Before we had several tiny screens to entertain us on road trips, we were confined to but one: the window. Imagine being stuffed into the back seat of your mom’s gold Plymouth Duster, rolling through endless miles of dust, fields, and mountains, your eyes feeding your brain a never-ending litany of “tree….tree…cow….tree….rock…rock…tree…” and then, “…Paul BUNYAN??”
Beginning in the early '60s, a brethren of Colossus began to fan out across the American countryside. These 14-to-25 foot tall fiberglass giants stood sentry outside tire shops and cafes, designed to act as a homing device for the family station wagon. Though they were known collectively as “Muffler Men,” they also took the form of Paul Bunyan, space men, pirates, cowboys, bikini babes, an Alfred E. Neuman look-a-like, even a chicken or two. A company called International Fiberglass in Venice Beach, CA produced about a thousand of these advertising giants during their heyday, transforming small roadside businesses into landmarks worthy of an ogle.
The proliferation of freeways and uptight city zoning laws contributed to the decline of Muffler Men. All of the original molds were destroyed when International Fiberglass closed in 1976. Though a few can still be spotted in the wild, many now belong under the stewardship of private collectors.
One such collector, the Bay Area’s Bell Plastics, is refuge to what is perhaps the world’s largest conglomeration of original muffler men. Once a year, they invite the public into their warehouse for a unique opportunity to wander amongst various advertising giants, including the rare Uniroyal Girl (a bikini-clad female “Muffler Man” who is said to be modeled after Jackie Kennedy), two of San Francisco’s beloved Doggie Diner heads, a slightly demented Santa, a pair of industrious car washing octopi, and other oversized company shills. Read the rest