When One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Transmission
Building cars from old fridges and junkyard parts, these tinkerers make the most of castoff materials to build an array of wild and impressive cars.,
A man in Arizona builds his shrunken cars out of refrigerators, but you’d never know it by looking at them. In Washington State, a teacher built his car from a boat, and there’s no mistaking it. And in Ghana, a student built a car that looks like a ramshackle DeLorean — and if you guessed that he made it with junkyard scraps, you’d be right.
Their creations turn heads, bring smiles and get them around town, all because they see promise in materials most of us would never put to use in the garage.
Kelvin Odartei Cruickshank, who is 19 and lives in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, has had a passion for building machines since he was 10. “I started by building prototype or micro-machines such as vacuum cleaners, robots, cars, a helicopter, etc.,” he said in interviews that were conducted via email and WhatsApp.
He moved on to bigger machines and got to work building, from scratch, a two-person car made from scrap materials that cost around $200. It took three years to complete. Mr. Cruickshank used scrap metal and parts not normally used in cars because of financial constraints.
“I didn’t have money, so I had to do labor jobs and go about collecting scrap materials to make the car,” he said. Sometimes, he said, when he’d get enough money to eat, he’d use it to buy material to make the car instead.
He used motor parts, shipping container panels and iron rods to build its body.
A wooden dashboard adorns the interior, and motorcycle shocks round out each corner of the car. A motorbike engine powers it along the streets of Accra.
The car may not look like much, but Mr. Cruickshank counts it as a success: “It works just the way I wanted it.” As a student, he said his goal over the next five years was to “advance my knowledge by educating myself more and to bring more inventions to reality.”
Tim Lorentz, a special-education teacher in Spokane, Wash., loves both cars and boats. He has raced cars and has owned a variety of muscle and exotic vehicles.
“Car guys always want to own or drive a unique car that no one else owns,” Mr. Lorentz said. “I created an eight-passenger convertible. Why not a boat mounted over a convertible? I have never seen another one like it.”
And so the LaBoata was born. Mr. Lorentz, now 65, built it in 2009 using a Chrysler LeBaron, a car he was well acquainted with. He has owned 10 in all. They’re “cheap, dependable … nobody wants them,” he said in an email.
Although Mr. Lorentz’s wife didn’t know of his plan, he bought a white 1993 LeBaron convertible for $700. “I had to have a tri-hull boat,” he said, to hide the car’s wheels entirely. A V-hull, he said, would have given away the secret.
A hundred dollars landed Mr. Lorentz a used 17-foot boat, provided he return the motor and the trailer after the Frankensteinian project. It took two days to cut out the bottom of the boat and another one to mount it onto the Chrysler.
The LaBoata was “instant fun,” he said, until he received a letter from the Washington Department of Motor Vehicles canceling his registration and title. The authorities had noticed his converted convertible, and they weren’t amused.
“The complete car is under the boat, except for the hood,” he said in his defense. “I used the bow cover as the hood.” He removed the boat shell, drove the car to the D.M.V. and had it reinspected, reinstated and relicensed. He went home and popped the boat back on, and he has had no issues since.
Over the last decade, LaBoata has had some work done. The first LeBaron, with 155,000 miles on it, blew a head gasket. Rather than deal with a costly repair, Mr. Lorentz simply swapped in a fresh LeBaron with just 70,000 miles.
If you’re ever in Spokane, you may spot Mr. Lorentz cruising around town. He might be hard to miss: “LaBoata is like riding in your own parade,” he said.
Ernie Adams is 80 now, living in Maricopa, Ariz. When he was 15, growing up in Harvard, Neb., he spied a train passing by the family home, and through the weeds he saw an old refrigerator on its side and a tire swing beside it. The scene reminded him of a black fender on a white car.
“In my mind I saw a small open-top car” recalling some classics from the 1920s, Mr. Adams said. An added benefit to his daydreamed invention: “Old fridges were free,” he said.
He started his first fridge car in 1965, a miniature replica of a 1928 Chevy two-door sedan. The car is less than four and a half feet high and is just nine feet long — about 70 percent the size of the original. The engine clocks in at 13 horsepower, with 12-inch pneumatic tires and a three-speed transmission “from a 1964 three-wheeled mail cart,” he said.
“I didn’t have room for a full-size car in the trailer park we lived in, nor money to buy one, so I built my own little car,” he said. The project used nine old refrigerators and “was a work in progress for eight years,” Mr. Adams said.
But it wasn’t street legal, so Mr. Adams kept his driving nearby and gave rides to local children. He also took it to a few car shows. “My grandson cruised the car in two car shows at 12 and 13 years old and got awarded ‘Coolest Cruiser’ both times,” he said with admiration.
The car is nicknamed the Grandpa Dwarf because it was the first dwarf car Mr. Adams built. It was far from his last. Some are for show or charity drives only, and others, like his street-legal replica of a 1949 Mercury Coupe nicknamed Rebel Rouser, are for pavement-pounding fun. His collection spans the 1928 to 1954 model years and is showcased at the Dwarf Car Museum in Maricopa.
All of his cars draw looks.
“A man was beside me at a stoplight,” Mr. Adams said of a quick neighborhood jaunt in the Grandpa Dwarf. “He looked down at me and said, ‘Hey, man, where’d you get that, out of a crackerjack box?’”
Mr. Adams also recalled an officer stopping him on the highway. “When he came up to my door,” he said, “he got down on his knees and looked in the window at me and said, ‘Sir, this is the first time I ever had to get on my knees to talk to somebody in a car.’”
Mr. Lorentz, too, enjoys making people laugh. “I tell my students they need to think ‘outside the boat,’” he said.