By C.J. Carnacchio
Special Contributor to The Review
OXFORD — If you spotted a giant banana cruising the streets of Oxford, don’t worry, you were not hallucinating. It was just Steve Braithwaite and The Big Banana Car.
On Saturday, Braithwaite, a Michigan resident, and his unique vehicle participated in Leonard’s annual Strawberry Festival parade. On Sunday, he was in Oxford, parked at the Frosty Boy on W. Burdick St. and giving rides to folks of all ages.
“I get so many requests for rides. Wherever I go, people want to ride in it,” he said. “So, I give people rides and they pay whatever they want to pay.”
The Big Banana Car is 22 feet, 10.5 inches in length and 10 feet, 2 inches in height. It was built on the chassis of a 1993 Ford F-150 pickup truck and holds the Guinness World Record for the “longest custom banana car.” A combination of rebar, chicken wire, polyurethane foam, fiberglass and paint were used to create the appearance of an enormous piece of tropical fruit. It has seating for the driver and three passengers.
Braithwaite, who is originally from Woodstock, England, and a close group of friends started building The Big Banana Car in 2009 in Ohio. They completed it in Pennsylvania in 2011.
“I just decided I wanted to do something ridiculous,” he said. “I couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous than driving around in a banana.”
Turning Braithwaite’s zany vision into a street-legal vehicle cost approximately $25,000. To him, it was worth every penny.
“I’ve had so many wonderful, fantastic experiences and I’ve met so many incredible, lovely people,” he said. “Seeing it generally puts people in a good mood. They smile. I get to see the best side of them. I couldn’t really ask for anything more.”
He’s even written a children’s book about his experiences with the car. It’s entitled, “The Weird, Wonderful and Sometimes Bizarre True Stories of Ridiculous Steve and The Big Banana Car.”
Braithwaite never anticipated his car would become a phenomenon.
“I thought I was building something that I might drive two or three times a year in parades and it would sit alongside my garage most of the time,” he said.
He was wrong. Over the last 11 years, Braithwaite has logged some serious hours behind the wheel of The Big Banana Car. He’s taken the vehicle to 42 states.
“I’ve driven this to Los Angeles, to New York, to Key West, to Montana and everywhere in between,” he said.
Before it became The Big Banana Car, the pickup truck had “just over 200,000 miles.”
“It now has 353,000 miles,” Braithwaite said.
The Big Banana Car has participated in “dozens and dozens” of parades, including the famous Art Car Parade in Houston, Texas. In 2012, Braithwaite was one of the parade’s first-place winners.
Some folks don’t just want to go for a ride in The Big Banana Car. They want to own the rolling piece of fruit. Braithwaite said he’s been offered $35,000 for it, but he could never part with it.
“It’s so much more than just a vehicle,” he explained. “It’s all the interactions with people. It’s all the smiles and the waves and the honking of horns. It’s just fantastic. I don’t want to give that up, so I’m not going to sell it.”
Visit bigbananacar.com for more.
By C.J. Carnacchio