Monday, August 23, 2010

Local optometrist produces 'most affordable' supercar

Monday, August 23, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Some might call it love at first sight. Others, lust. But David Alan simply refers to it as destiny.

There he stood, three Augusts ago in Pebble Beach, Calif., an optometrist overcome with gearhead glory as he stared into the gray primer of a prototype GT Malan that he had just read about on the flight from Pittsburgh.

"I was surprised to say the least," Dr. Alan said.

And so he stared. And stared. And stared.

"For a couple of hours," he said, laughing. "I took my fair share of pictures, too. But that's when I realized what kind of potential was there."

It was the potential, he thought, to fulfill his dream of building the world's most affordable supercar in Western Pennsylvania.

So on the flight back from the 2007 Italiano Concorso, a festival that celebrates exotic and classical Italian cars, Dr. Alan realized that he wanted to doctor more than eyes.

He wanted to doctor cars.

"It all came together that weekend," he said. "I read about it, never expected to see it, and on the way back, it was just about putting two and two together. It felt right."

Three years and three custom-built cars later, Dr. Alan has seen his idea go fast -- up to 220 mph fast -- and sees its future going faster.

Earlier this month, the 63-year-old optometrist and CEO of Alan Autosports saw the first of his prototype GT Malan cars compete in the Speed Channel's nationally televised "Battle of the Supercars," a show that pits the world's top customizable cars against one another in a series of performance-based tests.

Taped in April at the Inde MotorSports Ranch in Wilcox, Ariz., the race pitted Dr. Alan's first customized car, a black GT Malan with thick orange racing stripes across the hood, against the Gumpert Apollo, a German-produced supercar that's four times the price.

"It was apple pie versus cherry strudel," Dr. Alan said. "Let's just say I'm really proud of how our car did against a car that cost way more."

Dr. Alan's 750-horsepower GT Malan took about a year and $125,000 to build. The Gumpert Apollo tested on "Battle of the Supercars" is a more bank-breaking $500,000.

The first GT Malan went through three builders before landing with Warrendale-based RPM Hot Rods, which also built Dr. Alan's most recent two cars.

For the first model, Mr. Alan bought the necessary infrastructure from a local company, then altered it heavily in many areas. Due to this alteration, the car is branded as its own GT Malan.

Enter a chance exchange with Damian Nunimaker of West Mifflin, a self-employed professional car builder that just happened to stumble upon Dr. Alan's first-born custom at the Beaver Run Carfest in early June, and just happened to be looking for a new opportunity.

So Mr. Nunimaker did some inquiring, to see just whose GT Malan that was, and through a friend found out that the man behind the hundreds of horsepower worked his day job as an optometrist.

An optometrist?

"[My friend] had to tell me that Dr. Alan worked on his glasses," he said.

Mr. Nunimaker then phoned Dr. Alan at his office, and soon after, the 33-year-old's immediate plans for venturing to the hot rod hotbeds of Florida or California were put on hold.

For the past nine years Mr. Nunimaker has worked with custom cars and boasts an extensive performance background, including work with custom fabrication, turbo manifolds and developing parts.

"He has a wonderful background in automotive design and in the general well of car information," Dr. Alan said. "I was looking for some young talent and he had it."

Mr. Nunimaker is Alan Autosports' chief operating officer.

Technically, Alan Autosports was born the day Dr. Alan stepped off of that plane from California, but in many ways the company has been around since his childhood.

"My very first memory in life," he said, "was sitting under my dining room table with a bunch of Matchbox cars. From there, it just went forward."

Likewise, Alan Autosports is moving forward, into a new, 4,000-square foot facility in Masontown, one that will break ground in a couple of weeks and cost about $250,000 -- or roughly the same price range as most of the 10 cars he owns, which include Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches.

There, the quest to build the world's most affordable supercar will continue.

"This is the ultimate in terms of costs," said Mr. Nunimaker, who said that packages start at $100,000. "These machines are tops in the world. We deliver that performance at a cost that's fractionally less than competitors."

The cars are engineered by Boston-area Factory Five Racing, which sells the internal structure before Alan Autosports custom-builds the car to the buyer's exact specifications.

Diamond-studded interior? All right. 1,000-horsepower engine? Fine. Sequential transmission? Done.

"Any kind of paint, horsepower, engine, anything," Mr. Alan said. "That's the beauty of these cars."

He speculates that with the new garage, they will produce four cars during the first year, one a month by the second year, but doesn't foresee building more than 20 a year.

"We have to keep it exclusive," said Mr. Nunimaker. "That's the appeal, the unique value."

And Dr. Alan said he has no plans to quit his day job, even if his souped-up success has come out of nowhere.

"I couldn't imagine this, not in my wildest dreams," he said. "It never crossed my mind, not until three years ago in August."

No comments: