Los Angeles freeways are jammed with pricey European sports cars alongside beat-up compacts from the 1980s and the latest in hybrid technology. Yellow cabs and black Towncars fill the streets of New York where lanes are determined more by drivers jockeying for position than the painted lines. Most cities have distinct car cultures, but in New Orleans, it’s taken to a different level.
Perhaps the most unusual New Orleans car trend is sticker cars or product-themes automobiles — Doritos, Lemonheads, Nerds, Frosted Flakes, Cheetos, Skittles, Baby Phat, M&Ms, Lucky Charms, Oreos, etc. Sticker car owners spend thousands of dollars to plaster their car with brand colors, logos, and mottos, but do not receive a dime from the company they are promoting. John Tucker, an auto shop owner who crafts these car designs, fondly refers to his work as “vehicle tattoos.” Sticker cars have become symbolic of post-Katrina New Orleans where the trend was birthed.
Some sticker cars feature superheros instead of product brands — the Batman Firebird, the Superman Grand Am, the Hulk truck. Superman car owner, Nick Thomas, says sticker cars are a vehicle for reaching out to young people. He is part of the Positive Men Car Club that provides mentoring and other assistance to kids in need.
Times-Picayune reporter, Doug MacCash, has written about this pop culture phenomenon and the motivations driving the trend. He finds that most designers are seeking attention, and that there’s some friendly competition involved. Johnny Lawson, the owner of the Lucky Charms car, talks about his car as a sign of overcoming adversity, a rolling signifier that he has “made it.”
One of my favorite sticker cars is the intricate Nerds ride.
A new spin on these colorful cars is the air-brushed video game theme. This video features the Sonic, Super Mario, and Punch-Out cars. Yes, those are video game consoles hidden in the trunk.
Beyond branded cars and air-brushed rides, it’s rare to go a day in New Orleans without seeing some sort of painted car. Over the course of a week, I figuratively ran into an assortment of mobile masterpieces.