Made On Earth — Out of Their Shell

Craft & Design


Kyrsten Mate drives like a snail. No surprise, though. After all, her car is a snail. Dubbed the Golden Mean, it debuted at this year’s Burning Man festival, where revelers eagerly rode in its glowing shell, or hugged the head with its flamethrower eyes. Every afternoon, Mate’s 2-year-old daughter, Zolie, commandeered the cushioned interior for story time.

“Several years ago, I dreamt that I saw a car in the desert but the car was a giant snail,” says Mate, a sound designer for films like The Incredibles.

And those are the kinds of dreams that stuff is made of. Fortunately, Mate and her husband, blacksmith Jon Sarriugarte, are well versed in weird rides. Their last collaboration was the SS Alpha Fox, a civil service vehicle converted into a fire-spewing spaceship straight out of 1960s science fiction.

The Golden Mean began life as a 60s-era Volkswagen Beetle — inexpensive and easy to transform with their “oil punk” aesthetic. Early plans for the shell called for fiberglass construction, but Sarriugarte wasn’t eager to deal with the mess.

Fortunately, the scrap pile at Sarriugarte’s hand-forged furniture company, Form & Reform, was heaping with possibility. They made an exoskeleton from steel, skinning it in sheet metal and perforated steel to allow a view of the outside world.

Midway through the build, the couple learned about the golden ratio of mathematics, sometimes called the golden mean. The number is found throughout nature, including the proportions of a snail’s shell. They soon took a tape measure to their creation.

“We realized that we had unconsciously already been following the proportion a lot,” Sarriugarte says. “That revelation has given me a whole new insight into how I’d like to make stuff inspired by nature.”

The biomechanical buggy does seem alive. It boasts an air ride suspension that can pump the shell up and down. Other lively mods are in the works.

“We can’t forget the snail trail,” Mate reminds him. That would be a trickle of graywater collected from campsites when the Golden Mean hits the open road.

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