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Hot on the tail of the jet car

Late Tuesday, Doug Rose waited expectantly, hoping to be reunited with his life's work: Green Mamba the missing jet car, an icon of 1960s drag racing.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter confirmed that deputies and Tampa police were waiting for a search warrant to be issued. Officers had gathered Tuesday night preparing to enter the fenced property of a Drew Park auto body shop in connection with the case of the missing jet car.

Rose came down for a while to watch, then went home. He said he had seen the Green Mamba behind the fence.

"It's good news and it's bad news. It's good news that we found it. It's bad that it's not intact,'' he said.

''They've stripped it, probably with a blowtorch.''

Rose said someone familiar with the car, who had seen it at drag racing events, heard about the theft on TV and recognized the jet-powered car as one he had seen at a repair shop, so he called authorities.

Although damaged, he said, he thought he could put it back together if all the parts were recovered.

A few weeks ago, someone stole the Green Mamba, worth an estimated $300,000, from the parking lot of the Tampa apartment complex where Rose has lived for 15 years.

It was in its custom white trailer. A maintenance worker saw someone hitch the trailer and drive away.

"They've just taken part of my life," Rose said of the loss. "I have a very deep feeling for it."

His bond with the car goes back a long way. It began in July 1968 in a body shop called Korky's in North Hollywood, Calif., down the street from a bar run by a dwarf.

When he wasn't at the bar, Doug Rose was at the body shop, assembling his dream: a jet-propelled car.

He had crashed an earlier version, losing his legs from the knees down but not his craving for speed.

It took him six months, 3,000 pounds of metal and a $400 surplus engine from a Navy fighter jet. In return, he got 6,500 pounds of thrust and a lifetime supply of adrenaline.

"An act of love," he called his creation, "A work of art."

He named it the Green Mamba because he had seen the real thing once at a reptile farm and loved how it was aggressive and deadly and beautiful.

Rose and the Green Mamba spent the coming decades working the drag racing circuit.

They raced on strips of pavement from California to Connecticut, from New York to New Mexico. They traveled to thousands of shows in thousands of nowhere towns.

They crossed the borders to Canada and Mexico. They even performed in Aruba.

Once, they topped 305 mph.

Eleven times he was named "National Jet Car Champion." Yes, the jet car world is a rather small one.

When the racing dried up, Rose and the Green Mamba kept entertaining the crowds. He would use the jet engine to torch cars. They torched hundreds of cars. They torched 18-wheelers. They torched piles of motorcycles.

Along the way, they both gained a measure of fame.

Magazines in England, France and Sweden featured the Green Mamba. A fiery drink carries its name - lime vodka, rum, Canadian whiskey, tequila.

Rose knew every inch of the car. He could take the engine apart and put it back together. He applied too many coats of paint to remember. He would even talk to her sometimes, tell her what a good girl she was.

"That thing gets more love than a newborn baby," Rose said.

The car has been in his life far longer than his 22-year-old daughter.

He has had three wives but only one Green Mamba.

"A lot of people said I loved the car more than my wife," Rose said Tuesday. He smiled. "Depending on the week ..."

His third wife, Jeanne, was in the room. He knew not to finish that sentence.

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies continue to investigate. They don't get too many stolen jet car cases.

"This is the only one I can remember," said Cpl. Stu Gray.

The young hell-raiser of 1968 is a 69-year-old man now, with a large gut and long gray hair.

He and his wife - "my crew chief" - scoured Tampa in search of it.

They checked storage areas and body shops.

They handed out fliers.

They asked truckers they know to keep an eye out.

The Green Mamba was supposed to torch a few cars recently at the 18th annual "Night of Fire" in Orlando. Instead, Rose was riding around in his brown Ford pickup, a few thousand horsepower short of satisfaction.

In his small garage, he has the frame of another jet car, just in case he must build another one. He and Jeanne need the income.

Brady Dennis can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or