An Outtake by Paul on Tuesday began with a statement about the first day of spring from “One Man’s Meat” by E.B. White. At almost the exact moment when that story hit the internet, on the first warm day of spring in the Washington, DC area, the world’s most famous four-wheeled meat caught my eye. Parked in a walled-in corner of a hotel parking lot, in what apparently was a futile effort at concealment, was the Wienermobile. One of eight active Wienermobiles, it is a rolling icon that needs no introduction.
The Wienermobile is a sort of national institution that is almost 80 years old. The ur-Wienermobile hit the streets in 1936, built for Chicago-based Oscar Mayer to promote Oscar Mayer’s German Wieners. Like Eddie Rickenbacker’s SPAD, it was an elemental machine, little more than a simple fuselage with an open cockpit, and with things to keep it off the ground and propel it attached.
The Wienermobile in its current form emerged in 1952 with the introduction of the second generation model shown here, preserved in the Henry Ford Museum. The template for the Wienermobile consisted of a wiener tipped by a glassed-in cockpit with panoramic windows, like on a World War II bomber, on top of a car or truck chassis. In 10 generations of the Wienermobile from 1952 to 2008, there have been many different chassis: Dodge, Willys Jeep, Chevrolet, Chevrolet van, GMC W-Series/Isuzu Elf, Dodge Ram pickup, and most recently the MINI Cooper S.
The Wienermobile captured here appears to be the 2004 edition, built on a GMC W-Series chassis with a 6.0L Vortec V8. Between the bubble windshield and the huge dual windows on each side, “panoramic” is an understatement for the view to any angle other than directly behind. The gawkers — and there will be many — all will be clearly visible to the driver. The two dashboard segments that mimic hot dogs are probably not visible to the driver, unfortunately.
A rear view emphasizes how large the upturned end of the wiener really is. It also shows the Pontiac Firebird taillights that the builder used.
Vanity license plates (OSCRMYR, BIG BUN, IWSHIWR, etc.) adorn each Wienermobile, and this one bears what has to be the best of all. It is part of an experience which is guaranteed to entertain. I have sighted the Wienermobile three times in the past six years, which may be abnormally often considering that each time caught the vehicle in transit rather than in a place where it was on display, and I can attest to the fact that sighting the Wienermobile forces one to (1) smile and (2) stare and walk toward it for a closer look. Like driving a Zamboni, driving a Wienermobile makes you the center of attention and rolling entertainment when you are just doing your job by driving around.