The Evolution of the Wienermobile
The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is an American icon. Having been conceived back in 1936, it was created to promote Oscar Mayer products in the United States, but it became something so much more. Unlike many promotional tools that have come and gone over the years, nothing has stuck in America’s consciousness quite like the Wienermobile. The mere sight of the Wienermobile is enough to make a grown adult smile.
Having been around for nearly a century, by now, you, too, have probably seen it at some point. You may even have one of the “wiener whistles” that the drivers hand out or some other form of memorabilia. But as familiar as it is, it’s gone through some changes over the years, with the biggest change having occurred just in 2023.
But just how much has changed over the years? Not just the design of the exterior, but under the hood, the Wienermobile has seen a lot of changes. These are the lesser-known facts about the Wienermobile, even the biggest Oscar Mayer fans may not be aware of. With that said, let’s take a look at the evolution of the classic—if odd—car.
1. The Original Wienermobile (1936)
Carl G. Mayer, Oscar Mayer’s nephew, had this custom vehicle built by the General Body Company of Chicago in the shape of a hot dog to promote the brand around the Chicago area. The driver just sort of poked out awkwardly from the middle of the car.
It was almost more like a tank in that way than a car. Even its panels appear tank-like. Of course, Wiener Tank just sounds weird, so it’s good they never went with that name. This first Wienermobile was scrapped for meta; in the 1940s in order to aid the US Army during WWII.
(image via Oscar Mayer)
2. General Body Overhaul (1940s)
In the following years, the Wienermobile was revamped. A glass enclosure now protected the driver of this scaled-down model and could be seen through the windshield just like any other car. It expanded its travel radius to spread the good word about Oscar Mayer up and down the East and Midwest.
It definitely looked more car-like this time around and even slightly smaller. But it still wasn’t a particularly practical car, so WWII gas rationing put a stop to its use. But the Wienermobile would soon be back in action, however, not again until the 1950s.
(image via Oscar Mayer)
3. Gerstenslager (1952)
In 1952, a new Wienermobile model hit the streets. Built by The Gerstenslager Company out of Wooster Ohio, the new vehicle was built on a Dodge truck chassis. The driver now sat in the front of the hot dog, surrounded by a cool-looking, visor-like array of windows.
In 1952, a new Wienermobile hit the streets. Built by The Gerstenslager Company out of Wooster Ohio, the new vehicle was built on a Dodge truck chassis. The driver now sat in the front of the hot dog, surrounded by a cool-looking, visor-like array of windows. Some of these models still survive today—there’s one at the Henry Ford Museum.
(image via Kinja)
4. Brooks Stevens (1958)
Brooks Stevens was having a moment in the 1950s. He kicked off the craze of robins’-egg-blue appliances, as well as the 1949 Hydra-Glide Harley, the Jeep Wagoneer, and later the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk. But one of his most popular designs was this Wienermobile from 1958, which was put to use for nearly a decade.
Brooks Stevens’s design took the Wienermobile into the future. Built on a Willys Jeep chassis, it featured a remarkable bubble nose that would be echoed elsewhere in pop culture – like the cars and helicopters of Batman. Stevens was also the designer of Miller Beer’s first logo and the clear beer bottle.
(Image via Oscar Mayer)
5. Built In-House (1969)
The next Wienermobile model was built by Oscar Mayer’s own mechanics. They made a couple of these models, out of a Chevrolet motor home chassis, with the taillights from a Ford Thunderbird, all powered by a V6 engine. This was the first Wienermobile to travel overseas, a move perhaps enabled by its more economical size.
(image via Kinja)
6. Plastics Products (1976)
Not a terrifically inspired company name and not a terrifically inspired Wienermobile. In 1976 Plastics Products ran with what was essentially an authorized replica of the Wienermobile that came before it, made out of fiberglass and styrofoam. It didn’t even improve upon the vehicle’s mechanical parts.
Like the 1969 version of the Wienermobile, it was built on a Chevrolet motor home chassis, but this time a 1973 motor home chassis. This would be the last version of the Wienermobile before the entire fleet was retired in 1977. The Winermobile would make a brief comeback in 1986 to celebrate its 50th Anniversary.
7. Stevens Automotive Corporation (1988)
During the ’80s, Oscar Mayer finally debuted a long-overdue upgrade, unveiling a fleet of ten Wienermobiles and a program to hire college students on summer break as “hotdoggers” to drive the cars around the country. This time, Oscar Mayer went back to Brooks Stevens who would design a new Wienermobile for a new era – this time through his Stevens Automotive Corporation.
Six models were produced that measure 23 feet long. The new models sported a V6 engine, powering a Chevy van chassis. Unchanged since 1969? The T-bird taillights. These mobile fiberglass hot dogs were also equipped with microwave ovens, refrigerators, cellular phones, and stereo systems that played various Oscar Mayer jingles. Four more were built afterward to tour Japan and Spain.
Star Tribune via Getty Images/Star Tribune/Getty Images
8. Harry Bentley Bradley (1995)
It took less than a decade for us to get a new Wienermobile this time around. Harry Bradley brought his artistic vision to the car, and for the first time, CAD (computer-aided design) software was used to design a Wienermobile. This version of the classic car was custom-designed.
The new design incorporated Grand Am headlights and Trans Am taillights and was a whopping 27 feet long and 11 feet high! The General Motors vehicle featured state-of-the-art video equipment and a big-screen television. It took things up a notch with a hot dog-shaped dashboard. A fleet of six was created, serving until 2003.
Patrick Downs/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
9. Craftsmen Industries (2000)
After some mechanical problems, Oscar Mayer looked to build a more powerful, more stable vehicle. They shortened the wiener up a little, making it wider and taller. Ultimately they wound up with a powerful GM 5700 Vortec V8 powering a GMC W-series chassis.
Two of these new models were commissioned that featured improved engines, anti-lock brakes, and GPS Navigational systems, as well as upgraded audio and video equipment. These versions of the Wienermobile toured from 2000 to 2004. Other than those components, it looked pretty much the same on the outside.
(Image via Instagram)
10. Craftsmen Redesign (2001)
Unfortunately, the W-series chassis had problems keeping the wiener aloft, and a massive number of suspension problems forced them to attempt numerous revisions. Just one year after the last redesign, Craftsman was back at it again, this time with a RAM 1500-series chassis with a flipped axle, cradling a 5.2L Magnum V8 engine.
Other than that, it was virtually the same as the 2000 model. It really didn’t bring much new to the table when it came to its design, so it’s not shocking to learn that this version easily had the shortest lifespan of the bunch. It would go through a new iteration in 2004.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images
11. Prototype Source (2004)
Prototype Source brought back a lot of previous elements for their 2004 revamp. Built on a GMC W-series chassis and equipped with Pontiac Firebird taillights, it featured a 300-horsepower, 6.0L 5700 Vortec V8. Most Wienermobiles operating in the United States today are operating on 300 horsepower.
The more modern version also had gullwing doors, a horn that plays the jingle in 21 different genres of music, and a voice-activated GPS. There are currently six of these babies roaming the countryside. Designed and
by Prototype Source in Santa Barbara, California, these vehicles are probably the most recognizable models in existence.
12. The Mini (2008)
Of course, there are a lot of places you can’t go when you’re driving around a car with a 27-foot hot dog on top. To that end, Prototype Source developed this 15-foot Wienermobile out of this MINI Cooper S Hardtop with a 1.6L turbocharged I-4.
Sadly, using a Mini Cooper body for a Weinermobile didn’t give it much more style. This one-off design was simply meant to commemorate Oscar Mayer’s 125th Anniversary. Measuring 15 feet long, 8 feet high and weighing 3,600 lbs, it was about half the size of the rest of the fleet.
Minimobile3/Jeremy Noble/CC BY 2.0/Flickr
13. 75th Anniversary Food Truck (2011)
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of this American icon, Oscar Meyer sent a food truck incarnation of the Wienermobile across the country to 12 cities to actually serve hot dogs – something that the actual Wienermobile had never done before.
Serving Oscar Mayer Selects Beef Franks, this signified the company’s steps toward producing more natural beef hot dogs due to the demands of consumers. In addition to the six main models and the MINI, this food truck made up the eighth and final Wienermobile.
John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images
14. The Frankmobile (2023)
The times really are a-changing for the Wienermobile, in 2023, as it has undergone, easily, its most significant change since its inception. The Wienermobile name is no more. Oscar Mayer has changed its name to the Frankmobile. So, why did the company change the name of its most iconic promotional tool?
Well, it turns out its all part of a rebranding, as the company gravitates toward making more 100% beef frank products rather than the usual combination meat used in their wieners. The good news is that it still looks like the vehicle we’ve come to love – and they’ll still be handing out the whistles and decals.