Smile Politely

I just saw the Chicken Car

Lately, I’ve been reading Facebook posts from the Chicken Car about being vandalized, then raising money for repairs. The Chicken Car has always been a curious piece of local culture that I’ve enjoyed and so I thought it was time to go find out more about the Chicken Car and try and spread some awareness about it’s recent trouble. What I discovered was a rich story of the car and it’s owner.

When I imagined the driver of the Chicken Car, I pictured an older, worn out, Vince Neil type wearing a straw cowboy hat, big sun glasses, and a cut off American flag t-shirt year round. This is not the case. I met Patrick Taylor at his dorm, Illini Tower. It was a Saturday and he was off of work at 12 p.m. 

Photo from Chicken Car Facebook page

Taylor is far from the battered Vince Neil image I had envisioned. Nor was he a hipster, stoner, or fratty type of person. He was void of a stereotype that you might think of when someone says “describe to me a person who would drive the Chicken Car.” 

The history behind the Chicken Car is that it originates from Taylor’s high school job at a to-go chicken restaurant called BBY in Dixon, Illinois. The owner decided to sell it, and Taylor had always liked the car and decided to buy it. He drove it home and his parents were in disbelief. “I always handled my own money. And I hadn’t bought a car before. And I really liked the car so I went for it.”

Aside from driving it around C-U, in some parades, and other events back home in Dixon, the Chicken Car also went on tour with Mumford & Sons. Taylor’s most fond memory of the car is an picture of Marcus Mumford standing on top of the car. “It brings back memories of that summer, which was a lot of fun” he said. Don’t let this memory fool you though — if you’re not Marcus Mumford, standing on the car is not cool.

There are other memories, too. Taylor tells me that he once had a request from an elderly lady in a nursing home. “All she wanted was a ride in the Chicken Car, so I picked her up and we drove around town for a while” Taylor said. Another time, he was at a stop light when another car pulled up beside him. Two middle-aged women and their mother, in the back seat, were in the car. The mother, as Taylor found out later, had brain cancer and she said to her daughters, “is that a Chicken Car or am I going nuts?”

He went on to tell me that every time he drives the car he makes a memory. “Whenever I drive the car, someone always waves or smiles or something like that. The car just brings people happiness and thats why I love it” he said. I knew that seeing the Chicken Car made me happy but I did not realize how much of an impact it has made on others’ lives. I was happy to hear his story.

What was troubling though comes next. Taylor had moved out of a house in Urbana to live in Illini Tower so that he could work as a resident assistant. He is paying his own way through school, so the gig seemed perfect. He rented a parking space at 4th and Chalmers for the year. Since then, it has been nothing but trouble for his Chicken Car. The eyes have been ripped off, the window was broken, and finally the tail was ripped off. 

Taylor was planning to graduate next spring and possibly take the car on the road to travel across the country. He says driving it cross-country has been one of his dreams for the Chicken Car, but as it stands, he doesn’t know if the car is going to last. As the damages accrue (likely at the hands of college students), Taylor tries to counter them with fundraisers and merchandise sales — but he is still a long way from his goal of $3,000 — which is what it costs to make a new tail, the latest piece of the car to go missing.

I left Taylor wishing him luck, and bought a t-shirt while I was at it. (Partially because I want some Chicken Car merch, but more so because this kid has heart.) He is responsible, level headed, hard working, creative, and daring. Those are the type of people I want around Champaign-Urbana, and I want to make C-U a place for those people to thrive. I hope he is able to raise enough money to replace what has been stolen and broken.

You can read more about the Chicken Car and buy your own merchandise by clicking the links below:


Photo of Patrick from Chicken Car Facebook

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