By on November 3, 2021

Have you ever played the Florida Man birthday game? It’s simple enough – you type “Florida man” into Google, followed by your birthday, then read the headlines. Hilarity ensues (“Half-Nude Florida Man Wearing Underwear Marked ‘Breathalyzer, Blow Here’ Arrested for DUI,” is mine, in case you’re curious). But there are a few other “Florida Man” headlines you might find interesting, from an automotive perspective. Headlines like, “Florida Man Builds World-beating Supercar”.

You might think that’s a line about my personal hero, Warren Mosler, who built the Consulier over in Riviera Beach – and it very well might be! The thing is, it might also refer to the guys at Everett-Morrison outside of Tampa, who built some really slick, high-end Cobra replicas to spite the notion that “kit car” was still a bad word. It could also refer to Piero Rivolta, who designed the Grifo 90 supercar out in Sarasota. Check Beck, the father of the Ford Shogun – an absolutely wild, mid-engine Ford Festiva – was also a Florida guy, and they are just the tip of the automotive iceberg.

Join me, then, as I dust out the old brain attic and see if I can’t convince you of this one simple truth that I’ve always believed: That Florida is the American Turin.

DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE FUTURE BUT THE PAST KEEPS GETTING CLEARER EVERY DAY

At some point in the 1990s, and probably fueled by whatever was left of the cocaine cowboys’ fortunes, Florida was awash with fledgling supercar companies whose products were absolutely iconic to the gearheads of Generation X.

Up in Jacksonville, for example, a company called Megatech had just completed a hostile takeover of Gerry Weigert’s Vector. Upon discovering that the Weigert’s car was a far cry from the fully conceived supercar it had been marketed as, the company spent $40 million to buy Lamborghini from Chrysler, made a Vector-esque body kit to fit the Lamborghini Diablo frame, and the Vector M12 was born.

Not too far away, in Sarasota, Piero Rivolta was working to launch his Grifo 90 with some help from Reeves Callaway – but he was also busy bringing another one of his family’s business operations to Florida. This one, Zagato, you have definitely heard of.

Straight across the state and just south of Cape Canaveral, Renaissance Cars was trying their hand at building a lightweight, sporty, all-electric roadster called the Tropica. Fully 16 of the sporty-looking two-seaters were produced and a few of them were sold through Don Mealey Chevrolet in Claremont.

A bit further south, we find another, far more iconic car – the “Bad-Ass Benz”, Car and Driver’s Dec. 1998 cover car. That wild machine was a V12-powered W210 Mercedes E class packing 620 horsepower and a top speed that a dark fate would limit to 198 mph, and no more, was built in Lake Park, Florida by Hartmut Feyhl and the Steve Jones at RENNtech, a shop I would later work at and which, to this day, builds some of the most powerful, thoroughly considered hyper-sedans in the world.

Mere blocks from RENNtech, George Balaschak was busy with TLC Carrosiers. You may not have heard of George, but he built one of the most beautiful cars the world has ever seen – the Talbo. Inspired by the classic Talbot-Lago shape, the car was, nevertheless, an original design. The great Strother McMinn once called the Talbo, “truly a work of art, fully representing the heritage of the classic French shapes.” George was a super-knowledgeable guy, too, and had one of the largest CNC mills on the East Coast.

That last part was a fact that just about every would-be supercar and powerboat builder in Florida seemed to be keenly aware of – including another well-known supercar-type guy made use of, more than once. No, I’m still not talking about Mosler. This time I’m talking about Frank Rinderknecht. Frank’s real name may not be famous, but you might know him better as “Rinspeed”.

Despite calling himself a Swiss carmaker, Rinspeed’s Yello Talbo and Mono Ego were born at TLC – and those are just the two that I can speak directly to. Rinspeed’s E-Go Rocket, Advantage R, and Tattoo concepts all have that same sort of George Balaschak vibe, to me (it’s the Hyundai lighting – George was always a big fan), but those were after my time, so I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that I reconnected with Frank again in 2008, when he was in Florida (naturally) with his Lotus Elise-based submersible concept, the sQuba.

Frank walked right into RENNtech, looking for Hartmut to answer some car question or other (that was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a common enough thing for people to do). And, if you know your Florida geography, you probably also know that Warren Mosler’s shop – now owned by Rossion – was just about a mile down the road, and Carroll Shelby, John Lingenfelter Sr., and Niki Lauda were just a few of the colorful characters that wandered in there from time to time.

That’s what made Florida in those years such a wild place. It’s exactly like what I imagine Turin would have been like, with Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ferrari – to say nothing of Bizzarrini, DeTomaso, or ATS – all within spitting distance of each other, trading talent, moving and shaking, and trying to see who would end up where in the ultimate pecking order. It was great fun for a young gearhead, and I was very, very lucky to have laid hands on most of the cars mentioned in this article.

That said, to say that I view that era with rose-colored glasses is a bit of an understatement. You’re the Best and Brightest, though, so you can tell me how it is. Was Florida some kind of weird, American supercar Mecca back then, or did Florida Man stumble onto Cocaine Island, dig up the bags, then read too many Car and Driver magazines on the flight back from Culebra? Head on down to the comments section and lay some truth on me.

[Image: Ingo70/Shutterstock.com]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

19 Comments on “Opinion: Florida is America’s Turin...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    The Floridaman Prophecies, coming Spring 2022.

  • avatar
    JMII

    As a lifetime FL resident I can tell you FL has several car friendly things going for it: no snow, mild temps year round and flat straight roads. Plus don’t forget its the real home to NASCAR (Daytona) and the why-the-heck-not let’s turn an airfield into a race track known as Sebring. Part of it could be the Key West vibe of just hanging out in flip flops all day drinking beer trying to see whose boat is faster that spills over to cars as well. Where else do you have a 50/50 chance of finding a porn star or alligator in your pool… or both!?! Thrill seekers seem to flock to our the swamp between two beaches. FL launched humans to the Moon and robot cars to Mars, sometimes crazy is the whole point of it all.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Florida also has Bill from Curious Cars (Auto Europa Naples). Bill is a real treasure with a vast knowledge of all kinds of cars and comedic delivery.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Florida is nice, until you visit Hawaii.

    I plan to build my limited-production electric supercar in Hawaii, and sell it only in Hawaii, only for use on Hawaiian roads. Then no one can gripe about range. :-)

  • avatar
    wjtinfwb

    As a gearhead and car and motorcycle freak as well as Florida resident for 40 of my 60 years, I can say this article is spot on. Another contributing factor is the huge influx of international characters, show-offs and lots of money make Florida a haven for exotic and rare machines. Add in great weather, smooth & scenic if not particularly interesting roads and multiple great racetracks and it’s a fantastic place to fly your car freak flag, much like SoCal. If you ever want to really understand Florida Man combined with car culture, make a point of heading to Sebring for the 12 Hours. You’ll see more human weirdness combined with insane iron in those 12 + hours than you will in a lifetime in Kansas City or Atlanta. Florida ain’t perfect, no place is, but the Juice is definitely worth the Squeeze!

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Lets start with the food. How many of these places are located within one mile or 1.5 KM of a TGI Friday’s, Appleby’s or some other fundrinkery place? Throw in a couple of chain pizza places and a Starbucks. That would complete the grotesque mockery of comparing Florida’s cuisine to Turin’s. Now lets talk about that rip in the drivers seat. Why the upholstery shop can fit you in right after they install orange and green “The U” leather in a very used Lamborghini. Not exactly artisans whose normal consist of working with expertly tanned leather – witness the orange green. Fast Italian cars were started by one man with a vision ,Enzo, or a couple of guys, the Maserati brothers. They weren’t hilljacks who figured out they could charge huge amounts of money to people who didn’t have any sense. Other than that, yeah Florida is just like Northern Italy.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      Well, you have the cuisine part correct. A decent truck stop in Italy (Autogrill) has better food than many chain restaurants in the USA.

      As far as other matters of taste, well, remember that Lamborghini was famously a tractor company first. And it has always been known for ostentation, speed, and noise … not refinement. So the analogy may be more correct than you think.

      Also, where do you think that funky orange and green leather comes from? The Italian tanneries will happily tan a cow’s hide any color you like, amico.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I find the Florida to Turin comparison a bit of a stretch. What would be the Florida equivalent of the Shroud of Turin? Covid corpse bodybag?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    You missed the humor in Bill’s complaining it’s part of his schitc. I doubt Bill is that bothered by the birds or other animals. He is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to cars.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Florida as the American Turin? A state somehow comparable to a city with ethos and history? When did that idea came crashing down into the space between the author’s ears? In my right hand I am holding an apple. In my left hand I am holding a prize watermelon. See, they’re both fruit.

    Nice travelogue. Silly premise.

    • 0 avatar
      neil733

      I agree comparing the whole of Florida with Turin is wrong, but the error is greater than that. Ferrari and Lamborghini are mentioned in the article, but they are about 300km from Turin, which may not seem much compared to the geography of Florida, but in Italian geography terms they are not even in the same state (Emilia-Romagna, not Piemonte).

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Florida Car, 1980: Screaming chicken Trans Am, meth in glovebox
    Florida Car, 1990: Triple white C4 Corvette, coke on console
    Florida Car, 2000: Lifted Ford Excursion, several cases of Red Bull in the back
    Florida Car, 2010: Clapped-out Equinox with Pep Boys portholes, bath salts randomly in the floor
    Florida Car, 2020: Duramax Silverado on 37s tuned to roll coal, meth in glovebox

  • avatar

    Can’t say much about super cars but I have a feeling it’s the same as why all the boat builders are down there (beside the year round customer base). For a long time if you built a business and made some money or just made some money at someone else’s business and wanted to do your own thing FL, was kind of the promised land. No snow, cheap real-estate (away from the water) cheap taxes, cheap labor.
    So you ran a trucking company in NJ and made a few mil, it’s 1978 so what do you do? Load up the wife kids and mistress drive to Miami buy a boat, get annoyed with boat start your own boat company and so it starts.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • 28-Cars-Later: Ignorance must be bliss.
  • slavuta: “why should we support Putin?” Why do you feel that you support Putin? We’re free country...
  • slavuta: I think, a lot would be different. sure. Presidents must stop listening to the press.
  • slavuta: “most Americans are not that anxious to be part of a dictatorship” I came to America to be a...
  • slavuta: Jeff, I know only enough to imagine what is going on. But let me throw this at you from oilprice.com Q: Why...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber