Burning Man 2023 officially started Sunday, with tens of thousands of campers arriving in Black Rock City for the weeklong event despite demonstrators staging a short delay on the route to the gate. And drivers wasted no time registering their art cars to drive the playa.
Artists, mechanics, makers and wannabes create “mutant vehicles” to carry other Burners through the streets and across the playa. The cars can be everything from a tricked-out golf cart to a soundstage built atop a school bus to a custom-built jalopy of any shape or size.
But before these crafts can take flight at Burning Man, the Department of Mutant Vehicles must register each one and ensure it is safe for driving during the day, the night or both.
And since waiting in line at the "DMV" can take as long as it does back home during the first days of the event, Burners know the queue is the best place to see mutant vehicles before they disperse across Black Rock City.
While some art projects were a bit behind on installation due to a two-day storm delay, an impressive fleet of art cars hit the playa running—or not, as is the case with the reliability of some mutant vehicles. Burning Man’s 2023 theme, Animalia, made the scene extra wild.
“We knew we wanted to build something shady and cool after last year,” said Rimi Shaffner, referring to the blazing temps of the 2022 event. Shaffner's flying fish has wings that flutter in the breeze and offer not only shade but also a fine mist to those nearby.
Rimi and her husband, Chris, created Go Fish aka Swim Shady and brought it on a trailer to Black Rock City from their home in South Florida.
For a desert-based gathering, aquatic creatures and boats are always well represented on the playa. Sailing ships and speedboats, as well as sharks, crabs and fish of all types are easy to spot.
Legendary Burning Man designer David Best’s campmates pitched in and bought his famed Rocket Car at auction in 2021 to keep it in the Burning Man family. Built on a 1970s Cadillac chassis in 2003, the 40-foot-long cruiser is crossing the playa again this year piled with riders, looking like a cross between a Batmobile and a Landspeeder.
Best’s new ride for the playa is a bit more compact. Inspired by the look of a Mexican blanket, the sedan is striped with strips of auto tape he found at a junkyard. Artificial turf covers the interior and the two benches that have been carved out of the former trunk area.
“The junkyard is where I find all my materials,” said Best, who originated the Burning Man temple concept in 2000 and went on to design eight temples and countless cars over the years. The car doesn’t have a name, but Best wants it to remind people of the hardships endured by undocumented immigrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.
The meaning of the life-size animal on the roof? “It’s an orange horse,” said Best.
At night, each art car mutates into a new creature, whether lit by simple string lights, neon bars or sophisticated LED displays—and of course, there are flames (because Burning Man).
El Pulpo Magnifico is back on the playa in 2023. The crowd favorite is a sweetly menacing flaming metal octopus built out of found materials, including muffin tins and aluminum pans.
“Art cars are Black Rock City’s public transportation—some people forget that,” said Best, meaning many mutant vehicles are built to hop on and meet other Burners as you get where you’re going.
Scroll down for more photos of the creative fleet transporting Burners at Burning Man 2023.
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