Art Cars

| December 21, 2011

Toby Galinkin Outside of Weaver Street Market, c. 1992

If you lived in Chapel Hill during the 1990’s, chances are you saw the infamous “Baby Doll Car” cruising around town.

If you lived in, or even visited, Chapel Hill during the 1990’s, chances are you saw the infamous “Baby Doll Car” cruising around town. This was owner Toby Galinkin’s most famous art car, though she created four different art cars over the span of twenty years.

While growing up in Toms River, New Jersey, Toby’s father had a friend named Pete McDougal. According to Toby, “He was a really goofy guy… kind of like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. He came over one day to my parents’ house and said, ‘I drove all around town with my coffee cup on my car and I didn’t even realize it! And when I came back home, it was still on there!'” Toby hasn’t seen Pete since she was about nine years old, but that story always made her laugh.


One fateful day, back in 1986, Toby was recollecting that very story, and as an homage to Pete, she decided to re-live the tale using her own car — permanently. She glued a coffee cup to the roof of her 1975 Slant-6 Valiant, above the driver’s side door — right where you would naturally place your morning coffee while trying to open your car door. Little did she know that that simple act would become her claim to fame.

For a while, she drove around town with just the coffee cup there. Suffice it to say, Toby got a lot of reactions from the cup, and locals would often mention their “Coffee Cup Car” sightings around town. Here are some of her favorite responses. “One time I was in Durham in a pretty scary neighborhood, driving around. I hear screaming and I’m like, ‘what is that?’ A woman was chasing my car down the street yelling, ‘Yo’ cup! Yo’ cup!’ It was hilarious!” Another time, Toby was driving The Coffee Cup Car down East Franklin Street heading towards University Mall, when a cop pulled her over. She was thirty years old then and had never been pulled before. “I stopped the car and asked him, ‘What have I done officer? Was I speeding?’ ‘No,” the officer replied. ‘There’s a coffee cup on your car.’ I politely stated, ‘It’s glued on there.’ He responded, ‘I figured that out because it didn’t move when I stopped you.’ I asked him, ‘Is that OK?’ He smiled, but was a little perturbed that he got taken.” And one time she set a house cleaning client’s security alarm off by accident, and when the cop showed up to investigate, Toby said, “Do you really think I’d use this as a getaway car?” Certainly, art cars do make terrible getaway cars.

The Everything Car on Highway 54


Toby is an avid Thrift Store shopper and visits them daily. The Chapel Hill PTA Thrift Store on Elliot Road is her favorite. They used to sell toys there, and Toby would buy all of these little plastic toys, but didn’t really know what to do with them. One day she thought it would be fun to glue them to her car. It was systematic at first. “I started putting them on in nicely organized rows and then the rows kept closing in. It got to where I couldn’t put any on anymore, so I started putting them on top, and it started becoming a huge collage of three-dimensional stuff. Everything I could find was a possibility.” What was once The Coffee Cup Car slowly became what Toby called “The Everything Car.”

Tragically, The Everything Car was totaled in a very serious car accident in 1990. A dump truck and Toby in her Everything Car were both driving around a sharp corner on Jones Ferry Road in the rain. Toby went over the center line and the driver of the dump truck panicked and locked his brakes. He hit her and Toby’s car rolled over down into a ravine. “I was in a horrific car accident. I didn’t work for six months. I was very badly hurt. But I survived.” As far as Toby knows, no real photos exist of The Everything Car. Fortunately, though, Don Ross at WTVD 11 News did a story about Toby and her first art car, before it was hit. Click here to see the Chapel Hill Recorder video: Art Car 1.

Toby and Her Baby Doll Car at it's Decorated Peak, 1994

A Detail of the Roof of the Baby Doll Car


Toby’s next car, and the one Chapel Hill locals remember the most, was an ‘84 Dodge Aries that she got from the boyfriend of the dental student who fixed her teeth after the accident. One of the first things she did to christen it was to glue her signature coffee cup to the roof, right above the driver’s side door as before. Then she started buying baby dolls at the Thrift Shop — lots of them. Soon the roof was covered in baby doll heads.

Little by little, though, it grew into another Everything Car — with even more of everything than its predecessor. “It was just so easy and fun to do, but I still can’t believe that in the end, it had turned into what it was — when it was so completely covered. I started putting them on the doors when I ran out of room everywhere else. I remember the first time putting one on the door and thinking, ‘I don’t know if I should be doing this. This is going a little too far.’ That’s like, insane, when I look at pictures of it.”

Eventually the Baby Doll Car’s engine died, but she kept it for a while in her driveway, not ready to let her creation go quite yet. Eventually, Toby sold it for parts. “When I got rid off the car, I took everything off. Nobody had the right to have my car with the stuff on it. That was mine and mine alone. So I took a saw and sawed all the stuff off. The body of the car looked really bad – there was glue residue all over it.”

Toby Giving Her Nipple Car a Hug


When the Bay Doll Dodge finally stopped running, Toby bought another Valiant for $200 — this time a yellow 1973 V8. Once again, she first graced the roof with a coffee cup, and then proceeded to glue nipples from baby bottles all over the hood of it, along with some token plastic animals and numerous tiny baby doll hands. The end result was a much more minimalist art car, though it still turned a lot of heads as it drove past. Sometimes, Toby had manikin legs hanging out of the back of the trunk, as well. This is the car that was a part of Chapel Hill’s Bi-Centennial Parade in 1994, and our local news channel WTVD 11 did another story on Toby and this art car. Click here to see the Chapel Hill Recorder video: Art Car 2.

Toby's Last Art Car, The Giraffe Car


Toby’s fourth and final art car I like to call the Giraffe Car, because I remember it having lots of animals, including many giraffes on it. Toby calls it the “Yo-Yo Car” — not because it had yo-yo’s glued on it as one might expect, but because it was a ’92 Toyota Camry and the nickname “Yo-Yo” came from Toyota. Not as subtle as the Nipple Car, but not quite as wild as the Baby Doll car, Toby drove it until it finally broke down in 2009.

This car began with a coffee cup, as well, and donned the bright yellow  “KISS MY ART” bumper sticker that Toby placed on the bumper of all four art cars. The other common element found in all of her art cars are the manikins that accompany Toby on her outings. Sometimes they are in the front seat, and other times they prefer to ride in the back and be chauffeured. They are always wearing a mask or wig of some sort, and her favorite one is named Mavis Dumont, who has been with Toby since the first art car was created.

In 2009, when the Giraffe Car was finally stripped down and sold for parts for $100, Toby officially retired from the art car world. She has two cars now, another Camry and a Honda Accord, which were both given to her. And surprisingly, there is nothing glued to the outside of them. There are a few things glued on the inside, however, and each has a manikin wearing a mask in the backseat. “It’s a lot more subtle. A little touch of character. A nuance instead of an abundance.”

Her art car days might be over, though she still likes to provoke viewers with a few bumper stickers she designed, that admittedly make no sense. One states, “A dog in the bed is better than a man on the floor.” The other car’s sticker reads, “The pork chop was a little dry.” Toby explains how she got the idea for that one. “My best friend went to a restaurant and I asked how it was, and he goes, ‘Well, the pork chop was a little dry.’ So I said, ‘I’m going to put that on a bumper sticker.’ And it has been the most provocative thing I’ve done, because people are like, after reading it, what does that mean? They are totally baffled. It doesn’t mean anything, but I see them in my rear view mirror sitting there trying to figure it out. It’s like passive aggressive art now. I’m just messing with people, and it’s so hilarious. It is as funny as the art cars.”

To learn more about Toby Galinkin, the woman behind this mobile art form, click here to read the Chapel Hill Recorder article: The Cartist.

Category: Arts & Entertainment

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