Your Own Art Car? Wunder’s Rockbox on the Auction Block

by Whatsblem the Pro

Photo: wwardlaw

Photo: wwardlaw

Derek Wunder has been going to Burning Man every year for the last thirteen years; he’s going to miss 2013 because he’s got a baby on the way, due the week of the burn. You may have heard of Derek; if not, you’ve almost certainly seen his art car, the Rockbox: a giant ’80s-style boom box on wheels that holds roughly fifty people as it cruises the playa in search of giant cassette tapes. The Rockbox is twenty-four feet long, built on a 1987 Dodge one-ton van with a 318 V-8 engine, and sports a custom sound system designed for use on the playa.

I noticed this morning that the Rockbox is for sale on Craigslist, so I got in touch with Derek Wunder and asked him about it.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO

What’s the actual asking price for the Rockbox, Derek? That Laughing Squid article says $5,200, but the Craigslist ad says $13,500.

DEREK WUNDER

The price listed on the Craigslist ad is an error; the actual price is $5200 for the car, and $13,500 for the car and the sound system. I’ve also got a triple-axle trailer suitable for hauling the Rockbox, and I’m willing to let that go for $6500. Those prices are a lot less than what I’ve got in it; I’m not even breaking even by selling it, so I’m firm and don’t want to deal with any lowballers. I figure anyone who can’t scrape together my asking price doesn’t have the budget to maintain the car anyway. . . and I want to get it to someone who will give it a good home, and who has the means to bring it to Burning Man this year!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO

Why are you selling her?

DEREK WUNDER

A lot of reasons. . . with an art car of this scale there’s a certain level of commitment you have to put into it to make it work, and I’ve got a baby on the way. Plus, although I’m taking a break from Burning Man this year and my priorities are really focused on being a father at the moment, I do want to move forward and build something new when things settle down a bit. I’m very happy with the Rockbox, and I’d like to see someone take it over and keep bringing it to the playa – in fact, I’m hoping that whoever does buy it will want me to continue to be part of the project, although not this year – but I’m looking ahead and wanting to create something new.

Photo: chednugget

Photo: chednugget

WHATSBLEM THE PRO

Is there a lot of maintenance involved?

DEREK WUNDER

The Rockbox took five people seven months to build back in 2007. We ran it on the playa for four days that year, while it was still under construction. I didn’t do any maintenance to it at all that year and tried to bring it back to Burning Man in ’08 without fussing with it, but kept having mechanical problems. Before bringing it back in 2011, I did three weeks’ worth of preventative maintenance on it and had no breakdowns at all. . . so you do have to be diligent about doing some maintenance, but it’s really not that bad at all, and is easier if you do it sooner rather than later.

We never finished the lighting system due to budget and time constraints so we did a lot of daytime cruises in 2011. It lights up a lot better now than it ever has out on the playa!

You definitely have to be into working on the thing rather than just wanting to drive it around on the playa. There’s more to it than just driving it, and the biggest challenge is getting it home again when Burning Man is over.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO

Sure. We could have put a man on the Moon in the ’50s, but getting him back again would have been a problem.

DEREK WUNDER

Right. You need the resources to handle whatever unexpected thing might come up out there.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO

Is it hard to drive? Obviously it’s not street-legal, right?

DEREK WUNDER

It’s not legal on public roadways at all.

Driving it is not that tough; you can even DJ while you drive the car if you really think you have to, although I don’t recommend it. Backing up takes a spotter or two, but I have a camera system I’ve been meaning to install to allow the driver to see what’s behind the car, and I could throw that in on the deal.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO

Tell me about your next project.

DEREK WUNDER

I had the idea for the Rockbox in 2004, and came up with the idea for the new project – the Smiling Conundrum – at the same time. It’s a large-scale dicycle car with 12-foot steel wheels. One of the wheels has a big smiley face painted on it; the other has a frowny face, so it looks happy or sad depending on if it’s coming or going. It’s about halfway done right now, but I’ve got it on a back burner with everything else that isn’t a baby.

I started building the Smiling Conundrum with a gas-powered motorcycle engine, but decided to go electric with it instead. . . so it didn’t make it to the playa in 2010 because going electric meant rebuilding the drive train.

When it’s finished, it’ll be solar-powered, with an onboard gas-powered generator for emergency backup, and will also be capable of accepting a charge from grid power.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO

I hope to see it out there, and you with it. Thanks for talking with me; good luck with the new baby you’ve got coming.

DEREK WUNDER

My pleasure, thank you.

Image: Derek Wunder

Image: Derek Wunder

Image: Derek Wunder

Image: Derek Wunder

Image: Derek Wunder

Image: Derek Wunder

6 comments on “Your Own Art Car? Wunder’s Rockbox on the Auction Block

  1. Derek is a great guy, and there is a lot of love into this car. The DJ table and speaker mounts are all built on a ‘floating system’ that reduces vibrations while in motion. GLWS, but honestly I hope you keep it :)

  2. The sound system is awesome! I remember I was spinning a chill set at “Japanorama” at Burning Man 2005 when this GIANT boombox system pulled up in front of the camp, it sounded so good I stopped DJing and went over and danced there instead! Granted, Japanorama was basically using a home stereo in their dojo. lol <3 Minimonk/Radiohiro

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