OCEAN CITY – Somewhere around 80 mph, Larry Layton’s custom painted Dodge “F-16” Viper feels like it could take flight at any moment, and if you look closely at the car itself, that feeling might not be that far off.
Layton, whose family has owned and operated Layton’s Restaurants on 15th Street since 1959, will provide a ground level spectacle of sorts at the 2nd Annual Ocean City Air Show when he showcases his 2004 “F-16” Viper on the boardwalk at 16th street.
What makes the car noteworthy to showcase at the Air Show, rather than at one of Ocean City’s annual car shows, is that Layton has transformed a seemingly normal silver 500 horsepower convertible into a 700 horsepower spot-on homage, down to the last rivet and decal, of the US Airforce F-16 Fighting Falcon.
“I was in the stands at one of the air shows, and I thought that it would be so cool to pay homage to these guys by making my Viper look exactly like one of these jets, and I wanted it to be precise,” Layton said.
Layton said the transformation took merely seven weeks, with an airbrush artist who goes by the name Oklahoma and the Selbyville, Del.-based Loaded Gun Customs doing the brunt of the project.
In addition to the exterior alterations, Layton wanted to make a few adjustments under the hood as well.
“We shaved down weight from the car by taking cast iron parts off and using aluminum. We changed brakes and brake pads, and the engine is done in intercoolers and superchargers,” said Layton. “That brings our torque rating to about 675, which means that my third gear goes from about 85-140 [mph].”
The car, which Layton says turns heads wherever he goes, got more than a little attention from the U.S. Air Force, which invited Layton and his car to lead the opening ceremonies at last year’s Air Show at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. in front of 70,000 people.
“I felt like I was 19 years old again,” said Layton. “Master Sergeant Brian Spangler, who is now a friend of mine, called me up and said that he couldn’t believe that I would spend the time and money and effort to pay homage to F-16 pilots. When the colonel saw pictures of the car, he said he wanted me to open the air show.”
Layton’s jet viper race car may have paved a path of interest for Ocean City’s air show in the process, as Layton was quietly lobbying to get more jets to appear in this year’s second annual show, after the success of the town’s inaugural event last summer.
“My ploy was to go right to the Air Force, and I thought if I could get in good graces with them, maybe I could get them down here for the show and we can have some more jets for Ocean City’s air show,” said Layton. “In the end, I think the car had a big part in bringing some of them to town this year.”
Layton’s patriotism is apparent in the simplest of conversations, and his passion for jets and the art of flying is apparent with just a glimpse of the car. Yet, it is the detail that was undertaken to modify a simple sports car into an almost working replica is the most exceptional. The car features logos that would be seen on the actual planes, the name of a fallen F-16 pilot, and various other idiosyncratic touches that make the car an authentic homage to aviation (even down to the theme song from “Top Gun” blaring from the stereo during the test drive).
As next weekend’s 2nd Annual Air Show creeps closer, Layton thinks that this year could be the year that the annual event really makes its mark.
“I think it’s going to be one of the best air shows in the country because it’s on the water,” said Layton, “and having it on the water allows the coast guard to do demos as well. But to me, nothing can be more patriotic in these times than supporting these guys and what they do up there, so I think this is the best thing Ocean City has done in quite awhile.”
Layton and his car will be there, seemingly ready to take a visual or literal ride into the “Dangerzone.”