As urban icons go, Muffler Man isn’t quite up there with Preservation Hall or the Cabildo.

He presides majestically – almost menacingly – over the intersection of Clearview Parkway and West Napoleon Avenue in Metairie. Two stories tall, muscular outstretched forearms, dressed in Saints black and gold and adorned with a golden crown. He just dares you to mess with him.

Et tu, Big Man?

Metairie’s massive Muffler Man monument is the mascot of Clearview Auto Title and Notary at 2122 Clearview Parkway. Owner Sal Mortillaro bought him in 1975 for $400 from a local Midas Muffler Shop.

“Best investment I ever made, other than my wife!” Sal jokes. “Brought business in without costing me a nickel more than I paid for him. He brings as much traffic as the yellow pages would.”

Mortillaro calls the statue “Big Man,” and its image is featured prominently in his advertising. His business cards note, “By the ‘Big Man’ statue since 1975.”

I’m a real sucker for roadside kitsch, if you haven’t guessed. While some travelers may consult Zagat’s or Frommer’s, my travel bible is the website www.roadsideamerica.com, a veritable cornucopia of tacky roadside attractions.

Maybe you’ll cruelly mock and ridicule me for waxing poetic about these gaudy roadside relics; perhaps you choose to regard such monstrosities as a blight upon the landscape of a civilized society. I, however, see them as important cultural signposts, ties to a bygone era in American motoring – a time when automobiles sported massive tailfins, gas was cheap, and there was nothing better than seeing the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet.

Back then, in the golden age of motoring, the idea seemed to be that the bigger, the tackier, or the gaudier the icon, the greater the appeal. Surely anyone who’s ever driven up or down the East Coast and encountered South of the Border knows what I’m talking about.

Mortillaro’s Big Man is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such figures manufactured by International Fiberglass Company of Venice, California from the early 1960s through the mid-70s. The first Big Man was a 20-foot tall Paul Bunyan figure made for a café on Route 66 in Flagstaff, AZ. The character’s outstretched forearms, with the left hand facing down and the right hand facing up, held Bunyan’s axe.

After that, International Fiberglass developed a booming business selling the figures, with only slight variations, to oil and gas stations, golf courses, restaurants, and muffler shops.

Big Man usually held a prop tailored to suit the individual client. Those items included mufflers, spaceships, axes, and various food items including hot dogs and tacos.

When new, the statues cost between $1,000 and $2,800, depending upon the quantity ordered and optional features (naturally, one would expect a spaceship-laden astronaut to sell at the top end of the scale).

It’s unknown how many are left today. Most seem to have gone the way of Burma-Shave signs or barns painted with Mail Pouch Tobacco advertisements – lost to the ravages of time and progress.

Mortillaro wouldn’t sell his for any price. “He’s just my advertising good luck charm. He brings the people in.”

To Big Man and all your brethren still standing – the Sinclair Dinosaurs, Bob’s Big Boy statues, A&W Burger Family figures, and countless other anonymous roadside heroes – I salute you.

Where you can see Big Man:

Clearview Auto Title & Notary

2122 Clearview Parkway

Metairie, LA 70001

504-455-4444

http://www.clearviewtitle.com/

What is your favorite roadside kitsch? Please comment below.

 

 

 

About Glen Abbott
Glen Abbott is a Florida-based travel writer & photographer specializing in motorcycle touring and travel. He is a columnist for Harley-Davidson's HOG and American Iron's Motorcycle Bagger, and his travel features appear regularly in those and other publications.

View all posts by Glen Abbott »

15 Comments
  1. Al Cavalier

    August 29, 2012

    NOTICE !! Hurricane Isaac has knocked the Midas man down and his head is broken away from his body. He’s been there on Clearview Pkwy in Metairie since before I was born. We passed him up every time we went to Galiano to visit my family. Let’s hope they rebuild him!!!!!!!

  2. Charles McCool

    February 10, 2012

    Super cool!
    Charles McCool recently posted..Simple Alternatives To Hotel Stays

  3. Traci

    February 10, 2012

    I don’t travel ANYWHERE without first consulting RoadsideAmerica.com! We have a Paul Bunyan-esque Muffler Man here in the Hudson Valley, on a Boy Scout camp site. He even has a little chest hair peeking out of his flannel shirt.
    Traci recently posted..WHERE IS IT? Wednesday

    • Travelin' Gringo

      February 10, 2012

      Very cool … it’s great to know where some of the others are!

  4. Courtney Mroch

    February 8, 2012

    I LOVE finding stuff like this when I’m on the road too! Great pictures.
    Courtney Mroch recently posted..New Books Added to the Queue: ‘In the Footsteps of Dracula’ and ‘Nightfall’

  5. Catwoman

    February 8, 2012

    Such a gorgeous sculpture! You’re totally right, this one is a great example of the effectivity of the offline marketing strategies! And for that 400 bucks it was really worth! nice
    Catwoman recently posted..fogbeültetés

  6. inka

    February 8, 2012

    Fabulous. Maybe I should have had one of those outside my law office.This isn’t kitsch, this is art, culture and history.

    • Travelin' Gringo

      February 8, 2012

      Inka, I’m laughing just thinking about having one of these outside a law office! But I agree, these things really are about art, culture and history.

  7. Jenny G.

    February 8, 2012

    He ba da man!

  8. Cam

    February 8, 2012

    Love roadside attractions. We’ve got a lot of really strange ones in British Columbia, like the world’s largest chainshaw!
    Cam recently posted..Photo of the Week: Congested Kathmandu Valley in Nepal

    • Travelin' Gringo

      February 8, 2012

      I’ve been to Hope, BC, the world chainsaw art capital — is that where the giant chainsaw it? (if so, I missed it!)

  9. Jeremy Branham

    February 8, 2012

    $400 is a good investment! When you think about all the attention and business this man has brought in, not bad at all!
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..A Valentine’s Day travel giveaway

    • Travelin' Gringo

      February 8, 2012

      You’re not kidding about the $400 investment, Jeremy. He told me he’d looked into finding another one recently, as a backup in case anything happens to this one, and the owner of the other one wanted $16,000!

  10. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy

    February 8, 2012

    Roadside America is one of my favorites wherever I go. I love giant muffler men!
    Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted..Scenes from the Chinese New Year Celebration in San Diego

    • Travelin' Gringo

      February 8, 2012

      It’s impossible for me to pass by this kind of stuff without stopping.

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