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    Photos and story by Joey Harrison

    In front of NuLu’s Garage Bar in mid-September, a tow truck finally removed two muscle cars smashed in a prolonged metallic snoggle. No warrants were issued for unpaid parking. Their removal was simply a little auto choreography. Though many people had been fooled over the years, if only momentarily, the cars were not the result of an actual crash. They were a kinetic sculpture, and within a few hours of their removal a flatbed truck delivered a 2002 Mustang and a 1992 Firebird — sourced from Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, respectively — to replace the junkyard-bound ’89 Camaro and ’81 Firebird, which had been there since 2011.

    A month of preparation preceded the complicated pas de quatre. A pair of flanges bolted to steel gliders were welded to the bottom of each car, which would allow hydraulically powered pistons to forcefully push the gliders, and the cars, toward each other. The whole thing is a spectacle of strength and destruction, but aesthetics matter. The Camaro and Firebird spent considerable time in makeup. First, a fresh coat of paint. Then some nifty embellishments — tri-color flames for the Firebird and scallops for the Mustang. 21c Museum Hotel’s Brandon Harder did the work. He is, by title, an exhibit preparatory. It’s a job with wide-ranging duties, apparently.

    Surgery followed cosmetics, specifically, some under-the-hood work to ensure an aesthetically pleasing crash. From his upstate New York studio/compound, artist Jonathan Schipper mentioned how the force in the piece he calls “Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle” comes from the rear. (Other versions of the sculpture have been shown in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, China and Belgium, but Louisville’s is the only one on continual display.) In an actual crash, Schipper explained, the force would be in the front. So measures were taken to replicate the look of an actual head-on collision. The man in charge of that was Mike Mullins, a former farm-equipment mechanic and the go-to guy for Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, owners of Garage Bar (and, oh yeah, the expanding 21c empire). Under the hood, Mullins loosened the heavy stuff (the engine, the drive shaft, the transmission) from moorings to minimize resistance to hood crumple.

    A gearbox controls the pistons’ creeping-forward motion — an eighth of an inch per hour, for 55 hours a week. On the day of installation, the car noses were about a foot apart. If you park yourself in a folding chair and sit patiently for, say, two or three weeks, you may detect a few inches of movement.

    This originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.


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