Photos by Joe Del Tufo
These six cars owned by Delaware residents generate a lasting impression with their unconventional characteristics and artistic designs.
It’s not unusual for strangers to stop and take photos of Art Wilson. But it’s not the Delaware resident’s face they’re sharing on social media— it’s the replica of the great white shark that rides atop his 1973 dune buggy.
Delaware First Shark—aka Bruce—has become such a Dela-brity that he has a Facebook page with nearly 1,000 followers. But Wilson’s buggy is not the only wacky car in the state to turn heads.
Some are works of art. Others are unconventional or rarely seen classics, and all are valued more for their unique characteristics than price tags.
Cruising with Bruce
Art Wilson had been hunting for a dune buggy for years before spotting one at a Delaware auction in 2009. “I paid way too much for it, but I wanted it,” he says. By 2016, the beach lover had made improvements and learned to work on the engine and electrical system. But it was still missing something.
After a five-year quest, he found the great white in Southampton, New York. Why put a hulking shark on a buggy? “It goes with the beach,” Wilson says of the toothsome predator, which has a beach ball in its yawning mouth.
“Bruce” is named after the original animatronic fish in Jaws. Director Steven Spielberg bestowed the nickname on the full-scale model, which is now in the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.
The moniker fits Wilson’s version in another respect. Bruce Meyers is the creator of the Meyers Manx, which inspired the dune buggy craze. The Southern Californian, who died in 2021 at 94, autographed Wilson’s shark.
Wilson and his buggy can stop traffic on the highway, and he’s been pulled over on three separate occasions. However, the police didn’t issue him a citation. Instead, they simply wanted a photo with Bruce.
Wheels on Fire
Artist Dragonfly Leathrum doesn’t limit herself to any one medium. After paying off her 2005 Hyundai Elantra in 2011, she covered the car in a few of her favorite things: a monarch butterfly on the roof, R2-D2, a kangaroo, honeycomb, a skateboarder and Bat Boy—the fictional creature who made supermarket tabloid headlines. “I was originally going to paint it to look like a giant bumblebee, but an artist friend said I wasn’t challenging myself enough,” she says.
After selling the Hyundai at Blue Book value earlier this year, she embarked on Der Berg!, the theme for her 2019 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid. “With a new white car and governments’ lack of concern about global warming, I thought a polar theme would be educational,” she explains.
She drives her art cars as her primary mode of transportation. They’ve also served as promotional tools in front of the galleries where she’s exhibiting. “Sometimes, I sneak it into classic car shows because those people are so fussy about their paint jobs,” she confesses.
Leathrum often finds appreciative notes tucked under the windshield wipers. “It means someone took the time to find a piece of paper and pen to leave me a message about the car,” she says. “I save those.”
Lean, Green & Mean
In the 1990s and well into the 21st century, thousands of American children grew up watching Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael—anthropomorphic turtle brothers trained in ninjutsu. And dude, the heroes in a half shell are awesome. Or, at least, that’s what Chris Day thought. “I always wanted to paint a van like the turtles’ van,” he says. “So, I did.”
The van is a 1994 E150 Club Wagon, which he found on Craigslist in February 2020. The $600 vehicle was already gutted, making it perfect for a camper conversion. “It was a good deal,” Day notes.
The yellow, orange and green paint scheme mimics that of the Ninja Turtles’ Party Wagon, which admittedly has undergone several makeovers in the comics, TV series and films. However, longtime fans have no problem recognizing the tribute. “I get a lot of thumbs-up on the highway,” Day says. “It makes me smile when someone knows exactly where I was going with the paint job.”
The New Castle County resident uses the Party Wagon as his everyday vehicle and for camping. As Day’s favorite turtle, Donatello, would say: “Give it all ya got.”
“It makes me smile when someone knows exactly where I was going with the paint job.”
Arden’s Grande Dame
Mike Curtis was 12 years old when he set his heart on owning a 1929 Ford Roadster. Fast-forward to a car show at Hagley Museum and Library, where he spotted a model for sale. “I thought about it for a day and called the guy,” Curtis recalls. “He said: ‘I sold that car an hour after you looked at it.’”
Coming so close only made Curtis want the car that much more, and in 2017, he found one priced at $18,000, which seemed like a good deal. “A rebuilt engine, two axles and brake drums and another $18,000, and it ran perfectly,” he quips.
Henrietta requires tender loving care. Curtis added shocks after a teeth-jarring encounter with a pothole, and every 500 miles, he painstakingly changes the oil and greases the chassis. She gets her exercise with trips to the post office a few times a week. “Occasionally, I take friends for a ride through Beaver Valley and Christiana Hundred,” he says. “The rumble seat is the best part of the car.”
He and Henrietta are in it for the long haul. When asked if he’d part with her, he simply said: “No.”
The Good Old Girl
When Ken and Beth Schuler drive down the road, their vehicle typically gets one of two reactions. People honk their horns in approval—or they “grip their steering wheel, lock their eyes straight ahead and pretend we’re not there,” Ken Schuler says. That’s because they travel in a 1988 Cadillac Fleetwood funeral coach.
Their choice is not unusual considering that the Schulers own the Oddporium in Brandywine Hundred, a gift shop with eclectic, quirky and fun finds.
They bought the hearse from a local musician and barber after he joined the National Guard. “With our business, we jumped at the chance,” Ken says. Aside from the advertising advantages, The Old Girl, as they call her, also has style, including sleek lines and illuminated lanterns. Plus, there’s a sophisticated silver casket in the back.
Not surprisingly, the vehicle grabs attention in grocery store parking lots. People don’t expect to see the couple loading kitty litter and 12 packs of soda into the back, Schuler notes. But the hearse has had more glamorous uses. She’s starred in independent movie productions and photo shoots, appeared at car shows and transported teenagers to a prom.
Even the law has stopped to stare. “When we drove through Old New Castle, the police pulled us over,” he recalls. “He told us he always wanted to own a hearse and asked if we were interested in selling.”
The couple took his card, but they’re holding onto The Old Girl. “It’s just too much fun to drive,” Ken says.
For the Love of Low-Retta
In spring 2005, Pete Cogan went to the Cowtown Swap Meet with a pocketful of cash. “I was hoping to find a car,” the local musician says. Things did not look good until the end, when he found a 1951 Cadillac Series 62 and a 1953 Chevrolet. Coincidentally, the seller was the man who’d inked the tattoo on Cogan’s left leg. “He gave me a great price, so I took the Caddy home.”
According to the buddy, the Cadillac was one of many cars that a man had squirreled away with farm equipment and other items. When the man died, his family cleaned out his home. However, they did not know about the warehouses—nor did they have the paperwork. Everything went to auction.
Cogan replaced the “weak” Caddy engine and transmission with a new Chevrolet crate motor and dual exhaust system. When people praise him for his original car, he smiles and keeps the hood closed so they won’t glimpse the 300-plus horsepower underneath. The Cadillac also has new tires, brakes, belts, brake lines and gas tank “because I had been running it on a 12-gallon boat tank in the trunk,” he says.
Rayco in New Castle redid the interior, and the Caddy has a fresh coat of Madeira Maroon paint, making her the perfect conveyance to rockabilly road trips. “We just load her up with pretty girls and bourbon and go,” he says.
Cogan, however, is no dummy. His wife, Wanda, named the car Low-retta after her favorite singer, Loretta Lynn. “If you’re gonna name your car after a girl, you gotta let your wife do it,” he points out. “Otherwise, she wants to know who Loretta is.”