon line,” he said. “Having those fins cut the horizon line, it’s magical.”
Except for that headless heap. McDuff pledges the repair will begin soon.
“I’ve been waiting for the weather to warm back up. I can’t hardly take that into the shop,” McDuff said. “I’ll have to build a framework to straighten it back out and have something to weld to. If the weatherman’s not lying, I should be doing something on it next week.”
A California architectural cooperative called the Ant Farm originally installed the Cadillacs during the summer solstice of 1974. Graffiti artists turned the cars into a metal canvas.
And the creation turned iconic, mused and fawned over in songs by Bruce Springsteen and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, depicted in Pixar’s animated hit “Cars” and appearing in movies and documentaries and on album covers.
“Cadillac Ranch wasn’t made by any one person,” Marsh said. “It was made by everyone who has done anything to it.” Still, Marsh is forever linked to the Ranch.
“I first heard about (the line of standing Caddies) from a biker in Tulsa about 1976,” said Mark Morey, who teaches humanities classes at Amarillo College and has worked as curator of research at the Amarillo Museum of Art.
“He told me there was this crazy, rich guy in Amarillo who stuck Cadillacs in the ground. The myth had already become the reality that he had created it. It reached an extremely layperson’s level that quickly.”
The Cadillacs ended up in a row, from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville, parallel to U.S. Route 66 and leaning at an angle said to be the same as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
“Based on research I’ve seen, Stanley and (his wife) Wendy had a fair amount of input into the arrangement,” Morey said. “The Ant Farm wanted to arrange them more randomly.”
Marsh saw a deeper vision.
Driving along I-40 “you see one fender in front of another then, when you’re directly across from it, you see the profiles. That’s just the right view, but it’s ephemeral,” Marsh said. “It’s like a butterfly being born, then it’s gone.”
Those profiles might get a face-lift.
“There’s a door or two missing” from some of the cars, McDuff said. Metal fillers might fill the gaps, he said.
“It would be hard to find the right doors.”
The topless Caddie stood Friday in a field blanketed with snow, two spent spray paint cans at its base. The neon colors on the car spelled out the thoughts of visitors who are encouraged to leave their marks — “Wild West,” “RIP,” “Flint, MI” and simply “Miriam.”
Peyton Green, of Amarillo, brought his sister’s family from Colby, Kan., to see the Ranch.
“The whole thing is kind of odd,” he said.
Jared and Kelly — children of Green’s sister LaDonna and her husband, Tom Sloan — both are interested in art.
“I told them I wanted them to see it, and we stopped by the hardware store and they were, ‘What?’” Green said.
They soon pulled out spray cans to make their contributions to the graffiti that covers every inch of every Cadillac.
“It gives people a place to come express themselves,” LaDonna Sloan said.
But is it art? Teenager Jared Sloan, fingers multicolored with spray paint, said “yeah” enthusiastically. He thought he might want to try something similarly monumental.
By Kevin Welch