It's time for the Fremont Fair, which means it's also time for the fair's annual gathering of art cars. See them June 18-19 in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, also known as "the center of the universe."

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It all started with an embarrassing old car nobody would take a second look at.

For Kelly Lyles it was a Ford Pinto, for Rex Rosenberg it was a Subaru Legacy, and for Tim Klein it was a Chrysler Imperial Crown luxury car.

But it wasn’t anything that paint, glue, 70 pounds of dentures and about four miles of yarn couldn’t fix.

These three display their “art cars” this weekend at the Fremont Fair Art Car Blowout. Because reborn as the “Pinteau,” the “ChewBaru” and the “Yarn Car,” people would definitely take a second look.

“I was mortified to be seen in a Pinto,” said Lyles, co- coordinator of the art-car showcase. “So I added some horse hood ornaments, pinto spots and even got it professionally painted. … The shop said, ‘You’re kidding. You want to do a $1,000 paint job on a $500 car?’ “

The Blowout showcases more than 50 cars from all over the country and British Columbia, driving from as far as Florida, Texas and West Virginia. Many of the cars aren’t even recognizable anymore. Decorations include gnomes, cigarette butts and even the King himself — Elvis.

“It’s kind of a silly thing — the way we take a boring thing we all have, like a car, and make it unique and interesting,” said Marlow Harris, a Seattle real-estate agent who will be showing off her “Elvis Mobile.”

“The most folks do is hang a graduation tassel in the rearview mirror, or have vanity plates, but people don’t tend to customize cars. Maybe they are afraid of resale, but whatever you do, you can undo.”

For example, instead of painting Elvis on her car, Harris applies Elvis magnets. That way, during the winter season and the rain, she can take the magnets off her 2001 Volkswagen Eurovan.

But for others like Klein and his Yarn Car, the changes are more permanent.

“There’s no manual that tells you how to do this kind of thing,” said Klein, a software engineer from Vancouver, Wash., who took a year to figure out how to adhere yarn to his car. “But now that I have the technique down, I can completely redo all the yarn on the car in about three months. I have to refurbish it every few years, since I do drive it around as a regular car, and eventually the sun fades it and the wind frays it. People say I should put some sort of protective clear coat over the yarn. But then it wouldn’t be fuzzy, would it?”

While the art-car scene has increased in popularity over the years, Seattle has its own version of the show element.

“Anybody with a paint-splattered car is welcomed to join us,” said Lyles.

On the other hand, shows like the one in Houston, Texas — called the nation’s biggest with 250 to 300 autos — have requirements. They are competitions, with hundreds of thousands at stake, whereas Seattle’s is more like a family gathering. Drivers motor across the nation in a caravan and take in the Seattle sights before settling in for the show. And, coordinators ensure that drivers are housed and gas paid for.

“It’s a very tight-knit group,” said Lyles. “Many folks say they found their tribe when they joined up with us.”

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or