Rustina the custom 1995 Dodge Neon

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I’ve found some pretty interesting heavily modified vehicles in junkyards over the years, including wild art cars with stuff stuck all over them and/or covered in murals and end-of-life machinery that’s fallen in between hands of maker types with lots of tools and random parts lying around. Today’s Junkyard Gem seems to be more of the latter type but definitely shows signs of serious craftsmanship at the same time. Meet Rustina, a 1995 Dodge Neon whose last years on the streets of Colorado were very eventful.

The Neon was introduced to the American public as a 1995 model with Dodge and Plymouth badging (and identical pricing for both brands). There was an irritatingly cute marketing campaign that Chrysler then brutally repudiated during the scarier “Axis of Evil” era of the following decade. While the Neon said “Hi”, the Caliber and the Nitro were thirsty for some blood!

I don’t know if the creator(s) of the modifications to this car were trying to de-cutify the “Hi” version of the first year Neon or were just working with a cheap car at hand, but they gave an endearing name to this: Patch! I remember the legendary Drift Slokyo Suzuki Swift that I documented last year, and it’s possible both cars were upgraded by the same individual or crew. Naturally, I rescued the two sets of custom badges from The Crusher’s cold steel jaws, and now they adorn my garage walls along with other artwork.

Thanks to the car’s unique name, I was able to find a YouTube channel with lots of Rustina history. The last Rustina videos seem to be from 2019, so I suspect either something mechanical has let go, or Rustina ended up being a spare parts car for nicer/faster neons. In any case, she seems to have retired

The first detail I noticed on this car was the suicide door conversion. This is much more difficult to do correctly than, say, a Lambo door conversion using off-the-shelf components. It looks like it was done in an afternoon with materials on hand, and it shows solid (if rushed) crafting skills.

The welds on the door hinges aren’t very pretty, but they are good and strong. The hinge hardware was from something a lot heavier than a cheap econobox.

The hasp and padlock platform means the car can always be locked when parked. I did the same kind of thing on my 1965 Chevy Impala art car.

When you replace a head gasket, commemorate the occasion by putting the old gasket on the car (or just use the gasket as a spray paint stencil). It is a tradition of the 24 Hours of Lemons which seems to have spread all over the world. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that the owner of Rustina is a LeMons runner, though he doesn’t seem familiar at first glance.

There’s a race car-style driver’s cooling scoop on the roof, made from license plates.

The register grille can be closed in cold weather. Note the Batman cover used as the headliner.

Stuffed animals, rubber duckies and religious statues abound.

Even though the Neon was a pure Detroit design, there’s a civic-style Japanese battle flag slammed on the passenger entry door.

Rustina appears to be a rare Neon Highbird edition.

The semi-tractor style exhaust stack is Ram Tough™.

This cold air intake system for the engine is fully functional. The elegant hood ornament came from a Chrysler minivan.

The interior was made nicer with custom fabric and tape.

There’s a kind of mobile Calder-style sculpture made with empty cans of cannabis concentrate. Welcome to Colorado!

I’m glad I got to document Rustina before she went to The Crusher, because a lot of talent and creativity went into creating her.

It goes without saying that I photographed this car with one of my old film cameras, in this case an Ansco Shur-Shot from the 1940s.

It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Have a nice day!”

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