Route 66 News

A history of Cadillac Ranch

On Sunday, the Amarillo Globe-News published a well-researched story about the history of the Cadillac Ranch art installation just off Route 66.

Cadillac Ranch marked its 40th anniversary June 21 — four days after owner Stanley Marsh 3 died at age 76.

The story provides behind-the-scenes details about how Cadillac Ranch came about. I urge you to read the story in its entirety. A few highlights:

— The Ant Farm art collective, which came up with the idea, didn’t strictly have Amarillo on its radar. It compiled a list of millionaires who might be receptive to having the art installation on their land, and Marsh was on the list.

— Ant Farm member Hudson Marquez drew up Cadillac Ranch after seeing the book “The Look of Cars” in a bar near San Francisco. One section of the book dealt with the rise and fall of tail fins as a part of car design.

— Marquez and fellow Ant Farm members Chip Lord and Doug Michaels were paid $2,000 for the artwork and given a $3,000 budget to procure materials, including Cadillacs bought mostly from junkyards in the Texas Panhandle.

— The hard earth allowed the cars to keep the correct angle once they were lowered into the ground. A British artist working for Marsh on another project, whose name apparently is lost to history, proved vital in installing Cadillac Ranch.

— The newspaper estimated if Cadillac Ranch was visited by only 70 people a day, it would have totaled more than 1 million visitors. It’s safe to say the number is probably two to three times that.

— The Globe News published a letter from Marsh to the Ant Farm that posed questions about the project. One excerpt:

If we put the Cadillac Ranch on Highway 66, near my airport, would the bodies of the Cadillacs lean toward the highway? (south) or would they lean toward the prairie? (north). That’s an important consideration. Also, I’m worried about putting it overlooking the highway because I’m afraid some Ladybird-Johnson kind of ecology freak would claim that it was junk and not art and make me fence it off, so perhaps we would have to read the regulations concerning junk car lots in Amarillo, in Potter County, in Texas and on U.S. Interstates, and place it far enough back so that it would conform. Of course, it might be better fenced off from view.

After Marsh’s death last month, it was learned Cadillac Ranch was placed in a trust and that the installation would remain unchanged. That was doubtlessly done to protect Cadillac Ranch from a slew of lawsuits that allege Marsh committed sex acts with teenage boys in his Amarillo office.

Ordinarily, Cadillac Ranch would become eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by 2024 — its 50th anniversary. But in 1997 Marsh moved Cadillac Ranch one mile from its original spot to escape Amarillo’s sprawl. That move damages its chances for National Register status, and likely would delay it to 2047.

(Sunrise image of Cadillac Ranch by Lotus Carroll via Flickr)

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