Jeff Lemke's Falcon F7 promises 200 mph at a starting price of just under $300,000. (Phil Berg)
The infamous “Ruins Tours” are not the only cool ways to spend a few hours in a car in Metro Detroit.
One week before August’s Woodward Dream Cruise a few years ago, a couple of friends and I climbed aboard a Cadillac Escalade, bound for the neighborhoods of suburban Royal Oak. We specifically mapped out the streets from 11 Mile to 14 Mile, and laid out a grid from Woodward to about two miles east, crisscrossing streets methodically from about 6-10 o’clock three nights in a row.
None of us noticed any fatigue from our 15-mph slow journeys. Instead, we were too busy peeking inside the open doors of two-car garages, spotting car guys putting the last-minute touches on their classic machines for the coming Cruise.
Backyard garages in Metro Detroit have a long history of being the delivery rooms for special cars, and that tradition is occasionally taken to the extreme considering these examples:
In Farmington: In 2007 retired Ford climate control engineer Gene Dickirson finished a six-year project with a team of volunteer friends and professional designers and created the GDT Speedster. It’s a home-built car, based on the driveline of a 1994 Corvette, with a 300-hp LT1 pushrod engine and four-speed automatic transmission.
The frame is not from a Corvette, only the driveline, which includes the engine cradle and locations for the suspension mounts. Dickirson and his team built a stiffer and thicker frame, taking care to preserve only the driveline mounting points from the 1994 C4 Corvette. The new frame holds the thick-skin GDT Speedster fiberglass body. “Chuck (Carlson) and I built that frame, and it took 12 trips to the welding shop,” recalls Dickirson, who titles Carlson, a retired 36-year Ford engineering veteran, as his assistant chief engineer, and credits him with spending the second highest number of the 13,000 working hours it took to complete the project.
In Holly: By using the recession to get low-priced, high-expertise help, Jeff Lemke, a 45-year-old car nut, spent the years of 1997-2009 building composite body panels that Dodge Viper owners could purchase and install to keep rain and wind out of their admittedly leaky sports cars. Lemke had been in engineering school, following the life paths of his Detroit-area family to the automotive industry, but gave way in 2009 to a dream to build his own car.
Lemke’s Falcon F7, a mid-engine aluminum monocoque 620-hp V8-powered and carbon fiber-bodied sports coupe that promises 200 mph at a starting price of just under $300,000. The beginnings of the car came from hours of labor in his home garage, learning car-building skills. “I laid out this car in foam, it was during tough economic times, and a lot of companies were willing to do work on the body and other parts of development just to keep the lights on. The styling and surfacing was done by the community of experts in the area. I could never have built this car anywhere else,” Lemke explains. “It’s easy to find an expert in body surfacing here. There’s such an expertise in Detroit. When people saw where I was going with it, so many guys at OEM companies donated their time, and they told me ‘I just want to be part of it.’ ”
The F7 weighs just 2,800 pounds; length is 174 inches, three inches longer than a Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2, while the F7 rides two inches lower. The F7 is also three inches wider than the Gallardo, following the ages-old mantra in the Detroit car-building business of aiming toward “longer, lower and wider” cars. He sold one car in 2012, six in 2013, and is making 12 this year.
Lemke remembers having dreams about Ford GT40s, Ferrari 288 GTOs, Vipers and Corvettes as a child. “I took the Henry Ford approach: If there is something that I can’t do, or I don’t know, I’m going to find somebody who does and get it done.”
In Rochester Hills: The new $250,000, 200-mph Equus Bass 770 is “a clean-sheet of paper design from the ground up,” says Equus company spokesman and test-driver Ian James. Six years ago an un-named “European businessman,” according to James during an interview at January’s North American International Auto Show, dreamed up plans to build and sell a car for serious car nuts.
A 640-hp Corvette engine powers the Bass 770, which is based on a carbon fiber and steel chassis and covered by an aluminum body drawn by a collaboration of car designers to evoke memories of the 1960s and ’70s. Says James: “Some people look at it and see a Challenger, a Barracuda, or a number of other cars from the period. If you need to ask the mileage, you’re not the customer we’re aiming for.”
So take a tour this year in metro neighborhoods and peek inside the local skunk-works of area car nuts. You may just see the beginnings of future 200-mph supercars.