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His Creed Is Speed

There's a prescribed method to get into a Consulier, and it goes like this: Stand by the open door, turn 180 degrees away from the car, stick one leg behind you into the passenger compartment, crouch down and fall into the seat, haul your other leg in, and spin around to face the front.

The seats are about six inches off the ground, but the rocker panel is six inches higher, so with the door open, you really have to step over and down. A more conventional approach would leave you straddling the rocker like a balance beam. Anyone in a tight skirt would be stuck until help happened by.

Once inside the fit is snug but not claustrophobic. The two-seat, midengine, fiberglass-bodied sports car has plenty of legroom, no doubt at the behest of its six-foot-tall creator and manufacturer, West Palm Beach financier Warren Mosler.

Mosler turns the key, and the turbocharged Chrysler engine fires up behind his head. He pulls out of the parking lot of his Riviera Beach shop, turns right on Old Dixie Highway, and motors sedately down the street.

Not until he takes a hard right at 40 mph, without touching the brakes, do Mosler's intentions become apparent. He's showing off his creation, which he says is the fastest, best-handling sports car on the road. It will outrun anything, he claims, and get 28 mpg doing it. He could be right. The car handles like a go-kart, no wallowing in turns or squealing tires. On a back street, Mosler puts his tasseled loafer hard into the gas pedal, and the car shoots forward like a scorched hare, hitting 70 mph in the space of a short block.

All fine and good except the car looks kind of strange, like a cross between a VW kit car in the front and a Dukes of Hazzard-era Dodge Charger in the back. There's something about the design that just doesn't jell.

This is the car that was supposed to bring the automotive world to Warren Mosler's door. He would be lauded by those with a keen appreciation of fast cars and slick engineering. His name would be forever enshrined with the likes of racecar builder Carroll Shelby, who gave the world the Shelby Cobra, and Zora Arkus Duntov, credited with designing the Corvette.

History can be a cruel mistress, however. She certainly hasn't been kind to Mosler. He's been snubbed by the automotive press and buyers alike. If he's noted at all in the annals of cardom, Mosler will probably go down as an oddity, someone akin to John De Lorean, whose namesake is better known as a punch line than a vehicle.

Mosler's put a lot of time and money into the Consulier and the company that builds it, Mosler Automotive. But he just can't seem to win much respect for his creation. You'd think that would piss him off, but Mosler isn't the kind of guy to get pissed off. A bit incredulous maybe, a tad irked certainly, but not pissed off.

"What's your opinion of this car?" he asks, genuinely interested in a response. "Do you see anything wrong with the way it looks?"

Well, ummmm....
Mosler, age 49, is a man accustomed to success. He is a founding partner of AVM, a West Palm investment company that handles $20 billion in assets. He personally manages an offshore hedge fund worth $2.5 billion. But he doesn't want to get into that. "I can't talk directly about that because it's considered advertising. You are not allowed to advertise." Apparently he doesn't have to. Business must be good, judging by his homes in Singer Island and Hobe Sound.

AVM owns a majority share in Enterprise National Bank, which holds assets of about $100 million. But it doesn't stop there. He also owns or has a stake in CRA-Z Soap, Entertainment Systems Technologies, Constant Velocity, Tool Topper, MosArt art gallery, Mosler Cleaning Services, and two West Palm restaurants, Michael's and Rockwell's.

And then there's Mosler Automotive (and its divisions, Total Engine Concepts and Southeast Automotive). Its headquarters used to be a lumberyard, so there's plenty of space for the machine shop, dyno room, fiberglass-fabricating shop, engine shop, warehouse, and show room.

The place is littered with half-finished embodiments of Mosler's odd notions. This, undoubtedly, is a man who keeps a notepad on his nightstand. Anyone in the market for a fiberglass Jeep-like vehicle powered by a Corvette engine mounted behind the driver's seat? How about a Cadillac Eldorado with a second engine stuffed in the trunk? A kit that combines modern Mustang mechanicals with a fiberglass knockoff of a 1966 body? Anyone asking themselves "Why?"

"I don't know," Mosler says in even, measured tones. "It's just a sickness, I think."

The place is also littered with Consuliers. Mosler started building them in 1988. He figures he's produced about 100 of them and sold maybe 60, many of which seem to have come home to roost. Two of the warehouse areas are chock-a-block with the chunky little cars parked door to door, gathering dust. "When people sold them as used cars, I ended up buying them back," says Mosler. "I've got way too many cars." One of the warehouses also houses five or six of Mosler's old VWs he used to race and a couple of small planes built by a company he used to own.

Mosler Automotive may resemble a millionaire's garage, but the owner will gently disavow you of the notion that this thing is an extravagant hobby. It's a business, darn it, albeit one that rarely makes money. "We have shown a profit on our tax returns I think twice," he says. "I'd have to check on that."

Yes, that's a concern. Of course he would like to see some return on his multimillion-dollar investment. He has 25 people on the payroll, and it would be good for them to have something to do. Many of them now spend their days building racecars and engines for other people. All of the employees are on a first-name basis with the boss.

As was the genesis of everything around the shop, the Consulier began with a single, crystalline idea that popped into Mosler's head: Lighter is better. Less weight means you need less power to go fast. It also means less mass to hustle around corners, so theoretically a lighter car will handle better.

Mosler became the automotive equivalent of a Slimfast junkie, building his cars out of lightweight, fiberglass-encased foam material similar to that used in boats. OK, so the Consulier wasn't the prettiest thing on the block. He didn't think that would matter once people drove it. "I was looking for people who wanted the ultimate performance car," he says. "This car was designed by the stopwatch."

Time has proved him right -- and wrong. The car is fast and has won some races, including the 24-hour Longest Day at Nelson in Ohio five times. But the press ridiculed him in good times and ignored him in bad. Mosler says his cars have been all but banned in the pages of Road & Track because the editor thought they were an abomination. AutoWeek once accused him of cheating to win a race, he adds. Sales of the $50,000 cars dwindled from miniscule to nonexistent. Mosler can't remember the last time he sold a Consulier.

No matter, he's already onto another project, a new car dubbed the MT 900 that will combine flyweight and obscene horsepower. Imagine a Honda Civic powered by a Corvette engine. This time he hired a designer, and it shows. The car is sleek, aerodynamic, and lovely enough to make a Ferrari blush. Should it come to fruition -- and it probably will, whether the public demands it or not -- no one will be able to call the MT 900 a turkey.

The body exists only on paper, but Mosler has a running version of the drive train stuffed into a car he calls the Raptor, which is basically a Consulier with a wedge-shape, two-piece windshield and an ungodly powerful V-8 engine. Driving the Raptor, you get the idea he's onto something. The car is seemingly docile until you step on the gas. Then it howls like the gates of hell opening to vacuum up souls and slams your head into the headrest as it careens forward. Before each launch you find yourself involuntarily clenching your teeth and tightening your abdominal muscles.

List price for the MT 900 will be $149,500. Mosler thinks he has a hit on his hands. But he's not jumping up and down about it or anything. "If it works out, we could build a couple hundred of them," he says. "But there are definitely risks."

Contact Bob Whitby at his e-mail address:
Bob_Whitby@newtimesbpb.com


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