My Car Quest

June 19, 2024

Artistic Considerations Facing a Photographer Attempting to Capture the Zeitgeist of a Route 66 Theme Car Show…

by Wallace Wyss –

I go to car shows for different reasons. Sometimes it’s to shoot a rare car you hardly ever see because of its value–such as at the Casa Ferrari show in Pebble Beach where I hoped the 250GTO I saw was real (last I looked they’re pushing $70 million).

Other times it’s just to see what owners of different cars are doing to them now–like which way are Porsche 356 owners going? Surprisingly not all are going for stock–there’s this “outlaw” trend…

And sometimes, looking through the viewfinder as a fine artist, I go because I am going to shoot at least fifty pictures, hoping that one, just one, please Lord, will be interesting enough to make a painting of. In oil, on canvas.

Route 66

This time the show was the Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion show in Ontario, California, who inherited the show that used to be in San Bernardino (ironically San Bernardino is where the actual Route 66 passes through, and I myself remember cruising through town on that same hallowed highway before the Interstates came, in ’53).

In formality, I would term this event as a “Cars and Coffee.” No judging, but at least some labeling so you would know what era each car represents.

Of the 1,000 cars registered for the show, I only captured a dozen or so. After the show, I looked at the pictures for hours, trying to decide which had possibilities as art. Here was some of the candidates:

–A Chevrolet Monte Carlo that had been cut into a full targa, not just a T-top. I would have liked to ask the owner if there’s much flex, and who did it but there’s no rule here you have to stay with your car. And I had forgotten to shoot a picture of the whole car.

–A gold ’48 Merc with a radically chopped top–in flat gold. At one point I saw it cruise by (they encourage those displaying to take take a cruise periodically and the front seat passenger had his muscular forearm resting on the windowsill, an arm festooned with tattoos. So even the arm made a design statement if I just chose to portray the door (from far enough back to show the chopped top).

The flat gold chopped top Merc was exciting when I knelt down for a better angle but it doesn’t tell as good a story as the “I made it in America” story of the Caddy

The muscular tattooed forearm of the front seat passenger in the chopped top Merc was a story in itself, recalling the James Dean movie where he races a Merc . But would those who’ve never seen a chopped top know what they were looking at? I’m surprised the driver didn’t get ticketed for lack of visibility….

Route 66

Route 66

–A seductive woman in skimpy clothes looked a little too immobile in the back of a car so I took a chance and peeped up close. The car owner confirmed that yes, indeed, she was a dummy, and in getting ready for the show, he had dressed her and put on makeup. (I wonder if a real woman was mad she didn’t get asked instead?)

Route 66

–A Lincoln Continental convertible with 21″ tall wheels and tires. It had a fresh new look just with the tall wheels and tires.

–An aftermarket double air intake scoop on some hot rod, heavy chrome polished, delivered much of the excitement of the car without having to lift the hood. But I wanted to do a whole car, including the crowd and setting.


When it came down to deciding which among my 50 pictures would be the subject of a painting, I narrowed down the choice to three–the elderly elegant man in the black lowered Cadillac, the flat gold Merc and another Merc festooned with paint. The second Merc, also lowered to the ground, had been treated to a wild paint job. But that one hadn’t been shot with a good background that told the story of the event so I will probably re-paint it against an admiring crowd.

The front view of the Caddy I didn’t bother shooting–too much chrome dominating the picture.

The direct rear view has a “off we go into the New World” angle. I like it as well as the rear 3/4 but the rear 3/4 could be too distracting compared to direct rear.

The same car from the front has too much chrome. And a static picture is boring compared to “off we go on an adventure.”

The side view shows its length but maybe the lack of a good crowd in the background robbed the picture of some excitement. And I shot too close–should of run down to where the thicker crowd was. An artist has to set up the subject of the painting with the best background available without orchestrating it.

Route 66

Route 66

Route 66

Route 66

You hope as an artist to get a single reference shot with everything you wish in one shot–the right car, the right people (owners or spectators)–but you may only get the car. So the painting ends up being a composite of two scenes, one the car, the other the background.


So far I’ve only titled the Cadillac portrait (“America, America”) because I’m betting the owner, who I would say is about 75-80, dreamed of emigrating to the U.S. in the Fifties when cars like that were driven by wealthy business leaders.

He probably told himself a thousand times “When I get rich I’m gonna buy myself a Cadillac like the boss drives.” He succeeded in his dream. The proof was right in front of me. I liked his wife in the car also with a straw hat, sharing the billing as it were, sharing in his dream. They didn’t have to soup up the engine, or have deep dish wheels or outside pipes, the Cad was a perfect specimen of American success, circa late ’40s. It didn’t need anything else.

Layout wise, once I put the memory card in the PC, I saw that I had taken only three or four shots of the car–a high direct rear, a rear 3/4 and a side. I chose the rear because it showed the crowd, the background actors confirming his business and life success. The rear 3/4 got you involved too much in body shape where I like the “brave new world” direct rear. But I may still do the rear 3/4 later.

I did add a bluer sky, I also considered a golden sky–the winning picture was shot 45 minutes before sunset. I’ll enlarge the rough draft painting to a 20″ x 30″ canvas and see if I can find an interested gallery that can see the same success-in-America story I saw…..

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE AUTHOR/ARTIST Wallace Alfred Wyss, the son of an immigrant himself, specializes in depicting exotic cars on canvas. Sometimes, though, when sufficiently inspired, he goes all-American. He can be contacted about his art on


Route 66 Sign

Artistic Considerations Facing a Photographer Attempting to Capture the Zeitgeist of a Route 66 Theme Car Show...
Article Name
Artistic Considerations Facing a Photographer Attempting to Capture the Zeitgeist of a Route 66 Theme Car Show...
I go to car shows for different reasons. Sometimes it's to shoot a rare car you hardly ever see because of its value--such as at the Casa Ferrari show in Pebble Beach.


  1. Jim Van Lenten says

    Merc is a 49-50 not a 48

  2. Harley Earl would approve of the Cadillac.

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