Ads on Wheels: Meet the Goldfish Car, the Big Banana and the Kissmobile

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Apr 15, 2015

When my kids were little, I scored them a visit to the Goldfish Mobile. They didn’t actually ride, but got to climb all over the thing. The drivers told me that, despite appearances, this cracker-shaped vehicle is pretty stable, without worries about "fishtailing." My girls were in accord with a Girl Scout I interviewed. “I want to eat the whole truck,” she told me.

The Goldfish Mobile in all its current glory. (Prototype Source photo)Mobile ads work, which is why you can trace their legacy all the way back to horsedrawn Moxie Bottle Wagons. Remember Moxie? I know, neither do I. Other early entries include a truck touting Pep-O-Mint Life Savers (1918) and the famous Zippo Car, constructed around a very embarrassed 1947 Chrysler Saratoga. The original is lost, but a faithful recreation is on the road.

The original Zippo car. Yes, that's a '47 Chrysler poking out there. A fire hazard? (Zippo photo)The Goldfish Mobile first took to the road in 1952. The current ones, built on GM truck chassis, are on permanent tour around America. A company called Prototype Source in Goleta, California not only makes Goldfish Mobiles, but also Hershey’s Kissmobiles, Oscar Mayer Weinermobiles, Planter’s Peanut Mobiles and the Wild Thornberry’s Comvee. That one’s probably rusting in a back alley somewhere.

The Kissmobiles do 50,000 miles a year, and host refrigerators capable of holding 230,000 Kisses. (Prototype Source photo)Tours for these snack products includes a fair amount of free samples to eager kids. It seems innocent enough, but PETA scoffs at the Weinermobile for helping to get children addicted to something that will come back to bite them in later life.

One of the most recognized product cars, drawing fire from PETA. (Prototype Source photo)Not all weird product cars involve stuff you can eat. The New York Mets Bullpen cars, for example, are a weird phenomenon. Apparently walking the 800 feet to the mound is too much for some out-of-shape pitchers, so a tradition began way back in 1951 to drive them there. The first was the Chicago White Sox, and the ride was a black Cadillac (supplied by a funeral home). By ’55 the rides stopped because fans were throwing “debris” at the car. Don’t ask why; we don’t have a psychologist on staff.

The Mets bullpen car ran out of juice on the field. Worth $20,000 to $30,000? (Sotheby's photo)The Sox next used a Chrysler LeBaron, which was also assaulted. According to White Sox historian Josh Cohen, “The beer shower that the LeBaron received had to be seen to be believed—full $3.50 cups came raining out of the upper deck.” Really, first they spend $3.50 on beer (this was 30 years ago) then they throw it away?

Earlier this month, a very colorful 1967 New York Mets bullpen car went for $112,500 at a Sotheby’s auction. It was built by AMF, with a baseball cap for a roof and bats for pillars. Some examples have baseball-glove headlight buckets.

Sotheby’s says the car was immortalized by its “dramatic appearance” at the ’86 World Series, where after Game Seven it entered the field of play and “promptly ran out of power, adding further delights to the victory celebration.” It’s in “largely original condition,” with “a lovely patina throughout.”

The Bib Banana Car is going on a big tour. Watch it peel out. (Spade Braithwaite photo)Finally, we can’t close this out without mention of the Big Banana Car, built from an old pickup truck. Steve Braithwaite, the mastermind, describes how what had originally been conceived as a peanut car evolved into tropical fruit. It seems the peanut company didn’t respond to his letter asking why one bag had 223 nuts and the other 218. So his head was turned by a bunch of bananas at a gas station. The straighter ones, he said, had potential:

As I viewed it from all sides I started to see that it would be a perfect shape for a car. I pictured where the wheels would go and where the occupants would sit. Where the engine and bumpers would fit. After a few minutes of intense scrutiny I suddenly realized that the lady behind me was staring at me intently. She must have been thinking, “It’s a BANANA! Buy it and eat it and let the rest of us pay for our gas and move on with our lives!”

Braithwaite, who is British but lives in Michigan, had planned a world tour with his banana car but he tells me that's now on hold because "we have opened a workshop to build more ridiculous vehicles. We are about 80 percent finished on a sub sandwich car." There's more here. But it's too bad about the tour. I wanted to see the Big Banana Car peel out.

Research assistance was by Madeline Horrigan. And here's some video on kids going nuts over the Goldfish Mobile:


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