Donna Vavala

Donna has been a reporter for the Panama City News Herald in the Panhandle of Florida, an Editor/Publisher for the Lynn Haven Ledger, and is currently an Editor for the Senior Voice of Hernando County.

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When Wendell Johnson goes for a drive, heads turn, jaws drop, people laugh and point, cameras flash, and police officers gawk because it sure as heck looks as if he’s cruising down the highway on a boat. And, he is.

Well, technically, it is a boat with the bottom cut off that he affixed to a 1987 Chevy Chevette with its top cut off. Huh?

Wendell Johnson, 59, installs carpet for a local store and enjoys living in the country, in the outskirts of Spring Hill. He occupies the mobile home that was already on the property when he bought it and added a garage and huge covered porch across the front.

Wendell’s best assets are his great sense of humor, his wild imagination, and his ability to fix and build almost anything, so when his girlfriend asked him for a special car, he was happy to oblige.

“My girlfriend said she wanted a convertible, so I built her one,” said Wendell, with a sly grin. “Someone gave me the Chevette, and it sat in the yard for a year. So I cut the top off and said, “There you go!”

Then he had a brainstorm.

“A neighbor had an old boat in his yard. I asked him if I could have it, and he said he was about to haul it to the dump. So I took it home, cut off the bottom, put it over the Chevette, and it just snapped on like it was made for it. Then I stripped off the lights and made it legal.”

That was 17 years ago. Since then, Wendell has added several new, laugh-out-loud features to his unusual ride. Over the prow of the boat, he mounted a pig head to which he attached cow horns that he can maneuver into a “wave.” Then, to be politically correct, he added a pair of American flags. He also added three motorized windshield wiper squirters that can shoot water several directions and soak unsuspecting folks up to two car lengths away.

Wendell then covered the car hood with fur and attached a gruesome animal he created with a horned alligator head, a fur-covered body and a back fin. Its mouth lights up as its jaws open and shut so he can flash it at night. As if that wasn’t entertaining enough, he put a horse saddle on the huge Evinrude boat motor on the back of the vehicle which he can straddle and ride while the motor bucks back and forth like a mechanical bull. Mounted just in front of the boat motor is a boar’s head wearing a hat whose mouth also opens and shuts. You might say Boat Billys is fun in the front and a party in the back.

Along the driver’s side of the boat’s exterior is a small alligator head connected to a stuffed snake skin body. Coconuts with carved freaky faces flank the ends of the boat’s windshield. Signs, like “Made in Detroit by mistake,” “Yeah, it’s got a hemi,” “We are the people our parents warned us about,” and “I brake for manatees,” dot the sides and back.

Wendell explained the vehicles name – “Boat Billys.” “When I was at a gas station one time, this guy came up and asked, ‘What are you – a boatbilly?’” said Wendell, adding it was a reference to hillbilly. “I liked the name, so I put it on the sides.”

Wendell likes driving the Boat Billys around town, but he also has driven it to Key West and often attends Daytona Beach’s annual Bike Week.

“The first time I went to Daytona, I pulled up and the beach patrol was like, ‘What the hell?’” Wendell said. Pointing at a seagull, Wendell hollered, “Are those birds any good to eat?”

He said the officers got a good laugh out of it, and the next year when he saw them again, they told him they had some ‘birds’ in the freezer for him.

“When I come in and drive on the beach, people come running from the hotels, and the police have to escort me because you’re not supposed to stop and talk; you’re supposed to keep moving.”

Wendell’s first trip to Bayport also created a lot of excitement. He was immediately approached by a police officer who said, “I don’t know whether to ask for your insurance card or your boat license.”

Wendell said many people are surprised that his boat car is road legal.

“If you don’t get full coverage insurance, they don’t take a picture of the car,” he said, shrugging. “You can get liability insurance. Nobody says anything about it.”

Every time he takes Boat Billys out for a spin, his big white pit bull, O.B., joins him. Wendell got the dog as a puppy from the Oyster Bay Bar, in Daytona, where everyone had already begun calling him that. When Wendell yells, “Mount up!” O.B. dives into the back seat, panting, tail wagging and eyes blazing, ready for a new adventure.

Although Wendell’s boat car is usually topless, he does have a bimini top for inclement weather and said he’s been caught in some horrendous torrential rain a few times.

After driving Boat Billys for about five years, the Chevette’s motor started knocking, but Wendell was unable to find a replacement at area junk yards.

“They got rid of them,” he said of the Chevette-type cars, “but the parts only cost about $500, so I ordered them and rebuilt the motor myself. I’ve probably put on about 50,000 or 60,000 miles since then.

Wendell not only enjoys showing off Boat Billys, but he also puts his personality and sense of humor to work to add to the experience.

“I had to go to the airport one time to pick up my girlfriend,” Wendell recalled, adding that he was sitting out there waiting, and hollered over to a man who was starring bug-eyed. “I’m waiting for my mail order bride. I asked for a girl who had worms, and they shipped her in.”

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