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

From Rat Bikes to Jet Cars: An Interview with Spud Innit

When I first hatched the idea of creating the Aftermath event website with helpful interviews featuring some of the most prominent people in the Wasteland scene, Spud Innit topped the list of car builders I knew I had to feature. He has built some of my personal favorites out at Wasteland Weekend, and has been an integral part of the annual California event itself.

Not only is custom car building a passion of Spud’s, but it’s also his career. Current owner of Lord Spud’s Motorcycle Emporium, and former owner of S&M Customs in England, Spud has been building Mad Max style rat bikes and vehicles since he was 17 years old.

“When I first started out all I really had to work with was a hacksaw and a hammer,” he recalled. “But I’ve gotten smarter about it now.”

Spud has been featured in Awol Magazine at the age of 18 with several other published features under his belt since. When he moved from England to California, he brought his love of all things ratty along with him. And then he discovered Wasteland Weekend.

“When I first joined the event I was part of a very talented group of people building set pieces for the event, including the stage, main gates, Atomic Café, and Wastey the Crane. During the last few years I have had the opportunity to branch back into building vehicles and have done many bikes and cars.”

It’s these vehicles that have gained Spud more nation-wide attention as Wasteland Weekend’s – and the post-apocalyptic genre’s in general – popularity has exploded. So I asked Spud to describe his most notable vehicles that have been showcased at Wasteland Weekend.

“Screwloose: This massive people mover is a tribute truck built after Max’s camel truck in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” he said. “It started life as a 1987 Ford F250 diesel that was owned by our good friend Matthew Nelson, a member of Deathguild who approached us to build the truck in 2015. We stripped it of all the body work but the cab and set to work building a custom steel exoskeleton with long bench seats running down either side where the bed used to be. It has four removable steel ribs which support the canvas shade that covers the back of the vehicle, giving it that iconic ‘covered wagon’ look. We then found 36 15×15.5 flotation tires to carry this behemoth across the desert. This required extensive work on the truck to get them to fit. It is now an unstoppable, all-terrain people mover, and carries our camp mates across the desert at both Burning Man and Wasteland Weekend. Screwloose took “Best Survival Vehicle” at the Wasteland World Car Show in 2016.

“Rapture: What looks like an unassuming, flat black golf cart, is really a roaring beast on four wheels. Underneath the golf cart body work is the motor and full suspension of a Raptor 660 quad. The motor is held in place by custom fabricated motor mounts, and it may well be the fastest and scariest golf cart that ever was. (Seriously, somebody is probably going to get injured on this thing someday). Rapture also boasts a custom fabricated shifter by Cupcake and my own custom steering wheel and controls.

“The Widowmaker, aka Loophole: A two-person stand-up scooter with 25-inch ATV tires. It is run by an 80cc Honda Elite scooter motor, which has had the gear box removed, my own custom driveline, and has been converted to run on propane. (Dinosaur farts!) My wife did all the cosmetic welding, most notably the steel spider-webbed floorboard. An ammo can on the side provides counterweight against the motor for balance, and also holds the battery and propane canister, along with 2 spare canisters. Loophole took first place in the Puddle Jumper category at Wasteland Weekend 2016.

“Lockjaw: A 1957 Chevy Bel Air, which has been mounted on a shortened 1996 1500 Silverado Chassis. (We cut 26 inches out of it!) This rust riddled monster boasts 42-inch super swamper tires on the back, and 37s on the front, giving it an aggressive rake, reminiscent of the vehicles in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. We removed the trunk lid and welded in a reinforced standing platform in the back, perfect for screaming ferals to hurl thundersticks from, and threw a nice cushy futon in as a back seat. (Soon to be replaced by the bench seat out of an old Suburban). The electronics and fuel injection were immediately removed to keep it as simple as possible and replaced with a two-barrel carburetor and HEI distributor. This vehicle goes to Burning Man as well as Wasteland Weekend, and playa has a notorious reputation for ruining electronics. It also boasts twin vertical exhaust stacks, and a custom tunnel ram. Like Rapture, it has a signature custom steering wheel and shifter, along with a custom steering column and Blazer seats. We co-own this baby with Nathan Cox of Deathguild, and while she made her debut and was well-received at Wasteland Weekend 2016, we are not done with her yet. Lady Ares has been planning some aesthetic upgrades in conjunction with Nathan Cox, and plans have her completely finished by Wasteland Weekend 2017.

“The most notable bike would be Beastie, a custom GPZ700 survival bike built for my good friend Doug Corbin. It’s my signature style that has followed me from England, with wide bars, a huge fuel tank, low seat, and knobbly ATV tires. It is built to go anywhere, anytime, and has no issues with any kind of terrain. Beastie won ‘Best Technical Motorcycle’ at the first ever Wasteland World Car Show in 2016.

“Maggie O’Monster is a pair of Suzuki GSX600s welded side-by-side and electronically synchronized to power a custom-built dual-sport chassis. Nothing on this vehicle is stock. From the suspension, to the brakes, to the steering, every inch of this vehicle was fabricated from scratch. She seats two but does have a standing platform directly behind the passenger and driver’s seats. It was built in conjunction with Matthew Jane, who is also part of the Wasteland Weekend build crew.”

Despite these award-winning masterpieces, Spud plans to ramp it up even further for this year’s Wasteland Weekend. The agenda includes serious upgrades to the Mutt (a former Wasteland Weekend vehicle currently owned by members of the Deathguild), several new bikes (including one with a sidecar), the ultimate post-apocalyptic work truck made from his own “trusted and beloved” Chevy dually, and… a jetcar.

“The jet car is being built around a jet engine. It is a Marborough MK 5, which produces 880 foot-lbs of thrust at full throttle (also drinks 18 gallons of fuel a minute). Lord Spud’s Motorcycle Emporium: speeding through the apocalypse in style!”

Photo by Fantasies Muse Photography

At this point, I asked Spud about Wasteland cars that he admires but didn’t build himself. “It would have to be Cupcake’s Banshee,” he told me, referring to Thomas “Cupcake” McElroy’s 1967 Ford Mustang. “That Mustang is the standard of post-apocalyptic perfection. Everything from the build quality, to its functionality, reliability, and aesthetic appeal, is the example I give everybody who asks ‘What makes a good PA car?’ My wife affectionately refers to it as ‘sex on wheels’ and drools over it constantly.”

And with all of his years of experience, knowledge, and creativity in this field, I just had to find out what kind of advice he would give to others looking to turn their own car into something worthy of the apocalypse.

“If you insist on turning your daily driver into a wasteland vehicle, my advice to you is this: think practicality, both for the future apocalypse and now,” he advised. “For example, keep your vehicle road legal. This eliminates having to haul it to events on a trailer, which after a while can get very, very tedious. And probably most importantly, keep the doors on! It’s the apocalypse. What better way for a raider to steal your ride than to shoot you right through the side of your open vehicle? Doors also provide valuable protection from the elements, which believe me, you won’t realize until they are gone.”

I want to give a special thanks to Spud for this wonderful interview, which I hope helps a few of you with your own vehicles. Next up on the car-builder interview agenda is the Godfather of the Wasteland himself, Ron Griffith. Look for that interview coming soon!

Cover photo by Mark Matcho.

An Interview with Wasteland Car Builder Dave ‘Max’ Giovanni

Dave “Max” Giovanni is the first to tell you that he’s not a professional car builder or even mechanic, but he has built some of the most iconic post-apocalyptic replica vehicles in the Wasteland community. “I don’t have any special skills,” he told me. “My fabrication ability is almost completely self-taught. If I can do it, anyone can!”

Dave lives near the heart of classic American Muscle — Detroit, Michigan — where he works as a firefighter and once served his country overseas as a U.S. Marine. If you’ve ever seen the Lord Humungus machine at Wasteland Weekend or Dragon Con, you’ve seen Dave’s work. In addition to the replicas he’s built from The Road Warrior, he also built the Thunder Machine from the GI Joe cartoon and comics, as well as a couple original creations.

Photo by Jason Smith

“The first vehicle I built was a grey pickup for the Dragon Con parade in 2006,” Dave said. “We called it Marv the Impaler; Marv from Sin City because it was grey, ugly, and beat up, and Vlad the Impaler because of the giant speargun I mounted in the bed. The speargun could swivel and elevate. Marv also had twin prisoner frames on the front, a loudspeaker system, and various other post apocalyptic badassedness.”

Not long after, Dave started work on a 1992 Camaro that would eventually go through two post-apocalyptic treatments. The first iteration was known as the Hellcat, and the second was the Dreadnok Thunder Machine. “The Camaro had been in an accident beforehand, and with its numerous dents and scrapes it was perfect for a post apocalyptic vehicle,” he recalled. ” I built it for the 2007 Motor City Comic Con, and later the Dragon Con parade (again). The Hellcat had a heavily reinforced front bumper, a cool ‘hellcat’ painted on its side armor, and a flamethrower mounted where the hatchback was.” The Hellcat lived on through Dragon Con 2007, but then Dave removed all modifications and returned it to its owner.

But it was Dave’s third vehicle that garnered the most attention from fans of the genre. The Lord Humungus Machine is a six-wheeled monstrosity that was built from a 1985 Ford F150, stripped down to only the frame and engine, then rebuilt from scratch. It is based off of the vehicle driven by the Lord Humungus himself in the Road Warrior movie, and has been copied down to the smallest (working!) detail.

The Lord Humungus Machine with Jim “Tank” Dorsey at the wheel

“The Humungus Machine has a working PA system and flamethrower exhaust,” Dave described. “Among its modifications are the two extra axles, moving the steering wheel, shifter, and pedals back and centered, and semi truck exhaust stacks. I drove the Humungus Machine in numerous car cruises around Detroit, entered (and won) several car shows, and brought it to the Dragon Con parade five times! In 2014 I had it shipped out to California for Wasteland Weekend, where it has been ever since.”

During the annual Wasteland Weekend event, the vehicle is driven by Jim “Tank” Dorsey who has perfected the Lord Humungus character over the years. While Tank’s portrayal of Lord Humungus is the product of his charisma, determination, and hard work, Dave has undoubtedly played a small role in that success thanks to his Humungus Machine.

And Dave even considers that vehicle to be his favorite build so far. “It was my first true replica, easily the most extreme, and as it was road legal(ish), I got to actually drive it alongside other classic cars. It is also the meanest looking and most distinctive vehicle I’ve made. There’s nothing like driving it along in a car cruise and hearing someone yell ‘Mad Max!'”

The Thunder Machine during the Dragon Con parade

At this point, Dave had an opportunity to get his beloved Hellcat back, which he decided to use for the basis of the Thunder Machine replica. “The front end was replaced with the nose of a 1981 Trans Am. The cab was removed and replaced with a pipe framework that held the replica armor plates. The Thunder Machine had twin miniguns mounted on the front that really spin, working Halogen headlights, working police light bar, and a ‘jet engine’ that blew ‘flames’ out the back – actually silk blown by a fan. A friend helped me take the actual decals that came with the toy, scale them up, and apply them to the vehicle. The Thunder Machine made an appearance at Dragon Con 2014 and 2015, and GIJoeCon 2015.”

And from there, it was back to the Road Warrior replicas. “My latest vehicle was the Lone Wolf, another vehicle from The Road Warrior,” he said. The Lone Wolf from the movie was used as Papagallo’s car after it was captured from the marauders earlier in the film. The vehicle itself was actually reused in the third Mad Max Movie, Beyond Thunderdome, but wasn’t given the screen time it enjoyed in Road Warrior.

Dave and his Lone Wolf at Wasteland Weekend 2016

“The Lone Wolf is a silver, two-engined vehicle with a single driver’s seat,” Dave continued. ” I stripped down another old Ford truck, very similar to how I started my Humungus Machine build. The seat, shifter, steering wheel, and pedals were relocated to the center, two huge gas tanks were fabricated and welded to the sides, and an extra engine with a (nonfunctional) supercharger was mounted in the back. All the Lone Wolf’s body panels were cut and shaped from expanded metal. Custom adapters had to be fabricated to give the Lone Wolf dual rear wheels. I made the Lone Wolf specifically for Wasteland Weekend. Lord Humungus’ gang, the Dogs of War, have over a dozen distinctive vehicles. Some of these vehicles were already there, built by other fans. I wanted to add to the Dog’s fleet.”

And as you might imagine, Dave is not done building these replica vehicles from his favorite movie. His current build is the black Ford F100 from The Road Warrior, as well as the second version of the Humungus Machine. “Well, a friend of mine found a buyer for my (original) Humungus Machine. I did NOT want to part ways with my beloved vehicle, but the money was far too good to pass up.” Dave’s already planning several improvements to Humungus Machine 2.0 and promises that both it and the black F100 will be at Wasteland Weekend in September of this year.

And if that wasn’t enough, Dave also teased an additional replica build for the 2018 Wasteland Weekend, as well as the hopes of something special after that. “Maybe in 2018 I’ll make an original vehicle of my own. I have plenty of ideas for it!”

But despite his own builds, Dave says that his favorite replica car is Bill Brown’s Interceptor that has the bragging rights of being the “world’s first Fury Road Interceptor replica,” complete with modifications, dirt, and damage as shown in the latest movie. Bill’s Intercepter, as well as several other replica Interceptors, appears at Wasteland Weekend every year.

Dave’s Lone Wolf with Bill Brown’s Fury Road Interceptor

Building your own replica from the Mad Max films can be difficult these days, especially considering the fact that the movies are 30-40 years old and filmed with classic Australian muscle cars that would be rare in and of themselves. Throw in the rarity of the add-on pieces and the fabrication skill involved, and you’re looking at a serious project. Thankfully, general post-apocalyptic cars are not as difficult as they can be built using scrap metal and random car parts, but Dave offers some helpful advice on the topic.

“If you want to strip it down and put on your own body panels, get an older vehicle with a real frame. Most new cars have ‘unibody’ construction, which means the whole body of the car is part of its structural integrity. So if you were to, say, remove the roof, the car might very well fold in half. Not good. You can work off of a frame easily. Also, older cars have technology that isn’t as complex, and so they are much easier to work on, modify, and repair.

And on a lighter scale, many post-apocalyptic fans just want to make their daily drivers look a bit more “Mad Max.” Luckily, Dave has some words to say about that, too. “If you just want to make your vehicle look mean without extreme modifications, take off the hubcaps. Paint the wheels black. Wrap a chain around the bumper. Take off the doors and/or the hood. Strap some old tires to the roof. Get some temporary car paint (like kids use to show they graduated from high school) and paint your beige Volvo black.”

Staring down the barrels of the Thunder Machine’s twin machine guns at Dragon Con 2016. Photo by James Barker Photography

So there you have it! Dave Giovanni is a testament to the fact that you don’t need to be a professional to get your hands dirty on a post-apocalyptic car build of your own. Start small with some scrap metal add-ons or go all-out with a stripped-down Wasteland buggy. But if it’s something you want to do, just go for it.

I’d like to thank Dave Giovanni for talking with me about his passion, and if you know a Wasteland-style car builder who you’d like to see interviewed here, send ’em my way!