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You are here: Home --> Making Art Cars --> Tips and Techniques --> Construction Tips
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Here you will find a few truths that will become self-evident...

All cars are
re-created EQUAL.


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Uncommonly Common Sense Tips

Self-evident truth #1 ..... There are no rules.
Self-evident truth #2 ..... There are only suggestions.
  • When transforming your car, keep in mind that it is still a car... especially if you plan on driving it on the road. Sooner or later, you will need to have access to the engine for repairs. Your cooling system will need air flow to work properly. All of your lights should still function according to law. Note that the laws relating to lights on vehicles vary from state to state and may be quite restrictive. Find out what they are, and regard or disregard them accordingly.

  • Plan ahead as much as possible, but evaluate the plan as you go along. Change it if it isn't working out like you thought.

  • Transforming a car is like solving a puzzle - you don't know what the final outcome is until the puzzle is complete. Watch out though, because an art car is rarely ever complete.

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    Steel and Foam Construction

    Self-evident truth #3 ..... Don't touch steel when it is hot.
    Self-evident truth #4 ..... Don't touch foam when it is wet.
  • Spray insulation foam makes for a versatile and relatively easy to work with sculpting material. There are basically three kinds of foam available:
  • Spray cans available at most hardware stores
  • Industrial foam sprayed though special machines
  • Two part foam you mix by hand
  • The foam can be sprayed directly onto the vehicle or sprayed upon steel frames covered with screen.

  • Once the foam dries, it can be shaved or carved with a small saw.

  • If you are building steel frames, design the structure first. Be sure to include enough reinforcement to make the structure solid.

  • If you are planning to weld, be sure you know how to weld first! For light steel and car bodies, try a 110 volt wire fed mig welder. This should be good enough for most art car projects, and it is affordable, too.

  • Add reinforcement welds in key areas. Weld the steel frames with good clean welds. Gorilla welds not allowed... if your welds are embarrassing, go back to school ASAP.

  • When attaching the frames to the vehicle, try to select the strongest possible foundations. If you want to attach a frame to a weak point, reinforce the area first by screwing another piece of metal on top of it.

  • Carry some extra foam and paint in your trunk. You never know when some curious onlooker or a low hanging branch may choose to grab a hunk as a souvenir.

  • Once you have foamed, you may find yourself wanting to foam everything. If so, you are ready to join the Family of Foamed Vehicles Association.

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    Paper Mache Construction

    Self-evident truth #5 ..... Paper mache is the same stuff you used in second grade art class.
    Self-evident truth #6 ..... Your second grade art class probably didn't know about art cars.
    Self-evident truth #7 ..... Your art car can be part of a second grade art class project.
  • Paper mache is made by mixing paper with adhesive. Newspaper is the most common paper used, but any paper will do. When selecting an adhesive, keep in mind that critters may eat paper mache made with food stuffs like flour or corn starch. Of course, you may want critters to consume your car. We call that performance art.

  • Paper mache can be done by layering pieces of paper on top of each other until the desired shape is achieved. This is often time intensive but yields a relatively even, smooth surface.

  • Another more expedient method involves shredded paper or paper mache mix (available at most arts and crafts stores) that is molded or shaped by hand. It is pretty sticky and usually results in a rough surface.

  • Paper mache and cardboard construction are more often used for floats due to the temporary nature of the materials. If you use these methods but want to achieve a more permanent result, coat the surface with sealer, and store the car in a dry garage.

  • Paper mache can get damaged fairly easily and will require frequent attention to stay intact.

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    Constructing with Rivets and Screws

    Self-evident truth #8 ..... When glue won't do and welding is too much,
    spacer rivets and screws are the perfect touch.
    Self-evident truth #9 ..... When a screw comes loose, there is a screw on the loose!
  • Rivets are made of steel or aluminum.

  • To construct with rivets, you will need a drill and a rivet gun.

  • There are a variety of screws you can use, but we recommend hex head self drilling machine screws. They are great for sheet metal and car bodies although they may loosen over time.

  • If you are planning on attaching found objects onto your car, you may consider using rivets and screws instead of glue. If the found objects are made of a durable material (i.e. probably not plastic), rivets and screws will attach them permanently.

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    Last update April 1, 2004
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