The Heartwarming Story Behind This Car’s One-of-a-Kind Paint Job

When I’m driving “Old Red,” people see me coming.

It’s impossible for me to sneak around town unnoticed or to lose my car in a parking lot. Before August 2003, when raging forest fires terrorized the interior of British Columbia, my ’84 Chevy station wagon was a dull, rusty red winter beater. After the fires, Old Red had morphed into a unique, one-car statement against blandness, boredom and conformity.

On the day that the fires started in our area, I sat out in the yard watching huge dark clouds of smoke cover the sky to the west. Just the thought of a fire scared me, as I had lost everything I owned in a house fire years earlier. The sight of the flames and the smoke brought back painful memories.

In an effort to ease my increasing anxiety, I turned my attention to my car. It ran fine but looked drab and worn-out. The car really needed some paint; however, the value of Old Red certainly did not warrant the price of a professional paint job.

I thought back to the year I graduated from high school, 1967, the height of the “hippie” era. That summer I wanted to paint the family car with bright fluorescent flowers and peace signs, but my dad vetoed the idea. Thirty-six years later, I still wanted to paint a car psychedelically but had never done so. And I thought, “Why not?” I had an old car in need of paint; the time, energy and freedom to do as I pleased; most of all, I needed a project to distract me from the rapidly spreading fires.

It took a period of several weeks to get the painting done and by the time the fires had dwindled, my car had been transformed into artwork on wheels.

car with one-of-a-kind paint job - side viewPhoto: Kalene Louise Bourque

Each section of the car has a different symbolic meaning. The driver’s side is female; the passenger side, male. Each side shows attributes of the gender it represents: creative, nurturing, and reproductive on the female side; protective and providing on the male side.

Each side also has symbols representing the four aspects of human life: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The hood is adorned with a stylized turtle representing Earth, and the rear hatchback features a prophetic commentary about our society’s prevalent attitudes towards the natural environment.

In short, the paint job tells a long symbolic story on the surfaces of my small wagon—and it’s a decorative way to stop the rust. The car also became much safer on the highway due to the fact that I used highly reflective safety paint, which makes it more visible even on dark, rainy nights.

car with one-of-a-kind paint job - front viewPhoto: Kalene Louise Bourque

Driving around in my “hippie car” is like being a parade of one. I get waves, honks, and thumbs-up wherever I go. Best of all are the smiles on the faces of the children and the elderly as I drive by. Old Red has become a mobile conversation piece. It’s a rare day that no one stops to chat with me about my car. I’ve met more new acquaintances since painting my car than in the entire previous decade. Teenagers say my car is “Sweeeet!” and when they stop to talk, I have the opportunity to point out that with a bit of imagination they too can express themselves and attract attention to a cause without endangering themselves or anyone else.

All it took to transform an old bucket of bolts into the talk of the town was a few cans of rust paint, a measure of creativity and the nerve to do something different. And, of course, a deaf ear to those who call me crazy!

Next, check out the incredible story of how a man was reunited with his dream car—25 years later.

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Originally Published in Our Canada