During a recent stop in Times Square, L.L. Bean let us drive its new promotional vehicle — the Ford truck-powered Bootmobile. What better to strap into on a windy, January afternoon in midtown Manhattan than footwear the size of a UPS truck, right?
In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean brainstormed a waterproof boot that paired a rubber bottom to leather uppers. A hunter and fisherman, Bean compiled a list of his peers in Maine and sold them on the "Bean Boot" by mail. The Maine Hunting Boot, as Bean called it, launched a national mail-order business that now has more than 4,500 employees and pulled in $1.44 billion in revenue in 2010.
So, when L.L. Bean needed a promotional icon for its 100th anniversary, the choice was staring them right in the ankles.
The all-fiberglass body is the product of themed-attraction design firm Echo Artz of Kissimmee, FL. The prop boot (now a sort of roller skate for giants) is scaled to fit someone who's approximately 143 feet tall, according to a press release. It's 13 feet tall at its highest point, 20.6 feet long and 7.6 feet wide — about a foot (heh, heh) wider than the Ford F-250 Super Duty on which it's based. It's the wideness that matters most when negotiating past parked delivery trucks and gawking cabbies along NYC thoroughfares. Having a co-driver to keep watch over clearances is a big plus.
Climbing inside through the only ingress — a narrow hatch above the heel — you don't just toss out some obvious boot joke. Ian, the hired driver, has heard them all, and none are very good. "Don't you just get a kick out of driving this thing?" No! "If it breaks down, do you call a toe truck?" Oof. "When you drive it in Canada, do you take it out and aboot?" Better.
A quick crawl through the boot's central tunnel — used to store promotional swag; there's no passenger space back there — leads to a narrow cockpit hatch. It's a head-smasher, so visitors must mind their domes' clearance requirements. A few awkward bends and stretches, and we're in the seat. Once inside, both driver and passenger sit ensconced like toes inside a familiar Ford cockpit, though claustrophobic types need not apply; neither of the side doors open.
Ian, who recently drove the bootmobile down the eastern seaboard from Maine to New York, says the Bootmobile handles crosswinds well, and is generally a pleasure to drive. In the city, his head swivels constantly, playing lifeguard for hoards of punters, who been known to wander into busy streets to nab a cameraphone action shot. The downside of driving a vehicle built to be looked at? People looking at it, instead of watching for that mail truck about to flatten them.
At hand are the familiar controls of the Super Duty. If you've driven one of those, you know how this thing maneuvers. From its donor truck, the Bootmobile gets power from a 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 diesel engine, producing 400 hp. Indeed, it kicks giant ass, with 800 lb-ft of torque. The suspension is entirely stock, and holds the extra shoe-weight well, without much side-to-side rocking during cornering. And by cornering, we mean "turning down 40th street."
Looking down the long "hood," you get the feeling you're in one of those amphibious tourist "ducks" you see in beach towns. The turbodiesel growls and we take off. And by "take off" I mean immediately come to a halt for the cabbie who's stopped next to us so a passenger can score an iPhone shot.
We circle back to the Bootmobile's parking spot behind a pair of street-meat vendors, where a CNN crew is waiting to do a set piece on the Bootmobile's New York stop. The upshot? As easy as it is to maneuver, and as much attention as we get from all manner of leggy NYC
folks, I'd rather be hiding in a duck blind, wearing a pair of Bean Boots, than driving this thing.