The cars we treasure most are rolling pieces of history - from unique rare finds to one cars we saw as kids we all have a favorite vehicle and they’re all time capsules in their own way. But when Robert Luczun brings his 1986 Chevrolet El Camino to a show, history almost literally comes alive.
While the 1986 El Camino is certainly a piece of history all by itself, Luczun, a former art teacher and professional artist, has transformed his car into a rolling tribute to American History. After three years spent six days a week the El Camino is covered almost completely with highly detailed illustrations front to back. Part of what makes each image truly unique are the stories and details written near the image itself.
The car’s illustrations include history, culture, tributes to those who have served and those who continue to serve, moments in time and so, so much more. When the El Camino comes to a car show it instantly becomes the center of attention and nobody can be blamed for spending a great deal of time reliving the moments in history depicted on the car, or reveling in the memories the car conjures up.
In the bed of the El Camino are illustrations of all 45 presidents right up to today and all who preceded him. Even Uncle Sam is there on one wheel well with the capital dome on the other. Mount Rushmore rounds out the paintings in just the bed of the truck and there’s so much more.
On the outside are movie references, tributes to the Twin Towers fall on 9/11 complete with Lady Liberty covering her eyes. Neil Armstrong is there on the moon with his flag standing proudly as Wall-E and R2D2 look on. The art is meant to both inspire and provoke and the detail is incredible. These aren’t simply casual illustrations; but rather, the images are rich and detailed and very accurate.
War heroes, history, armaments, movies, political figures, the Liberty Bell and so, so, so many more things adorn the side of the El Camino.
“I was good at two things in high school - art and math,” recounted Robert Luczun. “After two years of engineering school I went on to teach art.” Eventually he got a doctorate. I would imagine if he had turned in a class project like this he would have gotten even more - this car is now a national treasure.
While several cars have graced the Luczun garage over time, before he started on the El Camino he had a 1929 Graham Page which was an incredible original survivor. “People would just stroll by at car shows and not realize what they were even looking at.”
This isn’t Robert’s first car of this caliber and he almost considered painting the Graham Page but couldn’t do that to such an original car. While at the Hershey, Pennsylvania car show and swap meet he parked next to the guy who owned the El Camino one year and, low and behold, parked next to him the second. Robert offered to buy the car and the owner said no - but he got a phone call shortly after getting back home and became the owner of the El Camino.
Creating a project of this caliber takes tremendous artistic skill but also a great deal of research. After deciding to do history of the US from 1776 to the present day he began digging into the past, reading books, visiting libraries, looking at magazines, delving into the Internet and doing all he could.
Part of the difficulty of covering history is deciding what to illustrate and what not to. Of all the historical battles, incredible movies, events, tributes and people you ultimately have to make a decision which may be one of the most challenging parts of the whole process.
From there the eight hour days start - outlining, illustrating, detailing and adding text. The colors are rich and vibrant and the depth is astounding.
Then came the line drawings starting with the doors, hood and tailgate since those could easily be taken off the car and worked on. From there came the contortionist’s job painting the bed and other parts of the car.
However this kind of minute detail can take its toll on someone and it turns out Robert experienced vision problems such that he had to have a retina replaced in his eye. This didn’t take so he got a full corneal transplant. He reports that the surgery has definitely helped though he’s got a long way to go to be his old self again.
For now he works around the challenges life has thrown him by starting his painting on a piece of cardboard and, once he finds the location and his spot, he then moves on to working on the car itself.
There is almost no outside section left uncovered except for the roof which has magnetic tape on it that reads, “this area reserved as history unfolds.”
The car is not only a tribute to history, pop culture and our American way of life but Robert also uses it to raise money for several organizations. There’s usually a tip jar nearby and the money collected goes to organizations like the USO. He’s even been paid to bring the car to events.
A few folks were steamed when he brought the car to a concours and the El Camino got more attention than any of the other cars at the event. Ooops. The car has also been featured in Ripley’s Believe it Or Not as well as many, many other places.
Believe it or not the car is headed to car shows all over from its home base in New Jersey and Robert is still working on it despite the challenges in life. The car truly brings joy and a tear to the eye of people who see it along with a deep appreciation for the history and events and people depicted in the beautiful illustrations. So what gives Robert joy?
“You know you’re happy when another airbrush artist comes up to you and says ‘you’re nuts.’”