Mechanic’s son builds 1950s hot rod six floors up for art show

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A Goldsmiths, University of London student has built an exact replica of a 1950s T-bucket hot rod car on the sixth floor of the building hosting this year’s BA Fine Art degree show, as a tribute to his mechanic father.

Image shows a blue hot rod car positioned in front of a painting in the Ben Pimlott, the sunlight hitting it attractively

Luke Felstead – whose father, Bill Felstead, has been working on cars for nearly 50 years and used to change his baby son’s nappy in a toolbox – made many parts of the vehicle himself. He bought, bid for, or borrowed others from scrap yards, museums, and various contacts in an exercise on sourcing materials as an artist. 

‘Hot rods’ are typically classic American cars which have been rebuilt or modified with larger engines. The original T-bucket or Bucket-T was created in the 1950s, and is based on a 1915-1927 Ford Model-T.

The third-year student’s fully-functional pale blue and aluminium installation, titled The Timid “T”, has a 3-litre Ford Essex v6 scratch, built by Luke, along with a C3 automatic transmission. 

It was constructed over the course of four months and is now on display on the sixth floor of the Ben Pimlott Building where it can be viewed by the public during the degree show’s run (17-22 June). 

Luke said: “It’s completely out of place up here, surrounded by the artworks. This is the kind of thing you’d find in a car show, on the ground floor. I don’t think anyone has ever put a hot rod this high up in the air before. 

“I’ve positioned it in such a way it’s almost a power slide angle, it’s as if it’s turning a corner, it’s in motion going out towards the horizon that faces over London.” 

Another engine has been placed outside at the ground floor entrance (pictured above). Over the course of the degree show, Luke will be wearing a high temp fireproof silver aluminised fire suit, and with friends Lola and Lewis, preparing and cleaning the outside engine, which is “disembodied” from the car, as well as polishing up the aluminium on the car inside. 

These “happenings” are not scheduled, but will provide the audience with a clear look into the history, significance, and meaning behind the works. 

Luke said: “I can rev the engine outside by using a squeezy bottle of petrol, which feels like it gives me a lot of control over the engine. It feels like a dangerous work, but the clothes I’m wearing and my demeanour makes the audience feel safe. 

“During the performances, we’re dressed as mechanics, preparing and cleaning the engine to run. The audience won’t understand the terminology we’re using. No one hears it any more, it’s dying out, along with the cars.” 

The car’s windscreen has been constructed from a highly polished piece of aluminium. When sitting in the car you see only a reflection of yourself. When outside of the car, the sixth-floor view over New Cross and Deptford buildings and roof tops is reflected. 

Luke, aged 22, is based in Mottingham, London, and has spent most of his life working on cars and building and driving dragsters (machines capable of doing 250mph+ in six seconds in a motorsport known as drag racing). 

Luke said: “For this car I was really inspired by looking at lots of 1950s Americana. But I’m also inspired by the ‘informal economy’ and how we can source very specific parts and objects as artists. 

“A lot of research has gone into pairing the correct engine with compatible drivetrain components, sharing knowledge with those who built the very basis of what hot rod culture is. 

“The car is fully legal, tax exempt as it’s pre-1973, MOT exempt (pre-1973), LEZ, ULEZ and congestion charge compliant and with an insurance premium of just £42 a year!” 

The BA Fine Art and History of Art Degree Show is the annual summer celebration of work by graduating students. The exhibition opens at 10am Thursday 17 June and closes at 7pm Tuesday 22 June. Entry is free and you do not need to register to attend. Face coverings and social distancing are required.