SHELL ON WHEELS: Florida Man shellacks classic car with seashells from the seashore
WHEN DAN TURTURRO FIRST acquired the 1965 Dodge Dart, he had no intention of ever shell shocking the neighbors.
The old car was in good shape, tan with a few minor rust spots and an engine that started right up. Turturro happily paid $2,800, which he considered a bargain for a classic car found on craigslist.
But after keeping it in his Long Island garage for five years, he decided the old car needed a makeover.
“I thought, 'I’m just going to paint this a Florida color,'’’ Turturro said, recalling the first steps in March 2020 in the transformation of a car about to lose its tan.
“I hand-painted it blue.’’
The new paint job was nice enough. But the more he looked at it, the more he knew the bright blue wasn’t quite the bold “Florida” makeover he had in mind.
So the Lake Worth Beach snowbird decided to go full Florida on the car. He started covering it in a conchy coating that unmistakably screamed Sunshine State.
Lots of seashells.
And some Florida kitsch.
First, he fastened a few metal signs — one warns against feeding alligators, another is a 1950s orange juice ad — on the doors and sides.
Then came the seashells, a scattering on the front and back doors. Turturro liked what he saw.
But like a car engine on the cold winter Long Island mornings he grew up with, he was just getting warmed up.
Bucket by bucket, he started collecting seashells by the seashore a few miles from his Lake Worth Beach house.
Like a rising tide, the shells started washing across his ride one by one, bumper to bumper, fender to fender, with equal amounts of Gorilla Glue and patience.
A year later, Turturro’s seashell collection on wheels remains a creative labor of love, a never-ending work in progress that turns heads, sparks smiles and looks like it belongs not in a garage but in an art museum
“I just do it for my own amusement,’’ said Turturro, who started the project at his home in St. James, New York, as the pandemic was taking hold.
Seven months ago, he had the car shipped to Lake Worth Beach. Since then, he has sat on a folding chair on the side of the street outside his home gluing shells to the body of his conchmobile.
Mostly the car wears seashells. But a closer look reveals some surprise accessories, like the empty bottle of rum on the front hood.
“This guy,’’ he said, pointing to a large alligator on the roof of the car, “the top of his head was broken off when he arrived. I was so distraught. Then I had to get another one.’’
There are four alligator heads on the roof now, along with a ceramic octopus, a glass lizard, a treasure chest overflowing with coins, a small army of plastic turtles and some coral.
The other day, a Parrot Cove neighbor dropped off a novelty photo of a “Florida reindeer” — a crab on top of an alligator head raising its claws.
“The next day she comes back and says to me, ‘Did you see that little card I left for you?’ Not only did I see it. It’s got a home. I stuck it right here!’’ he said, pointing to a corner of the windshield near a rooster made of seashells.
Many of the decorations are sentimental.
A ceramic pipe-smoking sailor on the hood was made by Turturro’s mother when he was 11. A stained glass surfboard, made by his father, rides along a rear side window. Just above the handle of the driver’s side door are a few shells painted by his daughter, now 22, when she was 5.
Before long, the knickknacks invaded the interior, too.
A mermaid and green parrot dangle from the roof. A row of plastic oranges, looking freshly picked from a tree, line the top backs of the front seats. A ceramic Florida-themed dinner plate anchors the center of the steering wheel.
And circling the door handles are — what else? — seashells.
“I find it strangely therapeutic,’’ Turturro said as he applied glue to the back rims of a shell with the concentration of a jeweler setting a stone.
“And I enjoy that people enjoy seeing it. It brings smiles to most people’s faces.’’
And just how many seashells are on the car?
“I have no idea,’’ he said with a laugh. “One of these days I’m going to do an estimate!’
Turturro said he left room near the back bumper for the license plate — a New York plate commemorating the 1964 World’s Fair — so he can drive the car around the neighborhood, to Bryant Park and to the shell-covered car’s favorite destination, “a shell shop on Lantana.”
The odometer, under a dashboard full of seashells, reads 87,987. But he thinks that’s too low for a 50-year-old car.
“I think it has turned over,’’ said Turturro, who works with adults with learning disabilities and volunteers at an animal shelter.
Every time he works on the car, he’s always interrupted by shellshocked passersby offering compliments.
“This guy pulled up in this beautiful convertible Mercedes the other day. Looked brand new. He says, ‘You want to trade?’’’
The seashell mobile is not for sale.
When it’s not on the street being shelled, it sits inside a garage safe from the Florida sun and rain.
And that’s where it will stay for the next six months starting at the end of April when Turturro heads back to Long Island for the summer.
Until then, he can be found most days, when it’s not raining, on Lakeside Drive just south of Seventh Avenue North.
He’ll be hard to miss.
He’ll be the guy gluing seashells to a car covered in seashells.
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