Five ratchet-wielding years, one East German
automobile, and several coats of bikini wax — for
Liz Cohen, it’s been a long, sticky trip. The performance and documentary artist has built one of the
most improbable custom cars in the country, and
has the pictures to prove it.
Photograph courtesy of Liz Cohen
Most recently on display at Arizona’s Scottsdale
Museum of Contemporary Art, Cohen first threw
her Bodywork project into gear by cutting a 1987
Trabant 601 Deluxe in half. Then she ditched its
26-horsepower, 2-stroke motor for a 305 small-block engine nine times more powerful and rebuilt
the vehicle from the wheels up.
The result is a former-Communist lawnmower
that becomes a 1973 Chevy El Camino muscle car
at the flip of a few switches, “just like some kind
of incredible Frankenstein,” Cohen says.
Thanks to hydraulics, the Trabantamino grows 14
inches in height and 6 feet in length when it goes
Camino. Coiled Teflon brake and fuel lines and dovetailing fiberglass side panels extend and contract
as it changes shape. The specially built drive shaft
telescopes four times, and still runs at full speed
without vibrating. “It’s this weird thing that doesn’t fit
in but figures out a way to get accepted,” she says.
Which is an apt description of the artist’s whole
journey. When she began working at Scottsdale’s
Elwood Body Works, Cohen had little experience
with tools and was entering the mostly male world
of custom car builders and owners. But rather than
try to pass as a dude, she buffed up her own body
and became a bikini model. Her calendar of sexy
shots will be out this summer.
What does the custom car scene think of Cohen
and her wild ride? “Auto shop owners get so excited
when I tell them about the project that they give
me discounts and things for free,” she says. But the
real test comes this summer, when she’ll pull the
Trabantamino into lowrider competitions across the
country, jump in front in a skimpy outfit, and see if
her monster wins any prizes.
>> Liz Cohen: myspace.com/trabantamino