JULY 2023: 1951 AUSTIN PANEL VAN—THE PERFECT CANADA DAY ART CAR

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The term art car may have started with John Lennon’s Rolls Royce and over the years other people have embraced the concept of a rolling piece of art on four wheels.

These cars draw an incredible amount of attention at car shows because that’s why they were built—to be people magnets.

Jerry Sutherland

A 1951 Austin panel van is a story on its own, but this one goes to the next level. Lyle-Brown-John is the proud owner of this unique piece of automotive art. Lyle is the ultimate free spirit and he admits to being a willing participant in every phase of the 60s and 70s culture.

This van is a free-form expression of how Lyle sees life—then and now. There’s a definite Canadian thread throughout the van and the Boler trailer behind it. The giant moose on the roof of the van is hard to miss.

The life-sized Mountie flashing the peace sign is another highlight. Lyle admits he gets attention from the police with the various RCMP signs on the van, but their reaction is usually curious and friendly. One female RCMP officer pulled up beside him and just said, “That’s cool”.   

Lyle drives his Austin panel without fear, and he tows the trailer behind it, so he’s not breaking any speed records in it. He tries to take back roads because his Austin tops out at around 40 miles per hour with the trailer behind it. He said most people are pretty patient about it, although a few guys in large pickups have been less friendly about it on the road, so he’s been cut off a few times.

The semaphore signal lights still work although the passenger side is a little wonky, but Lyle likes to keep the Austin up to date in case he’s stopped by the police. His biggest problem is that people don’t know what a semaphore signal indicator means. 

There have been a few incidents on the road, but a blown head gasket was his biggest problem to date. He thought about upgrading the engine, but he was talked out of it by an Austin purist who recognized how rare the van was to British car guys. He did add an electric fan to help the car function on hot days.   

Lyle had a buddy who introduced him to the art car world. The guy had money and other cars, but his favorite car was a ratty old woody wagon because he could freelance with it. He said the car was “the most photographed car in the world”, so Lyle’s mission with the Austin is to make it “the most photographed car in the world” to honor his friend’s memory.  He even has an Instagram account for the car’s adventures.

The custom visor is an offshoot of the Cars’ movie because kids like to see eyes on cars. He had a friend paint the eyes to suit the car—a friendly nod to a legendary kid’s movie.        

Lyle was amazed when he found out he could get specialized plates with FAR OUT on them.

He thought they were the perfect touch to an old Austin van that celebrated a different era when a vehicle like that would be a perfect fit at Woodstock.

Jerry Sutherland
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