The King of the Body Swap: An Interview with Thomas ‘Cupcake’ McElroy

Thomas “Cupcake” McElroy has been wrenching on cars since he was a kid, thanks to his father’s love of the classics like a 1956 Cadillac Coupe or 1968 Fleetwood. “I was more into the smaller, faster things like the ’60s Mustangs,” Cupcake told me. “I do appreciate the big stuff more now. Have two Cadillac Hearses now myself.”

McElroy says he got into the whole post-apocalyptic scene because he doesn’t believe that every single car is worth a frame-off restoration. “With a trailer queen car you don’t get to play with it once it’s done. I like cars I can take out and drive and not worry about a scuff on the paint.”

Photo Credit: Fantasies Muse Photography

Some of Wasteland Weekend’s most iconic cars were built by Cupcake, including the 1967 Mustang Fastback 4×4 that Spud Innit citied as “the standard of post-apocalyptic perfection” in our previous interview with him. And although Cupcake acknowledges that his cars all seem to have a theme (rebodied onto a 4×4 chassis), he says that he’s been branching out more lately. “Most recently I took an old two-seater race buggy and outfitted it someplace between a bug-out vehicle and a military desert buggy.”

But it always comes back to those iconic four-wheel drives. “There was the ’99 Toyota Camry we put on a ’96 full size Bronco chassis for an episode of Top Gear USA. I heard that the Roadkill guys have it in their collection now. We built the video game Borderlands truck out of a mid ’80s Suburban for a live action commercial a few years back. Now owned by a couple of friends of mine. A long time ago I put a ’53 Pontiac on a full size Bronco chassis for a customer. Don’t know if that one still exists.”

And Cupcake’s favorite build is still that ’67 Mustang. “There is my everyday driver car, a ’67 Mustang fastback on a lengthened ’60s Bronco chassis. It’s been used in a couple of music videos and an off-color feature.” He names it his favorite build mainly because he built it 100% himself. “All the other builds were with friends or on a crew. Start to finish this one is mine. No one else had anything to do with it.”

Photo Credit: Canon X Magik 2015

With that Mustang being so loved by the Wasteland community, Cupcake repays the love with respect for a few favorites of his own. Lockjaw, Spud Innit’s ’57 Chevy Bel Air body on a ’96 Silverado chassis, strikes a certain nerve with Cupcake. “Something about a classic muscle car done up the way you want to. Not like every other tri-5 Chevy out there.”

McElroy is also a big fan of Ted Thompson’s latest project: a 50’s Cadillac sitting on a 6×6 deuce-and-a-half frame. “Can’t wait to see that one in person.”
At this year’s Wasteland Weekend, Cupcake hopes to bring a few new projects he’s working on. “Actually have three going on right now,” he mentioned.


“Proceeding slowly at best. Another 4×4 Mustang I bought that needs a bunch of work to make it safe. The work is really bad on it. A ’67 Cougar for my wife. Not sure how PA it will be. Maybe a PA street car of sorts. And a 4×4 Hearse that I had to lengthen a Chevy truck chassis over two feet.”

Photo Credit: Douglas Sonders

With all of these body swaps and monster builds, Cupcake is no stranger to making a badass car. While everyone has a different view of what actually makes a post-apocalyptic vehicle, it’s that classic car with big tires ripping through the desert sand that gets us right in the feels every time.

So what type of advice does a man with Cupcake’s experience have for the rest of us looking to get started? “There are so many places now to get inspiration from. And don’t be afraid to do something different. Do things you want no matter what others may think.

“This genre is not for everyone and there will always be someone that hates it no matter what you do. With that being said, I find there are 2 ways to build a PA car. Cheaper is either find a car (or your current ride) and do stuff to it. More expensive and harder are to build something specific. Like, ‘Hey I want to build a Mustang like yours!’ That (as well as trying to copy a movie car) can get stupid expensive. And don’t be afraid to talk to car builders and pick their brains. Most all of us are very open to share ideas and processes and even help on your build if it works out.”

Photo Credit: Pacific Pro Digital, Glenn Francis

But most of all, Cupcake wants to make sure, as a new builder, you don’t get overwhelmed with the tiny details that might be confusing in the beginning of each build. “There is no one answer that fits all the different builds. Learn and figure out things as you get to them. You will start looking at things differently, too. Like making that piece of discarded guard rail on the side of the road into a bumper, etc.”


Header image credit: Jeff Vaillancourt Photography, 2014