Of all the strange cars I've driven in cities — a Bugatti Veyron and a Morgan 3 Wheeler amongst them — nothing has so captivated onlookers as this. It's a Cessna that once skipped through the air, but now glides along the road, the shimmering body hiding the mechanicals of a Toyota Van. Screw your Ferrari, get a damn plane if you want to impress people.
Readers of this site are already well familiar with SpeedyCop and his insane creations, but for the rest of you here's a short primer: Jeff Bloch is SpeedyCop, a police officer who puts his life on the line to support his racing habit. He builds… well… here's some of the stuff he's built:
So when I heard he was bringing his "Spirit of Lemons" Cessna to New York for our party with blipshift, I knew we'd have to drive it. And by we, of course, I demanded that I'd be the one to pilot it. Sure, I'd never driven a plane. I've never even driven the '80s Toyota Van that gave its life to such a noble cause. Life is defined by the things we say yes to, and my life needed this kind of definition.
Things were getting off to a slow start though, because SpeedyCop, despite being one of the best wrenches around, couldn't figure out how to get a Honda he'd towed up from Maryland running. Some kids had put it together and failed, so he was trying to reach out to someone local as he was planning to race tomorrow.
Sleep was probably out, but he didn't spend all that time (thousands of hours) getting the twin-engined 1956 Cessna road legal to not drive it on the road. This plane, despite its beauty, was designed for the scrapyard when he picked it up. The Van, with 177K miles, came from Craigslist.
The work is remarkable. Climbing into the fuselage, it looks like a plane with a racing seat fused with a Toyota. The dashboard is all Cessna flat and shiny, with a gauge cluster from the van tacked to the middle. Your view forward is surprisingly good, as you're sitting up rather high. To your right is a full Cessna copilot setup and it's hard to shake the feeling that at any moment you might not just takeoff.
Unfortunately, the view out the back is a little more challenging, there's a lot of mirror and it tapers because it's a wing, but you've got so much freakin' vehicle poking out there you have to be very aware of knocking something over. There's a reason why long hook-and-ladder trucks have a driver over the rear-wheels. It's tough. (look at me trying to back it up)
Once we get going, though, it's not that hard to drive. It feels like just another car. Despite the extra weight you'd imagine was added, this old Cessna was an aluminum body — which Jeff in the nonexistent passenger seat says was a pain to cut and polish. Steering is relatively direct and acceleration, perhaps due to the low coefficient of drag, is at the very least extant.
But the most noticeable aspect of driving it is the reactions. As Jeff correctly notes, no one doesn't look at the plane. Traffic cops jaded by a Rolls or a Lamborghini, see the plane and they stop traffic for it. You can't not notice it.
We're way out near Javits, but we make sure to take a detour across the island into the center of mass consumerism and dreadful taste that is Times Square. Natives avoid it, but no visit to New York is complete without a trip to the place full of all the same restaurants you have at home, only bigger.
And that's why it's the perfect place to drive a plane. You go there expecting to be wowed when, for many people, they're just creeped out by a beleaguered man in a Mario costume awkwardly touching himself.
Nothing will wow you like a plane that drives. Nothing on wheels will make you smile more short of, maybe, a Mister Softee handing out free dip cones laced with MDMA.
And that feeling extends to the driver as well. Piloting this thing is a dream, because the surprisingly pedestrian controls and ease of use means you don't have to worry and can just enjoy the reaction.
I've rarely desired a plane of my own because I don't like the idea of having a plane I can't park. Since a flying car may never happen, I think this is obviously the next best thing.
Special thanks to SpeedyCop and Joe Oh from Blipshift for setting this up. All photos Brian Williams/ Jalopnik