Burning Man: Wheels on Fire


Black Rock Desert, Nevada, is hallowed ground to car people as it is the current home to the land speed record. Set in October 1997 by Andy Green driving Richard Noble’s Thrust SSC, the record stands at 763.035 mph(1227.985 km/h), over one mile. Back then less than 100 people used up many miles of the 1,000 square mile flat dry lakebed for the record attempt. Nowadays, the desolate lakebed sees a seven square mile, densely populated “city” appear every August for the Burning Man event.
shooting flames in the desert
Photo Credit: John Rettie
Burning Man can trace its roots back to Baker Beach, San Francisco in 1986 when Larry Harvey and Jerry James built the first eight foot ‘Man.’ The move to Black Rock came in 1990 and back then, thirty years ago, it was a small, word-of-mouth event with just 100 or so participants.

“The Mutant Vehicles are where art meets architecture—whether a bathtub or a ship in motion—ours was called ‘The Grime Machine.”Catherine Dart, Artist and Photographer.

dragon in the desert
Photo Credit: John Rettie
Over the next couple years the event grew to several hundred, and by 1996, 8,000 people participated. Coincidentally with the astonishing growth, Burning Man became a pedestrian, bicycle, art-car-only event—attendees were not allowed to drive willy-nilly around the playa—a restriction that made obvious sense. What now became the ultimate pop-up city also gained a city-like lay out and structure so that emergency vehicles could be directed to an address. Architect Rod Garrett who passed away in 2011 designed the circular grid. The driving ban except for approved ‘Mutant Vehicles’ and service vehicles was an instant success and the ‘Man’ now enjoys an excellent safety record.
cool rides at burning man
Photo Credit: John Rettie
That’s quite an accomplishment considering the event has grown from 35 people to a staggering 80,000 in 2019. In the beginning, the event was free. Ticket prices for this year’s event start at $475.But what of those ‘Mutant Vehicles?’ In truth, they’re a little like Rose Parade floats with a lot of visual substance but very little below the surface. Artist and photographer Catherine Dart said, “The Mutant Vehicles are where art meets architecture—whether a bathtub or a ship in motion—ours was called ‘The Grime Machine.’”
car with rockets at burning man
Photo Credit: John Rettie
Indeed, the regulations are quite extensive and emanate from the ‘Department of Mutant Vehicles’ (DMV) say, “Mutant Vehicles, often motorized, are purpose-built or creatively altered cars and trucks. Participants who wish to bring motorized mutant vehicles must submit their designs in advance to the events own DMV for approval and for physical inspection at the time of the event. Not all designs and proposals are accepted.
awesome burning man cars
Photo Credit: John Rettie
“The event organizers, and in turn the DMV, have set the bar high for what it deems an acceptable MV each year, in effect capping the number of MVs at around 600. This is in response to constraints imposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which grants permits to hold the event on federal property, and to participants who want to maintain a pedestrian-friendly environment.
burning man 2019 cars
Photo Credit: John Rettie
One of the criteria the DMV employs to determine whether an application for a proposed Mutant Vehicle is approved is "can you recognize the base vehicle". For example, if a 1967 VW van covered with glitter, dolls' heads, and old cooking utensils can still be recognized as a VW van, it is considered to be "decorated not mutated" and is less likely to be approved.” Despite all the well-intentioned rules, some of the MVs are recognizable despite being built on chassis ranging from a bus to an airport fire truck.
cars at burning man
Photo Credit: John Rettie
According to photographer John Rettie, the cars pictured here use GMC, Honda, Ford Crown Vic’, Ram truck, Range Rover, Toyota and VW Beetle chassis as well as three large truck platforms.You can decide which is which. Unfortunately, Burning Man has been postponed due to current events, but we look forward it in the future!

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