BUSINESS KELLY: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM

We’re putting a new front end on it,” Michael Kelly of Arlington was saying about his new car. “We were having some problems in the wind tunnel with this one. At 200 miles per hour the nose starts to float.”

Kelly’s car, the Legado, will be the first American sports car built by an independent in more than a quarter-century. The car, which will sell for about $40,000, is a 2+2 convertible with a removable hardtop. Its 345-horsepower V-8 engine will kick the car from zero to sixty miles per hour in less than five seconds. With a car capable of accelerating to very high speeds, a floating front end can be a very real problem.

Kelly freely admits that most car experts call him crazy and give him almost no chance for survival in the sports car market, which is tightly dominated by large corporations and European imports. But with the calm manner of a gambler with an ace in the hole, he says he will prove them all wrong. He’s got reason for confidence: he purchased the Avanti sports car line in Ohio in 1986 when it was on the verge of being destroyed by bankruptcy, turned it around, and then sold it last year to his partner for a handsome profit.

During that time he began working on a new sports car line to be built mainly in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which has become one of the biggest car-manufacturing centers of the world. After he sold Avanti, Kelly transferred his dreams to the new Legado. Many of the new parts will be manufactured in Brazil, then shipped to Arlington where, more than 500 worker-hours later (as opposed to an average thirty-five worker-hours for a GM assembly-line car), a new Legado will roll out of the warehouse. Kelly says he can break even producing 300 cars a year, and that he can build as many as 2,000 a year.

“Yes, there is a market for that kind of car,” admits Steve Louden, president of Louden Motorcar Services Inc. in Dallas. “But finding that market is extremely difficult.” Louden cites the case of John DeLorean, who spent millions bringing his sports car to market-only to have it fail. “If anybody could have done something like this, it was DeLorean,” says Louden.

“It’s a tough market,” admits Kelly. “There’s an easier way to make money. But it’s what I do, and I’m going to do it.”

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