Replica sports-car business keeps entrepreneur in the race

Replica sports-car business keeps entrepreneur in the race


Customers range from baby boomers to car buffs


By Paula Schleis / Beacon Journal business writer
POSTED: 04:56 p.m. EDT, Aug 29, 2008

Hans Leitner didn’t know a whole lot about race cars. But he knew a good business opportunity when he saw it.

When
he learned that a Medina County company was looking to get out of the
replica sports car business, some quick research indicated it was
abandoning a market with great growth potential.

So
Leitner bought the company’s molds for replicas of a pair of ultra-rare
race cars — the Grand Sport and the Grand Touring Prototype — and
launched a new enterprise: Mongoose Motorsports.

Last
year, Leitner spent $300,000 renovating an old machine shop in Cuyahoga
Falls into a spit-shine showroom and facility where employees can build
and display the ”replicars.”

Mongoose
has sold 18 of the street-legal vehicles — which range from $17,000
kits (unfinished bodies with no engine or transmission) to $140,000
turn-key-ready coupes and roadsters.

Customers
range from baby boomers wanting to relive their glory years, to car
buffs with an appreciation of history, to executives with disposable
income and a desire for the ultimate toy.

Some buy them to drive in track and cross-country competitions.

And
this summer, Mongoose opened an office in Germany to sell the cars to
people who ”like to take the roadsters out for a little pleasure
driving on a Sunday afternoon,” Leitner said.

The cars are modeled after a pair of legends, according to operations manager Gary Krause.

The
original Grand Sport — there were only five made — was designed and
developed by Corvette creator Zora Akrus-Duntov so Chevrolet could
compete against Ford Cobras on the racing circuit in the 1960s.

Leitner
said his company’s name is an homage to the Grand Sport’s original
purpose: The mongoose is an animal famous for its ability to kill
cobras.

The
Grand Touring Prototype — there were only seven made — was built in the
early ’80s to race and help Chevrolet reignite interest in the Corvette
model.

While
the replicas are identical in appearance, Mongoose has worked to update
the cars with modern technology and amenities, from independent
suspension to air conditioning, Krause said.

One reason Leitner sees potential for growth is that there are only four companies making his cars in America.

”There are about 40 Cobra producers in the U.S., so there is a need,” he said.

Leitner, 54, is experienced at spotting needs and answering opportunity’s knock.

He
came to the United States from Austria in 1976, and put his welding
background to work at Reuther Mold & Manufacturing in Cuyahoga
Falls.

Twenty
years later, he purchased a division of the business and called it
Leitner Fabrication, a Medina company he sold this year.

Currently,
Leitner owns a Cleats grille in Fairlawn, the Mulligan Springs golf
course in Suffield Township, J&J Precision Fabrication in
Columbiana County and J&J Precision Machine, which shares space in
the same building with Mongoose.

Just as his own portfolio of companies is diverse, Leitner sees value in diversifying what Mongoose has to offer.

In
addition to making the replicars, about a dozen mechanics and bodywork
specialists are available for other high-performance and
ultra-expensive cars as well as to restore older cars.

Mongoose is also a parts and tires distributor for those vehicles.

And
the company recently got its dealer’s license and hopes to soon begin
selling new and used high-end cars like BMWs, Mercedes and Lamborghinis.

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