Sharkmobile grabs Delaware travelers’ attention

At his home in Clayton, Art Wilson sits in the driver’s seat of his attention-getting 1970 Volkswagen Beetle that he turned into a shark-topped dune buggy. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

CLAYTON — The attention-getting dune buggy indicates otherwise, but he isn’t a big beer drinker, beach nut or danger-seeking deep sea fisherman.

Art Wilson just likes being noticed while traveling with an attached 110-pound fiberglass shark atop his 1970 Volkswagen Beetle.

The regular trip south from his Clayton home to beach country via Del. 1 is always a memorable event.

“It’s a good stress reliever. It relaxes me. It puts me on a high, driving down the road because people react to me in a positive way all the time,” he said.

At Wilson’s Auction Sales in Lincoln in May 2008, a bidding war with another guy that began at around $2,000 left the now 60-year-old with a vehicle “that I paid too much for.

“The auctioneer, Dave Wilson I think it was, really got us into going back and forth several times and before I knew it, it was mine.”

Yearning for a shark to ride along, Mr. Wilson failed in an attempt to carve one out of foam because “I started but just didn’t have the whittling skills to finish it properly.”

A 12-foot long, 110-pound fiberglass shark is attached to Mr. Wilson’s buggy. He acquired the vehicle at an auction in May 2008. (Submitted photo/Art Wilson)

After hunting online, he landed one in Southampton, New York about a year ago.

Vowing never to drive his catchy ride over 50 miles per hour, Mr. Wilson acknowledges the wind drag and terror that a 12-foot fake Great White could invoke if it’s blown loose off the bracket that took two months to secure safely.

He’s rebuilt the 4,000-horsepower engine four times and says “I think I got it right this time.

“There was no souping it up, only making sure I can always get from Point A to Point B.”

The two beer kegs with six handles on the VW contain water and compressed air that can entertainingly spray 20-foot streams from the shark’s mouth and switch to mist too.

The surfboard is another added touch, but Mr. Wilson doesn’t ever use one. He’s paying tribute to those who do and capturing the spirit of the beach life.

The Army foot locker, cooler, CB radio and Hibachi on board are pretty cool, too.

The kids love it, and Mr. Wilson is a big hit at area car shows, festivals and parades. He’s been invited to a girls’ birthday party once, and to a Smyrna family’s home another time just so the youngsters could see the vehicle.

Art Wilson has an autographed copy of a book written by dune buggy designer Bruce Meyers, who he met in Nags Head, North Carolina. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

One Ocean City, Maryland police officer wasn’t so dazzled last spring and wrote a ticket because he deemed the sharkmobile to have an extended load over the fender as Mr. Wilson left a car show. He’s contesting the violation.

A red flashing light was added to the back of the makeshift dune buggy as a safety factor, Mr. Wilson said.

Though the fiberglass creature has a “Delaware First Shark” inscription on it, Mr. Wilson has dubbed him “Bruce” in tribute to the classic 1970s-era movie “Jaws.” That was the handle the terrorizing mechanical beast was given by the director Steven Spielberg during the film’s production, said Mr. Wilson as he revealed a little known bit of trivia.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, and Mr. Wilson said nearly every vehicle that approaches him on the highway notices. Sometimes they’ll pass him by, then slow down and get behind the dune buggy to take pictures.

Cars have lined up three or four deep just to get photos, he said.

The Delaware First Shark buggy heads south on Del. 1, near Barkers Landing, during a recent trip. The vehicle’s owner, Art Wilson, says cars have lined up three or four deep just to get photos. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

“People smile all the time, everyone slows down and looks at me, takes pictures, waves,” he said. “That just blows my mind.”

A favorite moment was when an elderly woman leaned forward, smiled, waved and concluded with a thumbs up sign, Mr. Wilson recalled.

Contacts arrive regularly on Mr. Wilson’s Facebook page “Delaware First Shark ‘Bruce’” that recaps his fun-loving travels.

“To hear someone say ‘You made my day’ gives me just a great feeling,” he said.

About 10 years ago, nearing retirement in his first career and with the kids raised, Mr. Wilson said he found the time and money to chase after the dune buggy. He’d had a model one as a kid and just liked their style.

“I’d seen them around and thought it would be a fun car to have,” he said. “I had the money so I did it.”

Now, he feels ignored when driving a regular looking beat up pickup truck to work at First State Military Academy from Monday through Friday, or tooling around in a white Pontiac on Saturday and Sunday.

“I feel a bit depressed when nobody is looking my way, I feel like I’ve lost my image,” Mr. Wilson said facetiously with a wry smile.


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