Written by Mary T. Kogut, CNN
Next to these four images of dashing, grimacing animals, you’ll find a rather neglected intersection — an in-progress fence, that appears to house off-road vehicles.
In a nondescript scrapyard, you’ll find a small shop in which enterprising showroom owner Fu Yu becomes much more than just an operator of classic cars.
Outside are almost 500,000 devices — carriages, chassis, car bodies and parts — that represents the state of the American automotive industry. Though Fu himself works off books from between 300 to 400 dealers, his creations are as surprising and surprising as cars themselves.
While carmakers from LA to Boston have let have their moment in the spotlight, Fu’s business records show how myriad American corporations have employed him and his labor-intensive shop.
Fu Yu, AKA Gerrymandering (2015) on view at Harkness JCC in Baltimore Credit: Courtesy Emmett Brauer Jr. Gallery, Pasadena, Calif.
Sadly for these old army tanks and Airstream trailer interiors, Fu’s clout is focused on particular vehicles rather than names; but just five short years ago, he broke records when he started making cars for the average Joe.
“Before 2009, a really big dealer would want only two cars at a time; they wouldn’t call me for a while, and then when they did call, they would only like 10 to 20 cars,” Fu says.
Eventually, the dealer would order up to 200 cars in a year. As the economy plummeted, these dealers became more demanding.
“They would say ‘don’t make more than 80 a year,’” Fu recalls.
What American car model Fu Yu designed first Credit: Courtesy Fu Yu (1990)
It seems that Fu, who lacks a college degree, felt alone in his struggle. “The way I do things, I’m self-taught. How can someone learn a thousand little cars? No-one understood. They laughed at me.
“I was like ‘what’s going on?’”
A few years ago, Fu and a friend noticed that there was a loophole in the arcane system in which U.S. carmakers set car standards for all parts of the world, not just for their own cars. Instead of sending cars, the automakers could easily manufacture many more cars and sell them throughout the world.
They started trading one automobile after another.
As a result, Fu used a combination of old equipment and his own work skills to make a variety of cars for every type of car enthusiast, be it a boy in a driveway or an old lady cruising her narrow streets in a high-end Prius.
“I used pieces of art, parts. I use carpentry so that people won’t say, ‘no-we-have-not-found-the-perfect-part-for-that-car.’ I make some artistic parts to attract more. There are a lot of cars that are missing parts, then they can just have a new car,” he says.
Controversial history: Political cycles and politics
After huge success in the garage, Fu started exhibiting his wares in Las Vegas, where he ran into problems when the competition started using the same exact-size parts.
He had hit upon a new trading scheme, but to survive his dilemma was in some ways more an affront to the car trade — something that he struggles to square with the artist inside.
“I don’t discriminate between the person who has spent $2 million to become famous, and the person who spent $2,000 and is gonna enjoy that car for ten years or 100 years. I just like the people that can feel the pain of change — and that also changes how people feel when they have something new. That’s also art,” he says.
He describes his work — the so-called “real cars” — as his “baby,” and a historic time when car businesses dominated huge industries and regions. But he’s distanced himself from the political attitudes that followed.
“It was not just the car business; in the country as a whole, there was a lot of dividing,” he says.