8 Quirky Facts about Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas

Consider it a road trip right of passage: Stopping at the Cadillac Ranch – a public art installation of 10 buried Caddie cars – in Amarillo, Texas, along I-40. Created in 1974 by Ant Farm, an avant-garde design troupe, on a commission from a rich Texas tycoon named Stanley Marsh, it’s a tribute to automotive excess when Cadillac cars fostered class distinction and dictated style trends.

I’ve stopped at the ranch on a couple different occasions while road trippin’. It’s easy enough to spot from the freeway – a neat row of tilted metal rising from the ground. Each time I’ve stopped in, I’ve pretty much had the Caddies to myself, getting a chance to examine these battered pieces of pop culture up close and leaving just as another group drives in.

Of course, an oddball piece of art deserves a storied history and a few quirky facts:

  • Found in junkyards and used car lots in the Texas Panhandle, the cars cost on average $200 each. Some ran, some didn’t. A hired backhoe operator dug holes eight feet deep and tipped the cars in using a tractor bucket.
  • At the opening party, the lead car was christened with a bottle of champagne, and a local Cadillac dealership sent a bouquet of plastic flowers, which was placed next to the buried cars.
  • Originally half-buried intact, souvenir hunters and vandals smashed the windows and stripped the cars of their doors, chrome, radios and speakers. Eventually, the wheels were welded to the axles to prevent more theft.
  • Supposedly, the Cadillacs – one ‘40s, six ‘50s and three ‘60s models – are buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. They represent a number of evolutions of the car line – most notably the birth and death of the car’s defining feature: the tail fin.
  • As the city boundaries expanded and encroached on the ranch’s skyline, the cars were moved two miles from their original spot to another field in 1997. The cars were aligned as before: Chronologically, from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville, and facing West.
  • Be a part of the ever-changing work of art. Graffiti spray painting is encouraged and layers of paint adorn just about every nook and cranny of the cars. Don’t worry, there’s a Home Depot about three miles away, at exit 64 on Soncy Road, where you can buy a can of spray paint for $1 to $4.
  • Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 album “The River” includes the song “Cadillac Ranch” after he made a stop there while on tour, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Chris Ledoux have also released songs with the same title.
  • In a seeming tribute to the Cadillac Ranch, Slug Bug Ranch, east of Amarillo in Conway, Texas, has five partially buried VW bugs. The mini monument is at the sight of a now-defunct café and gets the same spray paint graffiti treatment.

How to get there: Access the Cadillac Ranch from I-40, exit 60. Drive south to Frontage Road – old Route 66 – and turn left. Drive east for about a mile. Park along the road’s shoulder and get in through an unlocked gate.

 


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