When Ray Headley brings up the big apple, he's not talking New York. The 75-year-old entrepreneur is referring to the shiny red fiberglass Applemobile that roams the roads of the small northeast Ohio town of Geneva. Headley's Geneva shop, Auto-motive Plastics Co., made the motorized apple for the owners of a chain of three aptly named restaurants - the Applewood and Granny Smith, both in Geneva, and the Jonathan, in nearby Kingsville. Start to finish, the project took APC's full-time crew of five nearly eight months.
Headley, who designed the apple, based the mockup on a single slice, or one-eighth segment, built from a plywood frame, covered with screen and a layer of fiberglass. The rest of the job mimics a fundamental lesson in fractions. From the one-eighth segment, APC sculpted and bonded the four parts, to assemble half an apple.
Two halves make a whole mold - with an 8-foot girth.
The molded halves were bolted together and bonded, leaving no visible outside seam, he said. Using hand layup, workers applied fiberglass over the hull. Gelcoat, applied in the mold, gives the apple its rosy hue.
The hollow hull sits atop a chassis with a 10 horsepower engine; an alternator powers electronic equipment, including an illuminated flashing sign and the mechanism that lifts the carriage to let the driver in and out. Outside, a camera mounted in front conveys a 45-degree view of the vehicle's path to a 10-inch television monitor inside.
The apple is as easy to drive as a car - ``turn the key, step on the gas and go'' - and can hit a flat-out speed of 25 mph, Headley said. The vehicle is not street-legal. The restaurateurs use it for promotional events.
APC does little manufacturing these days, mostly small, specialty jobs, ``such as fiberglass apples,'' said Headley, who is owner and president. Tooling is the company's forte: for tubs and showers, swimming pools, aircraft and medical products. It recently designed and made molds for the nose cone, wing tips, seat and fuselage parts for an ultralight aircraft manufactured by Titan Aircraft Supply, also of Geneva. APC's customers lie mainly in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
With 40 some years of know-how, Headley also sells his consulting services to fiberglass manufacturers having management, design or material troubles. When he launched APC 35 years ago, the firm made aftermarket car items, such as replacement fenders for Montgomery Ward & Co. Inc. and Sears, Roebuck and Co., and Corvette parts, which were shipped worldwide, he said. Hence the name - which persisted even after its automotive market waned.
For now, however, it may be back to auto work once more. Headley said he's been talking with a Cleveland stockbroker who wants to design his own race car.