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This car is built for speed _ and it's yours for $184,000

Almost as fast as a speeding bullet, more powerful than a herd of horses, it can whiz along big chunks of highway and guzzle gasoline in a single mile.

It's Vector M12, the newest supercar.

This sleek automobile is expensive, powerful and so fast it idles at 9 mph. It probably should come with its own launch pad or wings.

"It's a strange kind of motorcar," said D. Peter Rose, president of Vector Aeromotive, which is assembling the auto at a defunct Navy base in this North Florida river town.

For a mere $184,000 _ about the price of a very nice home _ you can have one of the stealth-shaped, big-engine monsters to park in your garage.

With 490 horsepower, the Vector has a top speed of more than 190 mph and can go from zero to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds while still in first gear.

It uses up a lot of gas along the way, getting 9 miles to a gallon in city driving and 13 miles on the highway.

The company has been manufacturing the handmade vehicle for less than a year. Only eight have driven off the assembly line, but Vector plans to increase production to one a week and eventually about 150 a year.

"We want to keep behind the demand curve," Rose said.

The Vector is built in three stages: creation of the fiberglass and carbon-fiber body, building of the chassis and integration of the body and chassis into a single unit.

It takes 32 days to get the car's 130 parts molded and have it painted.

Custom leather seats, suede dashboard and other parts are constructed in the 25,000-square-foot factory. It takes 15 more days to attach them to the chassis and prepare the car for a shakedown cruise on the runways at this former military base that is now an industrial park.

The chassis contains side-impact beams, and the front end of the mid-engine beast has foam-filled aluminum boxes to lessen a front impact and has a completely integrated roll bar system.

"It's a very safe car in front and side impacts," Rose said.

In a corner of the factory, workers are scurrying to put the finishing touches on a race car version of the M12, which will hit the International Motorsports Association at Daytona in 1997. The M12 uses a V-12, quad valve, dual overhead cam, Lamborghini engine.

The same Indonesian company, V'Power, has controlling interests in both Lamborghini and Vector. Vector shares its corporate offices in Jacksonville with Lamborghini USA.

The manufacturer considers the Vector's only true competitors the Lamborghini Diablo at $220,000 and the Ferrari 512M at $194,000.

The M12 has virtually nothing in common with the $400,000 Vectors built in California two decades ago, in 1976, Rose said. Only the air conditioning system remains the same.

Vector is working to set up a dealer network in South Florida, the Northeast, Southern California, Chicago and Texas to sell the Vector.

"We're not looking to build a large dealer network," said Rose, noting that the car will be sold at dealers that deal in expensive cars like Jaguars and Rolls Royces.

What kind of person spends $184,000 on a car?

"Obviously, they've got a lot of disposable income," said Rose, who drives a Chrysler.

The Vector is not the kind of car you drive down to the grocery store. The trunk, affectionately known as "the bait box," is only 8 cubic feet, big enough to hold a small television.

Rose recalls driving a Vector from Jacksonville to Orlando on Interstate 95 recently.

"It is certainly an attention getter," he said, adding that people pulled up beside him to take photos. "It's not the kind of car you want to drive if you want to avoid being noticed."

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