Out of Their Shell
Kyrsten Mate drives like a snail. No surprise, though.
After all, her car is a snail. Dubbed the Golden Mean,
it debuted at this year’s Burning Man festival, where
revelers eagerly rode in its glowing shell, or hugged
the head with its flamethrower eyes. Every afternoon,
Mate’s 2-year-old daughter, Zolie, commandeered
the cushioned interior for story time.
“Several years ago, I dreamt that I saw a car in
the desert but the car was a giant snail,” says Mate,
a sound designer for films like The Incredibles.
Photography by Branca Nitzsche
And those are the kinds of dreams that stuff is
made of. Fortunately, Mate and her husband, blacksmith Jon Sarriugarte, are well versed in weird
rides. Their last collaboration was the SS Alpha Fox,
a civil service vehicle converted into a fire-spewing
spaceship straight out of 1960s science fiction.
The Golden Mean began life as a 60s-era
Volkswagen Beetle — inexpensive and easy to transform with their “oil punk” aesthetic. Early plans
for the shell called for fiberglass construction, but
Sarriugarte wasn’t eager to deal with the mess.
Fortunately, the scrap pile at Sarriugarte’s hand-
forged furniture company, Form & Reform, was heaping with possibility. They made an exoskeleton from
steel, skinning it in sheet metal and perforated steel
to allow a view of the outside world.
Midway through the build, the couple learned about
the golden ratio of mathematics, sometimes called
the golden mean. The number is found throughout
nature, including the proportions of a snail’s shell.
They soon took a tape measure to their creation.
“We realized that we had unconsciously already
been following the proportion a lot,” Sarriugarte says.
“That revelation has given me a whole new insight
into how I’d like to make stuff inspired by nature.”
The biomechanical buggy does seem alive. It
boasts an air ride suspension that can pump the
shell up and down. Other lively mods are in the works.
“We can’t forget the snail trail,” Mate reminds
him. That would be a trickle of graywater collected
from campsites when the Golden Mean hits the
open road. —David Pescovitz
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