In 1999, he made a patchwork quilt car (completed with quilted hubcaps) for the First Annual Art Car Parade in Scottsdale ("and it was the only," Benavides adds with a laugh). The car, a 1984 Crown Victoria, was donated by the Scottsdale Police Department.

The Scottsdale Cultural Council asked him to do a community art car project with a Western theme. "They were thinking cow horns and wagon wheels — what Scottsdale's known for," Benavides says. "I said, 'If you really want to do what the community did in frontier days, people got together and made quilts. And that way, you include the whole community, not just the men who were out roping cows and stuff.' So that's how this came about. We set up in Scottsdale with tables and sewing machines and pieces of cloth, and people came out and did their own patches for the car."

Born in Texas and raised in California, Benavides grew up helping his father, a farm mechanic, fix and build things. After high school, he enrolled at California State University as an engineering student, but also started taking art classes. By the time he graduated in 1983, he had degrees in both engineering and art.

Fletcher's Pirate Surfmobile on display at the Scottsdale International Auto Museum.
Jamie Peachey
Fletcher's Pirate Surfmobile on display at the Scottsdale International Auto Museum.
An art car by Maricopa Mel
Jamie Peachey
An art car by Maricopa Mel

Location Info


Arizona State Fairgrounds

1826 W. McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Category: Attractions and Amusement Parks

Region: Central Phoenix


See an art car slideshow.

Phoenix Cars Swap Meet
5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday, January 6 and 7, Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 W. McDowell Rd., Classic, collectible, and art-inspired cars and trucks for show and sale (along with 1,500 booths of hard-to-find car parts and accessories).

Classic Car Auction at Scottsdale International Auto Museum
January 13, 14, and 15, 9119 E. Indian Bend Rd., Place a bid (or drool over) a collection of muscle, exotic, and collector cars.

Street Fair/Car and Bike Show in Casa Grande
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, January 21, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, January 22. More than 250 classic, custom, vintage, low rider, street rod, and competition cars.

The Mesa Super Show
3 to 10 p.m. Saturday, March 31, at Mesa Convention Center, 201 N. Center St., One of the year’s largest showcases of classic, custom, and special interest cars and bikes.

Benavides came to Arizona and worked as an aerospace engineer for more than a decade before going back to art school. The Madonna car was part of his thesis for his master of fine arts degree at ASU in 1996. He re-created Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper with wood and tires, placing tires within tires to create a kinetic effect. There was a handle connected to a shaft and motor, and people could crank it to make all the tires rotate.

"They would squeak and rattle like the disciples talking and whispering. I did that piece at the end of the room, and so the natural progression was the Madonna, who brought light to the last supper," Benavides says. "But her headlights were the only lights in the show. People would walk across in the shadows and would become part of the art. On the floor, we had two inches of ground-up tires. People would walk on it in the dark, and it made them aware that they were there. Mentally, they became part of the art."

At his home studio/garage in Chandler, he's making a sequel to the Madonna car — a Virgin of Guadalupe car. He designed an electric winch for the car that will allow him to stand it on end. "I already built the chassis for it, and I started building the body of it," he says. "The license plates on that car are going to be international. I have Thailand, Germany, Ecuador . . ."

Most of the license plates he uses are donated. "The next car I'm building is going to have somebody's name scratched on every plate," he says. "Everybody that donates, I want to have their name, kind of like graffiti — another form of communication. What I'm short on are Mexican license plates, which are going to make the chest."

"Every license plate is a legal document," he continues. "It's unique. And there's a story behind the car it came off — they could have gone to Disneyland, could have gotten married, gotten robbed, had a flat — there's all kinds of stories behind it. This [plate] is an American story, that [plate] is an American story — this [car] is an American history book, conceptually."

"If you want to have a good time in America, bring an old American car over, look really stupid and weird and lost and lonely, and guys, every chick in America will flock around you. If you're young enough."

Richard Fletcher's recounting his journey to America, and how he came to build some of the biggest, flashiest custom show cars in existence — things like the World's Longest Ferrari F40, the World's Largest Convertible (with a volleyball court inside), and a 40-foot-tall Eiffel Tower car.

Fletcher's having lunch at The Matador in downtown Phoenix, where his Spanish-themed mural adorns the east wall. He seems to know everybody here. He's got a cheeky British charm and a toothy grin; he cracks winky jokes with almost everyone he encounters. His receding (but still long) blond hair has the same frizzy, flyaway texture as Albert Einstein's, which adds to Fletcher's "nutty professor" vibe.

He says he "was born on Christmas Day, a long time ago — shut up," in Bath, England, and customized model car kits when he was a kid. "Always American model kits," he says. "I've always been crazy about American cars and American ladies. So it was pretty obvious that somewhere along the line, I was going to come to America."

But first, it was late '60s and early '70s swinging London for him, where he worked as a store manager and made show cars and psychedelic signs to go in boutiques. "I'd moved there from the sticks, and it was kind of like moving from Buckeye to Los Angeles," Fletcher says.

In 1971, he went to see a Stevie Wonder concert with a friend of his who was president of the Stevie Wonder Fan Club. There, he met Martha and the Vandellas, including Martha Reeves' sister, Lois. "She was 23 at the time and just lovely," Fletcher recalls. "I became a groupie, a male groupie. I hung out with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. We went to clubs — it was fantastic, we were dancing in the street and everything. I was crazy about Lois. I thought we were gonna be a team . . . and it didn't happen. She went back to America, and I was heartbroken. And I decided there was more to life than sitting around swinging London."

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