'Mommy, there's a spaceship behind us!'
“Mommy, there is a spaceship behind us!”
That’s what a friend heard recently while driving on Interstate 5 near Seattle. When mom and dad turned to look they saw, coming up behind them, Steve Walker driving his 1948 Diamond T “Grand Prix Racer.” It is hard not to notice Walker and his alleged post-World War II race car.
Walker, a 65-year-old artist, custom-car designer and builder, engineer and part-time cigar smoker, is the head honcho at Close Enough Engineering. The company specializes in making huge sculptures for hotels and casinos around the world, from Las Vegas to Dubai.
Have you ever walked into a casino and looked up to see a huge butterfly (like double-Buick-size huge) hanging from the ceiling? Steve and his crew made that giant, rainbow colored, transparent insect. The sometimes-whimsical and always-beautiful creations leaving Walker’s Shoreline headquarters resemble something that Salvador Dali, Dale Chihuly and Walt Disney might have collaborated on after a few beers at the neighborhood tavern.
Walker is a Seattle native who graduated in Bellevue High School’s Class of ’68. He continued his education at the University of Washington, where he was a member of the “second boat” national champion rowing crew from 1968 to 1972. His interest in cars began when he and his older brother Bill, as boys of 7 and 8 years of age, attended races on the weekends at the Aurora Stadium Speedway. During his teenage years a 1950 Buick Roadmaster, purchased for $70, provided him with a metal canvas to develop his automotive artistry and engineering expertise.
He describes his approach to vehicle design as, “What would Leonardo da Vinci do today?” The word vehicle is used because Steve has designed boats, tanks, cars and other wheeled vehicles that are difficult to describe.
“I was one of the early participants in the ‘Gravity Races’ held along Post Alley at the Pike Place Market. It was like the Soap Box Derby for grownups, with beer and warfare being a big part of the race. My partner Vaughn Ploeger and I built the Win or Die Tank racer and it did fairly well in the race. It had a tail gunner in the rear that shot water at the other drivers. Not everyone appreciated that accessory.”
Jennifer Carroll, Walker’s wife of 41 years, is also an artist who mixes being a ballet dancer, choreographer, puppeteer, mother and supportive wife.
“We complement each other,” Walker says. “She’s a good person; I’m not. Together we have raised two daughters, Leila and Alisa.”
His history includes being an illustrator for National Lampoon and the United Nations newspaper, the Dependent. He’s written for magazines ranging from Time to Hustler.
Hustler asked him to submit articles on the Lake Washington hydroplane races and the Sasquatch phenomenon in the Northwest.
“I got a bit of a strange reaction in the hydroplane pits when I arrived wearing my Hustler Magazine press pass,” he says.
Walker’s most recent creations are three-dimensional works of wheeled whimsy.
The multiple award-winning Diamond T is the “spaceship” that the young girl spotted on the highway. No doubt his leather cap and goggles, along with the cigar gripped in his teeth, added to the visual impact.
The choice of building this car was because a surplus Diamond T truck grill sat collecting dust in Walker’s studio. A custom frame was constructed and a 250-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine from a Chevrolet truck was installed to provide the power.
“I’ve created a fictitious history of the racer that involves it being part of the Grand Prix Truck racing circuit that I describe as existing after World War II. Some people know I’m kidding, some do not,” he says.
Walker and his 1948 Diamond T “Grand Prix Racer” are seen at Northwest car shows nearly every weekend during the car show season. Bad weather does not stop his participation, and more than one automotive event has been held when the only participant arriving is Steve aboard his dripping racer.
There is usually a trophy next to Steve on the way home from a show.
“If there is a class for odd or unusual cars, then the award frequently is awarded for my Diamond T. But just to make sure I don’t leave without an award, sometimes I’ll make one and present it to myself at the show. It’s usually the best looking trophy of them all.”