Raleigh feasts its eyes on banana-shaped car

jshaffer@newsobserver.comDecember 11, 2012 

— Wearing a pith helmet and a pair of racing goggles, Steve Braithwaite maneuvered his bright yellow, 23.5-foot car through downtown Raleigh, catching stares at every corner, stopping for pictures at every stoplight, offering strangers this explanation for driving a giant piece of tropical fruit:

It’s not that he’s overly fond of monkeys. It’s not that his diet lacks potassium. It’s zaniness for its own sake.

“I wanted to do something ridiculous,” said Braithwaite, 52, “and I couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous than a motorized banana.”

Braithwaite’s banana car has simultaneously puzzled Raleigh and captured its heart – a submarine-shaped darling of social media rolling around on the chassis of a Ford F-150, complete with a stem.

His goal: Raise enough money to drive around the world, crossing two oceans, waving at three continents from the front seat of a healthy snack.

“Hey, you need a Chiquita sticker!” shouted a man on the sidewalk as Braithwaite rolled past.

“I get a lot of double-takes,” he said. “I’m waiting for the guy with the whiskey bottle to look at the banana car, look at the whiskey bottle, and throw the whiskey bottle away – just like in the movies.”

Getting himself around the globe in a 2.5-ton banana will cost an estimated $27,850, and that’s doing it on the cheap. Braithwaite owns the Web hosting company galaxygig.com, but he finances his fruit-driving habit via couchsurfing.com – a worldwide network of free digs for travelers.

Braithwaite, a native of England now living in Michigan, has built loads of hot-rods, but nothing on the scale of a Fiberglas banana with a V-8 engine.

How to play the game

His fundraising method is as curious as his vehicle. He’s in Raleigh to launch his Banana Car Spy Hunt, which aims to enlist residents as “spies” looking for a miniature banana car, using secret code words that can be gathered only at certain businesses. It’s free to play, and the businesses pay for the traffic the game generates. Several of them, including PieBird on Person Street, have signed on, he said.

Braithwaite offers a scenario:

“You go to a location, ask for Mr. Jarlsberg, and someone tells you a wet crow never flies at night, unless there’s a moon over Prague.”

Find the banana, enter a drawing for a fabulous prize – as yet undetermined.

Braithwaite’s car seats four. Offer him a donation, and he might give you a ride. Just don’t expect much from the horn, the car’s only disappointing feature.

“It’s boring,” he admits, offering a generic honk at a downtown corner.

But climb into one of the open-cockpit seats and you’ll feel the wind in your hair – quite a bit of it if a tractor-trailer passes – and maybe catch the scent of pudding flavoring the exhaust.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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