American artist Eric Staller has become known as ‘The Light Master’ thanks to his various works of art using the medium of light. His best-known creation was dubbed the Volkswagen Lightmobile. Work on the project began in late 1984 and was completed by March 1985. It comprised of a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, from which the rear seat had been removed and a 2800-watt generator installed instead. This generator powered a computer plus the 1659 three-watt clear bulbs that Eric had fitted all over the exterior of the car, drilling each of the three-quarter inch mounting holes himself. The total cost came to $20,000. The computer controlled the Beetle’s 20 different light patterns, highlighting a vehicle it wasn’t easy to miss at night. 

It was well-travelled too as, after it was unveiled in New York, it also went to Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Montreal before popping over the Atlantic to Amsterdam, Basel, Berlin, Brussels and even making it to Japan and the streets of Nagoya. There was also a brief role in the 1986 film The Money Pit where it picked up a hitch-hiking Tom Hanks. “The Lightmobile is supposed to be immune to traffic jams,” commented Eric, but we’re not so sure. We reckon it would probably create a few too. “It’s such a rare and sad person who can’t respond to the car. I defy people not to laugh or smile at it.” 

Volkswagen itself also came up with a rather flamboyant Beetle 30 years before the Lightmobile. The millionth Type 1 produced was specially painted in bright gold, with diamanté-encrusted bumpers and trim and a pink cloth interior. Tasteful it wasn’t. If you fancy going to marvel at its sheer garishness, it’s now on display in the Wolfsburg Autostadt Museum.

Words: Richard Gunn