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The Strange Legend of the Athens Spy Car Army

When most people hear the words “spy car”, they most likely picture James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 or maybe his Lotus Esprit, both iconic movie cars featuring tricked out spy gear like hidden machine guns, tire slashers, ejection seats, or even the capability to turn into a submarine.

But in Athens, Georgia, the term “spy car” has a much more real, albeit stranger meaning.

It All Started with the 8-Track Gorilla

In the late 1990’s, a new musical force appeared in the world-renowned Athens music scene: a gorilla singing bad karaoke to an 8-track tape machine strapped to his chest. The act was so bad that the 8-Track Gorilla became an overnight sensation prompting not only a coterie of adoring fans, body guards, and a retinue of dancing girls, but also a secret car army plotting revenge against this affront to musical taste and decency.

Athens Spy Car. Photographer unknown.
Music artist Bryan Poole and his Spy Car. Still image from Diane Marie Campese’s “Tracking the Gorilla” documentary.

“Every Hero Needs a Nemesis”

Bryan Poole
Athens Spy Car. Photographer unknown.

Local artist Brian Smith was the creator of the “Spy Car Army”, which was a stable of art cars all sporting similar primary color paint jobs and outfitted with all the equipment you’d imagine one would need to bring down a karaoke-singing gorilla superhero with an 8-track machine strapped to his chest. This paraphernalia included machine guns, satellite dishes, escape hatches, missile launchers, fuel cells, and bash guards – all painted in the same whimsical primary color style. 

Whenever the 8-Track Gorilla would perform, the Spy Car Army would hit the streets and go on secret maneuvers to track and hopefully subdue the singing primate. If this is still not making any sense (how could it?), I highly recommend watching Diane Marie Campese’s insightful documentary, “Tracking the Gorilla” embedded below.

Long Live the Spy Car!

The 8-Track Gorilla still pops up from time-to-time these days, but the original spy cars are rarely spotted – although there are rumors a few still exist. In an attempt to revive the Athens Spy Car scene, we here at Tiki Flamingo have been working on a replica/homage spy car built of a $300 1993 Subaru Legacy. So far our replica spy car features a fiery hood scoop, a homemade sound effects/PA system and a rally roof rack made from the base of a fake leather couch found on the side of the road.

What so special about Athens spy cars as an art form is the many creative working and non-working spy elements you can incorporate into your build. You can find inspiration from lots of movies and TV shows, including “The Great Race”, “Batman”, “Get Smart”, “Speed Racer”, and of course, the aforementioned James Bond.

Creating a spy gear can take you into all sorts of artistic directions and all types of fabrication methodologies. For our spy car, we started dabbling in micro controllers and the satisfaction now of being able to plug a laptop into the dashboard of a ’93 Subaru to change sound FX files is really hard to convey. We’re still wrestling with the technical challenges of creating an onboard bubble screen to thwart would be pursuers, but we’re sure we’ll figure it out. Eventually.

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