Daniel Burch of Arlington loves to spend his days off taking his finely tuned 2015 Alfa Romero 4C Spider down the highway and through the streets of downtown Dallas. He doesn't use his downtime to drive and run errands. He couldn't if he wanted to — the tiny sports car has no trunk or room for more than two enthusiastic gearheads. He's just in it for the joy of the drive.
"You have to embrace what the car does," Burch says. "When you get the minivan, you get the kids and let them spill stuff in it. That's what it's for. This car is for fun."
Burch takes his car down Interstate 20 on a chilly afternoon and opens up the engine on a stretch of unoccupied asphalt. The vehicle zooms up to just over 100 mph as the rear engine purrs like a happy kitten. The wind knocks back our hair that's just barely sticking out of the exposed roof because of the car's lack of headspace. It feels like some kind of adult-sized go-kart we've pulled out of the garage for the afternoon. He has a special button labeled "fun" on the driver side.
Pretty much all drivers we encounter or let pass us crane their necks to get a good, long look or even a picture on their cellphones. It's not because they want a look at this Italian marvel with a turbocharged 16-valve inline-4, fuel-injected engine that can pump out 237 hp at 6,000 rpm to go from 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds. It's because Burch has turned the car into a Jokermobile, and when he drives it, he becomes the grimaced menace known as the Joker.
Burch became an internet sensation last week when local farmer Jeff Bednar spotted Burch during a downtown delivery run in his purple chrome Alfa Romeo and full Joker costume, makeup and green tinted hair. The photo of Burch's wide grin behind the wheel of his $60,000-plus custom automobile made the rounds on social media, something Burch says he wasn't even aware of until we tracked him down.
But the reaction he gets is partly what motivates Burch to slip into his purple alligator jacket, dab his face with white paint and jump behind the wheel of his purple chromed Jokermobile.
"Dallas is the best place to go for it because there are tons of people walking around offering tons of different reactions," Burch says. "They're shocked. They're thrilled. They can't believe it. They love it. They're totally confused because they can't believe what that crazy person is doing."
Burch got the idea for his unusual hobby when he started researching his dream car purchase around Halloween 2016. A Corvette was his daily driver for eight years until an accident caused by another driver convinced him to get a new car.
"The Corvette is a fantastic and great car, but I'd already done it, and because I daily drove it, I saw all the little quirks and how they irritated me," he says. "So I wanted something more."
Burch decided to upgrade to something sportier and Italian, and "if you want an Italian, handmade car with the carbon fiber and everything and you don't want to pay $200,000, this is what you have."
Alfa Romeo is a bit of a cult among the gearhead sect. It's not well known outside of car lovers' circles, and not everyone loves it. Burch fell in love with the car after his first test drive.
"You know in that 15 minutes on the freeway, it's either 'This is the greatest car in the world, and I have to have one' or 'It's OK. I get it, but it's not for me,'" he says. "When I took it out for my test drive, we got back and I said, 'I could do this all day. I could drive this all day.'"
That Halloween, Burch put together a Joker costume based on the Jared Leto Joker from the recently released summer superhero flick Suicide Squad, in which the Oscar-winning actor gives Batman's most famous villain a more millennial look, complete with body tattoos and a mouthful of shiny metal.
Burch says he thought about turning his new dream ride into a Batmobile, which his wrap guy at Metroplex Wraps could do — complete with a Bat signal.
"The problem is you're always going to have that one kid going, 'That's not the Batmobile. That's not the Batmobile,'" Burch says. "The Joker is a thief, so he's basically driving whatever he stole. So it looks like I took this car and had it wrapped purple."
Plus, the Joker always looks like he's having more fun behind the wheel in his souped-up dream machine than the sullen, gravel-voiced vigilante in an anatomically correct rubber bat suit.
"Purple chrome it and
The following January, Burch purchased his new Alfa Romeo and spent a month with car customizers making it look like the Joker's ride, complete with purple chrome exterior, red leather interior
The next Halloween, Burch celebrated throughout the month by putting on the Joker outfit again and selling the image with his custom Jokermobile. He got such a kick out of the reactions that he kept dressing up as the cackling criminal and driving his purple Italian monster when he wasn't working at his day job for a bank.
"People just went crazy for it," he says.
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Every time Burch catches a driver's or passenger's reaction, he lets out of a loud cackle to help sell his character.
"They are totally shocked out of their minds when they see it," Burch says. "I was making a left turn in front of a car once, and there were two girls in the front, and the one who was driving was thankfully paying attention to the road, and the passenger was just staring at me with her mouth open and her eyes popped wide open. She watched me the whole time she made the turn."
Special thanks to Scott Saldinger for his technical video help.