When Mike Vetter’s dream of owning a Lamborghini didn’t come to fruition, he built one himself. Now he earns a living making his own supercars.
The 8000 square foot converted airplane hangar in Florida is littered with giant styrofoam blocks, fiberglass molds, sheet metal, and the guts of chopped up chassis. These components will be crafted into one-of-a-kind vehicles with names like Moonraker, Dimensia, and Slash.
For 20 years, Vetter has been building some of the world’s most unique cars. His creations, which sell for as much as $225k, have made him a millionaire.
He thought he couldn’t afford to buy his dream car so why not build it himself? Vetter has always lusted over Lamborghinis. After finishing high school, Vetter briefly tried his hand at a computer science degree but failed most of his classes. He then enrolled in a community college business program. While in school, he took a trip to the Daytona Turkey Run, and spotted the fiberglass body shell of a Lamborghini Countach.
He purchased the body for $2,500. Then, in the garage of a small house he resolved to build his dream “Lamborghini.” Though Vetter had no idea how to build a car, his first course of action was to find the right car for the chassis of his Lambo. He settled on a Pontiac Fiero, an affordable mid-engined sports car with a powerful motor. He found one at a scrap car yard for $1,700. He removed the body and “stretched” the chassis. He had that done at a hot rod shop for $800.
At every juncture, he encountered some kind of issue. “Something as little as the door hinges was a huge task. Finally, he was forced to make them himself — 5 times. With two trunks, two hoods, and wing doors, the Lamborghini Countach was just about the hardest kit car imaginable to build. The body of the car was so riddled with contours that professional painters refused to touch it so he got help from a 60-year-old mentor.
He worked on his car late into the night while juggling business classes and odd jobs at Burger King, an auto shop, and a local movie theater. A year and a half and over 2000 hours of labor later, he finally finished.
He built the first one with none of the required tools, and no knowledge of the subject at all. In 1996 he took out a $40 ad in a car trade magazine; and sold the car for $28,000, more than double what he’d put into it. At the time, the Nicolas Cage movie, The Rock, had just come out featuring a yellow Ferrari 355. He found a Ferrari body kit in New Jersey, bought and tore apart another Pontiac Fiero, and repeated the process. This time, it took 4 months and spent just $7,000. This time, he found two willing buyers; one bought the Ferrari for $21k; the other ordered a second car for $20k.
But just when things started heating up, a big problem arose. Ferrari came knocking. The luxury car titan sent Vetter a cease and desist letter. Lamborghini soon followed suit. When Vetter received the first letter, he had 20 Ferrari and Lamborghini kit cars ready to sell in his shop. He noticed he had 30 days to respond to the letter, so he’d wait until the 29th day to respond; the back-and-forth legal process bought him about 6 months of time, allowing him to offload his inventory.
Ultimately, a judge deemed that Vetter was infringing on the company’s trademark, and barred him from building any more cars. His kit car business was busted. He decided to build a custom-built car like no other ever made — something “people wouldn’t even believe” when they saw it on the street. Vetter began by sketching out a concept of what he wanted. He purchased an enormous chunk of styrofoam and hand-sculpted it into the body shape he wanted. From this body, he fashioned a set of fiberglass molds, which he affixed to the guts of an old Chevy Cobalt, which he cut in half and stretched. It generated its own press, drawing massive crowds at car shows. He sold it for $190,000.
Today, Vetter’s company has sold more than 300 custom-built cars to buyers all over the world ranging in price from $125k to upwards of $225k. He can produce one for $25k in a few weeks.
A snail is tired of being slow, so he buys a Renault. He paints a big red S on the side, (for Snail) so everyone will exclaim “Sacré bleu! Look at that S-car-go!”