If you ever took a road trip across the US in the 1960s or 1970s, you probably saw more than a few Muffler Men. They’re a prime example of the kind of roadside kitsch that evokes memories of Route 66. These giant statues, often in different costumes, were always holding something; lumberjacks holding axes, pirates holding swords, cowboys holding rifles, even spacemen holding tiny rocket ships. Almost all of these figures, which came from International Fiberglass in Venice, CA, had a body formed from the same mold (arms out, right hand up, left hand down), and subtle tweaks could be made; heads and the object in their hands could be swapped in or out, and different clothes could be painted on.
Nowadays, the term “Muffler Man” refers to any giant roadside statue used to advertise a business. Though the term refers to versions who held car mufflers and advertised auto body shops, the first Muffler Man created was a Paul Bunyan statue used to advertise the Paul Bunyan Cafe off Route 66 in Flagstaff.
They were effective advertising for the time (a Muffler Man cost between $1,000 and $3,000 to purchase)— the 18-25 foot tall statues definitely set a business apart during a time when shops and restaurants lined two-lane byways and highways.
At their peak, International Fiberglass had thousands lining the highways of America, including some for chains like Sinclair Oil (a representation of their logo, which was a dinosaur), and Phillips Petroleum, whose stations were marked by cowboys. But, as freeways began to bypass the smaller routes, these giant statues were rendered obsolete. The gas crisis of 1973, which made production of the fiberglass figures more expensive, dealt the final blow to International Fiberglass, which closed in 1976.
There are maybe a few hundred left today, and volunteers, especially along classic roads like Route 66, have taken to restoring and caring for the Muffler Men that remain. A few that you can still pay a visit to today include the Gemini Giant, Chicken Boy, Nitro Girl, and Mr. Bendo, among others.