A Flame-Painted Car with a Mystical Meaning

Na Nach flame-painted car side view

A flame-painted car is always a cool—or should we say hot—thing to see. And of course being that we are a car donation program, we do receive donations adorned with fiery artwork from time to time. One such donation, auctioned only yesterday, made us laugh out loud. The flames on this 2005 Toyota Sienna mini-van spell out “Na Nach,” which, for the uninitiated, is part of a chant with a special history particular to a subsector of Breslover Hassidim.

Na nach front

Na Nach flame-painted car side view

Na nach passenger side flame-painted car

Breslov tradition has it that the chant is actually the text of a mysterious message sent to Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser (called the “Saba,” or “grandfather” by Breslovers) by the long-deceased Rabbi Nachman of Uman. The note said, “Na nach nachma nachman.” Believed to have spiritual meaning by many Breslover Hasidim, these syllables drawn from Rebbe Nachman’s name, are sung and chanted with fervor wherever you find this colorful group. In fact, the “Na Nach” chant is so intertwined with this group that outsiders call its adherents “Na Nachs,” or “Nachnakim.”

Dancing on Moving Vans

More from Wikipedia:

Devotees of the group, colloquially called Na Nachs, make themselves quite visible in the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias, and other Israeli cities as they dance atop and around moving vans to techno-Hasidic musical compositions, with the goal of spreading joy to passersby. They distribute their literature from sidewalk tables on the downtown streets and near bus stations, often accompanied by blaring music. They are identifiable by their large, white, crocheted yarmulkes bearing the name and song from the petek that Rabbi Odesser revealed: Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman. Besides publicizing this phrase on billboards and bumper stickers, Na Nachs and their admirers have made it a common graffito throughout Israel.

Which is part of the reason we were surprised and delighted to receive this unusual flame-painted donation. You generally don’t see such vans outside of Israel, let alone people singing and dancing on top of them. Perhaps the residents of Brookhaven, New York, from whence the van was donated, have actually seen this fun phenomenon and can tell us otherwise.

Flame-Painted Cars

Meantime, we thought we’d take this opportunity to offer a brief history of flame paint jobs. These artistic representations of fiery flames emblazoned on cars are thought to be originally inspired by this 1938 photo of racer Fred Friday. The photo appeared everywhere.

Fred Friday 1938 flame pic

But actually, flame paint-jobs date back even further. Kelly Petillo, a 10-time Indy 500 race car driver, entered the 1934 Indy 500 with his flame-painted race car. Petillo was sponsored by the West Coast-located Red Lion fuel company, owned by Earl Gilmore. “Roar with Gilmore” was the company slogan.

red lion logo flame painted car petillo

To make the car really stand out, the frame and grille were chrome-covered, while the body was painted with the company logo, a leaping lion surrounded by flames, above which the words, RED LION SPECIAL, appeared. Soon, flame paint jobs became a common sight on hot rods at the races at El Mirage, in the California desert. By the late 1940s, the trend spread to races everywhere, and by the 1950s, they had migrated to Regular-Joe jalopies, driven on city streets.

Early flame-painted car
An early example of a flame-painted car, date unknown.
1955 flame-painted car
1955 flame-painted car
1956 flame-painted car
1956 flame-painted car

Throughout the 1960s, eye-catching flame jobs on custom cars could be spotted anywhere and everywhere. By the 1970s, airbrushing had become the preferred method of painting realistic flames on cars. Not everyone likes a flashy flame paint job on their car, but it’s fair to say that everyone likes to see them along the highway and on city streets—on other peoples’ cars, of course.

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