Roadside: Muffler Men
They’re large and in charge. Businesses all over America have used 20-foot-tall fiberglass statues to catch the attention of motorists since 1962. The original was made by Prewitt Fiberglass Co. in the image of Paul Bunyan, for a similarly themed restaurant in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The Venice, California, company was purchased the following year and renamed International Fiberglass Company. International used derivatives of the original molds to produce cowboys, native Americans, sports figures, etc. Only budget limited the customization of the statues.
That original Paul Bunyan statue held an ax between his outstretched hands. Many subsequent statues retained this original position, with left palm down and right palm up, but holding something indicative of the specific business. Statues at golf courses held clubs, those advertising tire stores held tires, and so on. They probably had their greatest exposure advertising for numerous muffler shops, holding giant mufflers—giving the genre its name.
The statues were popular landmarks and extremely effective advertisements. International made many statues for automotive-related companies, such as Texaco, and even produced female statues for Uniroyal Tire Company. Other products were giant farm animals for dairies, meat markets, and restaurants; cartoon animals, and the Burger Family for A&W Root Beer Restaurants.
Demands for advertising statues tapered off in the 1970s, and the company went in a different direction. However, the appeal of the Muffler Man is stronger than ever. Many have been restored in their original locations. Others have changed hands and moved to advertise more enthusiastic businesses.
One of the most visible Muffler Men in Southern California looks out from the Dominguez Hills Golf Course in Carson, onto the 405 freeway. The course is owned by a corporation that frequently changes General Managers. One of the past G.M.s loved to have the statue repainted every six months.
The un-named statue was once “dressed” in military fatigues, a Dodger uniform, and even turned green for St. Patrick’s Day—skin and all. He even changed races, in a memorable tribute to a new young golf star named Tiger Woods. Unfortunately, subsequent administrations failed to continue the tradition, and the statute has remained unchanged for four years.
Roadside America is the definitive site for Muffler Men’s info, news, and photos, including a wonderful interview with the former president of International Fiberglass Company.