Mark Vetter's Spaceship Cars Wow South Beach Crowds

On a cool November night, just days before Thanksgiving, a spaceship landed on the corner of Collins Avenue and 16th Street. In an instant, traditional gawker fodder cruising through the streets of South Beach — the Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Bugattis — were made irrelevant by comparison.

In terms of strangeness and complexity, no car on the Beach can trump Mark Vetter's ride. Only one word, he says, can in fact convey its full sweep: "extraterrestrial."

Vetter, a taciturn dude with a tight smile and a crewcut, looked at the passersby scrambling to photograph him, and gripped the wheel. Lights exploded beneath the bullet-shaped frame, and bug-eyed lights on its back came alive. If David Bowie were a car, he would be this one.

At first, almost a decade ago, this very obscure genus of vehicle existed only in Vetter's mind. Growing up in Naples, Italy, he scrutinized every passing Ferrari. They entranced him. But as years gave way to decades and he landed in the small town of Sebastian three hours north of Miami, everyday sports cars began to bore him.

So Vetter, who speaks with the monotone cadence of an engineer, began to convey an exoticism in his work that contrasts with his demeanor. One of his first ideas was wings. So he jerry-rigged a pair of them to a muscle car, and flew it down the road.

"I started making cars fancier and fancier and higher quality," the 41-year-old explains. Then, a decade ago, he fashioned the prototype of a vehicle equal parts spaceship and sports car, and stood back in awe of his creation. Its frame hung over the wheels, and the doors flipped open like a squawking duck's wings. Vetter was in love.

"When I take it down to South Beach, it outshines every car out there," Vetter says. "It gets people upset when they see that this car is so much fancier than every one of them. It gets people taking pictures day and night."

In the past decade, he has fashioned eight of the crafts — and sold each for $100,000, he says. In early September, after he completed this last one, Vetter slapped an advertisement on eBay, replete with shots of the car idling next to rust-choked airplanes against a charcoal sky.

Melodramatic? A tad.

But it got the car noticed. Now, just days after an "exotic-car driver in New Jersey," whom Vetter declined to identify, bought it for 100 grand, he is already plotting his next spacecraft for the streets of Miami.

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Terrence McCoy