Wherever Bob Bauman drives, people point and shoot.
Then they upload their videos of Bauman's rusted low-to-the-ground 1949 Ford Tudor hot rod onto YouTube — steering this wheel head-turner to South Florida stardom.
Dubbed the "Crazy Rat Rod" by online fans, the vehicle is something of a Frankenstein, with its engine from a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air and taillights from a 1992 Cadillac DeVille.
Bauman, owner of the Mad Mods auto shop in Pompano Beach, fashioned the car's steering wheel and matching cupholders from a motorcycle chain. A Jack Daniel's bottle serves as the overflow container for the radiator. And instead of regular seats, he installed four beach chairs from Walgreens.
The driver's-side door features the letter "A" for anarchy, and a sticker on the dashboard reads: "Built not bought."
"When I go down the road, all you see are people with their cameras," said Bauman, 43, of Plantation. "It makes people smile when they see it. I love it when people go up to it and ask me questions. I just stand back in awe."
What drives random folks to shoot and share video of others?
"I just liked that it looked nothing like anything I had ever seen on the road before, and wanted to share," said Jim Sharp, on his YouTube video posting. His video, showing the hot rod darting along Interstate 595, has amassed 467,000 views since it was uploaded in 2010.
Another video, which shows the vehicle from various vantage points, has revved up 270,000 views since 2011.
"It's just completely different. It's amazing. It's not like anything else around," said Mike Streltsov, 40, of Hallandale Beach, who posted a video of the hot rod at a Coral Springs car show. His footage — posted with the header "Rat Rod. Crazy Super Car. Must See!" — has almost 70,000 views since December 2012.
Maria M. Garcia, a social media professor at Florida International University, has seen Bauman's car on Interstate 95 in Broward County. In fact, she too wanted to shoot the car with her phone, but she was driving.
"This man and his vehicle have become major mobile landmarks, and he's become a celebrity," she said.
Certainly, the ever-growing influence of social media has a lot to do with it, as well as the popularity of smartphones and easy access to editing and video apps. But there's also the living-vicariously-through-someone-else factor.
"Very few people can invent a rat rod, especially with parts laying around the garage. But all of us can view the video and make remarks," said Sharon Geltner, a Palm Beach State College business analyst who also teaches social media workshops in Broward and Palm Beach counties. "YouTube allows us to share in the excitement of being an inventor, without actually having to make something new."
For Bauman, the car is a work of art, something he designed for fun.
"I like to go against the grain," Bauman said. "I like to chop [cars] up and make them look like what they're not supposed to. Normal is boring."
Bauman first laid eyes on the car four years ago, its frame sitting in someone's yard in Orlando, where he lived at the time. The car had no engine.
"It was on its way to the junkyard," he recalled. "And I saved it. I had to have it. It was one of those things that when you know, you know."
Gradually, he began breathing life into the vehicle by using parts that were left over from other jobs at his shop, which he has owned for 15 years. In all, he spent about $4,000.
"The whole thing was built from what I had," said Bauman, who used a subframe from a Chevy S-10 pickup.
The car has an air suspension similar to that of General Motors' luxury brand, and it's dressed with white-walled red tires. "It rides like a Cadillac," Bauman said.
Since it's so low to the ground (it looks like it's resting on asphalt), he installed a compressor in the trunk to raise the car 8 inches for his everyday commutes.
He said he didn't seek out the digital fame, but added jokingly, "I wish I could get a dollar for every page view."
At the weekly Friday cruise nights at the Tower Shops in Davie, both the man and his car draw attention, as crowds with cameras and smartphones gather around them.
The car is just as visually intriguing as Bauman, who sports a striking gray-flecked mohawk, tattoos and piercings in his ears and lips.
"Sometimes it's like the first time I ever brought it there, like they have never seen it before," Bauman said. "A lot of people don't think it's real. People wait until the end of the night to watch me leave to see it move."
And then Bauman and the car's throbbing engine fade into the night — and onto YouTube.
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