Death & Taxis Art Car

  2015-2016    Project

  •  Technologies: Metal Fabrication, Wood Fabrication, Electric Drivetrain, LED Lighting, Software

Death & Taxis is a coffin on wheels, decked out to look like a New York City taxi. Because the only inevitables in life are death and taxis.

Death & Taxis is a small Art Car (Mutant Vehicle) that I’m in the process of making for exhibition at regional festivals, culminating at Burning Man 2016. DnT is being built by-hand, from scratch, with a welded steel chassis and a CNC-milled, upholstered wooden coffin (more like a couch) for carrying a driver and up to three passengers. I spent approximately three months designing and modeling DnT before beginning construction in January, and I intend to have the vehicle (or at least the first iteration) done and throughly tested by the end of May 2016. I hope to exhibit DnT at Disorient Country Club on Memorial Day weekend. DnT was accepted by the Burning Man DMV for 2016, so keep an eye out for me on the playa this year.

More technical details of the project will be posted soon. I will update below as I make progress on the DnT.

Update 9/12/16 - Mission Accomplished

Death & Taxis was a partial success! After sitting in pieces next to my camp for a few days, I finally had the time and energy to finish putting it together. Loaded with two friends, I drove it to the DMV. They didn’t have any concerns and licensed it without issue. Success! Unfortunately, in my haste to get it put together, I forgot to tighten the bolts on the front wheels, and one of the wheels had cocked at an angle and chewed up the nylon bushing. I didn’t have an extra bushing, so I drove it back to camp where it remained parked for most of the week. I had come prepared with spare parts for almost everything, but one thing I didn’t expect came and bit me.

I still consider it a success. I learned how to cut and weld a steel chassis capable of supporting hundreds of pounds of people and equipment, I learned how to design and build a 14hp motor system with a 110Ah battery bank with on-the-fly recharging from a gas generator, and I learned how to fabricate a wooden vehicle body to house everything and support the weight of passengers. More importantly, I learned how not to build an art car. Building a car from scratch is fun and informative, but not the best thing to do with limited space, on a limited budget, and from across the country. My next project will probably involve mutating a golf cart or small car. In the end, I burned the wood panels and stashed the steel chassis, to make way for future projects.

Update 8/6/16 - Ready for Burning Man

Death & Taxis didn’t do great at Country Club - The electrics worked great, but I had problems with the chain alignment. The massive torque generated by the motor, along with the chain bouncing around under load, caused the chain to slip off after not much time. I did get to do a few laps of the site, however, so it was still fun. The headlamps also came in handy for setting up other projects in the dark. All-in-all it performed better than I thought it would, and I learned a lot in the process if getting it ready for the Burn.

A lot more work went into it in the past two months to get it ready for Burning Man. I was able to resolve the chain alignment and slack issues and the vehicle now moves reliably under its own power. The electrics are much neater, and I replaced the dodgy steering mechanism with a powerful electric actuator. Then I took the whole thing apart. I had to disassemble it and flat-pack everything in order to load it on the Philadelphia container for transportation to BRC. Fun times.

Update 5/24/16 - Ready for Country Club

The first iteration of Death & Taxis is ready for it’s maiden voyage at Disorient’s Country Club event in upstate New York. The electrics aren’t quiet organized yet but everything is hooked up and mostly working (pictured without the top). We’ll see how it does.

Update 4/16/16 - It’s go time!

It’s starting to come together - I got most of the wood platform installed today (not pictured - hand-bent and welded 1/8” brackets underneath), and I tightened down the drivetrain enough to mount the chains and test it out. I made the first real trip under power today - just 10 feet across the room, but it worked. Once I get the brake, throttle, steering, and safety cutoffs installed in the next week, I’ll hopefully be able to make the first trip around the block.

Update 4/10/16 - Steering (version 1)

Spent a few hours today rigging up the steering. I’m using a threaded rod and a quickly-drilled pitman arm. It’s pretty janky and I’m ordered a real go-kart steering shaft to replace it, but it works for now. DnT went on its first human-powered drive today (just around the room, but still).

Update 4/2/16 - Motor and Controller

Built a crazy-heavy mount for the brushless motor, which took about two hours to cut on the shopbot (from 1/4 steel - not reccomended). It’s heavier than the motor. In retrospect, I could have just milled it out of aluminium and saved myself a lot of time and weight, but oh well. I got the controller hooked up for testing as well, and after some fiddling, it works!

Update 3/26/16 - Drivetrain and Brake

Got the rear axle brake installed today, as well as the sprockets on the jackshaft. Ready to start mounting the motor!

Update 3/20/16 - Jackshaft Brackets

Spent some time today cutting and installing some bracketing for the gear reduction jackshaft. The plan is to mount the DC motor at the very back, connected to the jackshaft to reduce the RPMs then connect to the drive axle under the jackshaft. The jackshaft, bearings, motor and controller should arrive by next weekend.

Update 3/17/16 - First Wood Piece

Used the ShopBot to cut the first wooden segment - the bottom panel - out of 3/4” Advantec OSB. It first perfectly. The car was very stable with two people jumping up and down on it, even without all the bolts tightened down.

Update 3/5/16 - Up on Wheels

Finished the front suspension assembly today, so I was able to get DnT up on wheels for the first time. It’s a rolling chassis now! It’s even level. The tires are inflated and it feels stable. I have a drive axle on order, so once I receive the axle and motor then I’ll have a full drivetrain. Steering is next while I wait for parts.

Update 2/29/16 - Rear Wheels Installed

I finished the rear swingarm assembly today. Except for the fake drive axle, everything is installed and solid. I can now roll the chassis around by carrying the front. The chassis is officially too heavy to carry around without wheels now.

Update 2/14/16 - Frame Welded Together

Welded the first bits of the frame together today. Came out very solid and straight. I’m very excited to start welding together the rest of the undercarriage.