Nations rise and fall. Generations are born, grow old, and pass away. Weird, kitschy cafeterias slip into disrepair and are later revived as bars. All the while, as we hurry about our petty lives, we are watched over by a race of immobile giants—the Muffler Men. Like the Argonoth of Middle Earth, these silent sentinels loom tall over highways and byways, eternal guardians of the human race.
Produced to draw traffic to roadside businesses in the 1960s and ’70s, Muffler Men were made by the International Fiberglass Company, which was owned and operated by one Steve Dashew in Venice, California. The first version of the Muffler Man was a Paul Bunyan, its hands poised to hold an axe (or somesuch long-handled object), and a number of variations evolved from there. The business died out in the mid-’70s, but the giants remain scattered across the United States, and they’ve developed their own obsessive—no, I mean really obsessive—cult following. L.A. boasts seven of the gargantuan figures. Take a look:
This Muffler Man held a golf club and stood guard over the Dominguez Hills Golf Course before the fairway was torn up to make way for the Porsche Experience Center Los Angeles. The course’s development wasn’t game over for the Muffler Man, though—he was refitted in 2013 with a specially made Porsche racing suit and a checkered flag.
Sure, the Compton Muffler Man doesn’t have pupils, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t watching, always watching.
Before he was a La Salsa Man, this hombre was a Hamburger Man standing confidently astride a Fosters Freeze, palms facing up and holding a giant burger. In the 1980s, though, when La Salsa took over the property, artist Bob Wade reworked the fiberglass man’s appearance. Wade turned the top hamburger bun into the brim of a sombrero and the bottom bun into a tray of Mexican food. He added a little paint, a mustache, and a serape, and the La Salsa Man was born. Though the restaurant moved to a new location earlier this year, the 22-foot-tall taco guy stayed behind, an emblem of a bygone age.
This Paul Bunyan-style Muffler Man outside Set A Part Automotive in Van Nuys apparently goes by Kevin (he was named after a former owner). He once sported a beard like all Paul Bunyans, but it has been hidden under a layer of skin-toned paint to make him look more like his namesake.
Chicken Boy, a muffler man with a custom chicken head, grips a bucket of fried chicken in his muscular arms. At 22 feet tall, he’s possibly the world’s largest humanoid chicken sculpture (please let me know if you find a bigger one). Long ago he watched over a fried chicken restaurant at Fifth and Broadway downtown. When the restaurant closed in 1984, graphic designer Amy Inouye procured the figure in hopes of passing it off to a museum. She found no takers, though, and finally installed it on top of her own Highland Park studio. Chicken boy now boasts his own newsletter, the Chicken Boy Gazette, as well as an assortment of Chicken-Boy-themed souvenirs.
Of all L.A.’s massive hollow men, this guy is my personal favorite—never mind that he looks like he’s about to pick a fight. Sergio (his name is painted in small letters on the front of his shirt) stands in front of an auto shop on Mission Road, across the street from the Piggyback Yard. His somewhat faded checkerboard shirt classes up the joint.
Tony, the most dapper L.A. Muffler Man of all, stands tall behind loops of barbed wire in the Tony’s Transmission Center parking lot in City Terrace. His presumably once-crisp white shirt is bedecked with a rare bowtie. He demonstrates his sheer power by holding that tiny red car in his stiff molded hands.