The Art of the Wheel: Master Mechanics, Amateur Painters

hand-painted sign for TNT Monster Mechanic, Beaver Falls, PA
Who wouldn’t want the Tasmanian Devil fixing their timing belt? One of many examples of great auto repair artwork. TNT Monster Mechanic, Beaver Falls

The Tasmanian Devil—all sinister fangs, seething anger, and whirling destruction—seems an odd candidate for the kind of precision work required for automotive repair. But there he is—crazy eyes, giant jaw agape, and squeezed tube of toothpaste body—clutching a box socket in one hand and a crescent wrench in the other on the brick wall of TNT Monster Mechanic in Beaver Falls.

Taz, as the popular Looney Tunes character is sometimes known, has a well-documented following that way outreaches the limited run of his original short cartoons. He’s a famously popular pop icon who exists in a sweet spot between lovable cartoon character and hyper-masculine bad boy who acts first and thinks … never. The podcast Decoder Ring did a terrific episode on tattoos that talked about Taz’ stranglehold on the upper arms of young men. Some of those biceps work on cars.

mural of automobile shock absorbers on brick wall of garage
It’s shocking where you can find great art, but you mustache yourself if you’re really looking. North Side
mural for auto repair shop of two mechanics working on car engine
Blue period. Neal N Tony’s Automotive Repair, Larimer

Auto repair shops are, almost always, structures of pure utilitarian economy. Typically constructed of brick or cinder block and lit by big fluorescent shop lights, they often contain no windows aside from what comes through the office door, garage openings, and the occasional glass block. This leaves a lot of exterior wall space available for decoration.

Most garages are as down-to-basics on the street-facing walls as the buildings that house them are plain … but not all of them. There is a particular phenomenon where mechanics have set down the wrench and picked up the paintbrush (or found others to do so) to elaborately advertise their businesses in ways both humorous and boastful, triumphant and goofy. These murals, 3-D painted cut-outs, and custom airbrush jobs all make up The Art of the Wheel.

handmade artwork of car wheel with fire attached to masonry wall
This wheel’s on fire—even if it’s where birds nest. Hobbs Tire & Supply, Chester, WV
mural of dog's head fused onto speeding wheel
This dog’s rabid … and thankfully still on the chain. Big Dawg’s Performance, Vandergrift

Auto Repair artwork is a gift that just keeps giving. There seem to be piston-packing Picassos and revved-up Rembrandts just about everywhere people drive cars. If you’ve got a favorite we didn’t get to (this time), give us a holler and we’ll bag it for the inevitable sequel.

Until then, keep your foot on the gas and your eyes on the garage walls.

ghost sign of mechanic repairing flat tire
Back when mechanics wore bow ties. Mechanic on Duty/Tires (ghost sign), Homestead
auto tow truck painted with image of cartoon tow truck
(Big Daddy) Henry’s*, McKees Rocks
mural of auto engine on exterior wall of garage
Bernie’s Garage, Polish Hill
painting of large spark plug on cinderblock wall
Plugged-in. Bernie’s Garage, Polish Hill
logo for Transmission Magician of cartoon man in top hat, black suit, and magic wand
Hocus Ford Focus. Transmission Magician (before the building was repainted), Bloomfield
hand-painted sign for German Motor Werks including large gear
Sprockets. German Motor Werks, Strip District
hand-painted sign/mural for Halblieb Automotive
Give ’em the hook! Halbleib Automotive, Hazelwood
hand-painted mural of engine on cinderblock wall
… and the shaft! Halbleib Automotive, Hazelwood
mural on cinderblock wall of 1960s Ford Mustang for Auto Works repair shop
Stay chassis**. Auto Works, Munhall
brick building with advertisements for auto supply shop
(unknown) Auto Supply, Donora
"Auto Parts" sign painted on masonry walllll
Auto Parts, Hill District
mural for All American Transmission Company with company name in giant waving American flag
All American Transmission Co., Millvale
hand-painted sign for Uneeda Tire Co., Beaver Falls, PA
No, YOU need a tire! Uneeda Tire Co., Beaver Falls
"Hydraulic Hoses" sign painted on masonry walllll
Hoses simple. Hydraulic Hoses, Hill District
entrance to mechanic shop including wooden model car
Model Model-T, Sacco’s Automotive Services, Sharpsburg
hand-painted sign for Peck Auto Electric, Logan, Ohio
Peck Auto Electric, Logan, O.
graffiti-style sign reading "Window Tint" on garage
Window Tint, Ambridge
brick auto repair garage with name in painted brick
Zovko’s Garage, South Side
barely readable sign advertising bodyshop
Ghost bodyshop, Lincoln-Lemington

* The artwork for Henry’s feels like a clear homage to the over-the-top cartoon hot rod artwork of Ed “Big Daddy” “Rat Fink” Roth … but maybe it’s just coincidence.
** Yes, the mural for Auto Works, featuring the body of a 1960s Ford Mustang, does not include the chassis.

2 thoughts on “The Art of the Wheel: Master Mechanics, Amateur Painters

  1. carye bye says:

    Wheelie like this collection. (Heh) I don’t like cars at all so have been ignoring these arty amateur signs and paintings on car shops.

    Like

Leave a Reply to carye bye Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s