What is That?

What is That?

Is that a McLaren? A Saleen S7? The latest track car from one of the Italians? These are the typical reactions one gets when they own the Mosler MT900s. It’s not surprising as the, now over a decade old model, is still a head turner appearing as an instant materialization of a modern supercar. It makes for a great quiz for those that think they know cars, as even the most knowledgeable automotive aficionado may be stumped by the appearance of a Mosler. Having not seen a Mosler up close since finding one parked in a garage in 2007 at Monterey Car Week, I was stunned when a close friend, we’ll call JS, took out his phone and showed me a photo of the MT900s that he’d recently acquired. Only twenty MT900s were ever produced.

My excitement only intensified when JS told me we would arrange a time so I could take it for a drive. Oh yeah, game on. Fast forward a few weeks and the day had arrived.

Billionaire Doors!

Warren Mosler, the founder of Mosler, was clearly inspired by legendary race car designer and founder of Lotus, Colin Chapman, who famously stated “Simplify and add lightness.” It’s a motto that has guided Lotus until this day, and a clear inspiration for the no traction control, no ABS, no power steering, carbon and Kevlar bodied Mosler MT900s. In fact, weight savings was so central to the design of the MT900s that Warren Mosler felt a power steering system was not worth the weight it would add to the car.

If it looks like a race car…you get the idea. Mosler produced a racing MT900 that raced in Grand American Road Racing Association's Rolex Series in 2001. The MT900R won its class at the 2003 Daytona 24-hour race piloted by a few racing endurance legends Joao Barbosa, Andy Wallace, Jerome Policand and Michel Neugarten. The Mosler racing project ran into trouble in 2003 as various sanctioning organizations didn’t know how to classify the racer. It didn’t comply with Grand-Am production car rules, nor was it a pure prototype racer though it did find a place to race in the European FiA GT, British GT and Spanish GT series. At the time, Mosler had 26 employees in two facilities, in Norwich, England and Riveria Beach Florida requiring the employees to engage in dual development as they engineered both the race car and street car.

The first street legal MT900s in America was delivered to George Lucas in 2006; fitting considering the car looks like a rocket ship. The early models came with a 435 hp LS6 V8 derived from the Corvette Z06 in a car that weights no more than 2,200 lbs. The specific example I went to see has the 7.0L LS7 engine and 600hp. In today’s supercar world 600hp is the new starting power range for any car to get the “super” label meaning that the Mosler was well ahead of its time in raw power and in achieving a ludicrous power to weight ratio. In tests conducted with a MT900s in 2006 by Car and Driver, the Mosler was in comfortable supercar territory:

“The Mosler now inhaled 60 mph in only 3.1 seconds, which is quicker than both the Porsche Carrera GT and Ferrari Enzo (3.5 and 3.3 seconds). The quarter-mile time was 11 seconds flat at 135 mph (Porsche, 11.2 at 132; Ferrari, 11.2 at 136). Every segment of acceleration performance was similarly astonishing--100 mph in 6.5 seconds and 150 in 13.8.”—Car and Driver, April 1, 2006

Back to the day….

It entices that inner child in all of us, specifically that inner child that covered their bedroom walls with posters of Lamborghini Diablos and Ferrari F40s. When climbing into the cockpit, and I use this term very intentionally here as it feels like climbing into a race car, it’s comical that this clearly made for the track car, is street legal meeting California’s emission standards and safety requirements. The interior is sparse, but surprisingly comfortable with a front view that overlooks the front wheel arches showing off it’s artistic louvers. In this day of push button start for everything it was refreshing to insert a real key (kids ask your parents) turn the key and listen to the low grumble of the LS7.

I must admit I was apprehensive even though I’ve had the privilege in my life of driving several performance cars. This was different, in spite of its disguise as a street legal car, it’s fundamentally a track machine. The pedals are bunched closely together, meaning that proper footwear would be a must because a wide sole shoe catches the wrong pedal. The advantage of this setup is some sweet heel-toe action. I had doubts that the clutch would have the feel that I would was used to from other experiences, as typically track made machines have a clutch bite that takes a search party to find. Behold, Mosler had given that some thought by using a Porsche 911 transmission. That's right folks, a Porsche transmission attached to a 7.0L LS7! For those who’ve driven a manual Porsche, the clutch feel is always perfection and the MT900s was no exception.

We pulled out on the public roads, complying with appropriate traffic laws and speed limits to take the Mosler on a brisk, but controlled ride. It’s like taking on a dare. Even being a track bred machine the ride was not too jarring, though we avoided any major bumps in the road so as to preserve my dental work. The daring part is knowing from the first time you bury the throttle that it might want to kill you. Zero to Starbucks before your mobile order is even ready. Around town, even on back roads is not enough. Touching third gear becomes a challenge as you can gain warp speed at the high end of second gear. Almost as entertaining as the drive were the reactions from other people on the road. I’ve been on the other side of that equation as some rare exotic approaches on the road and I break my neck to get a glance, or the numerous times Andrew and I have chased down exotics for the just right photo. Being on the inside of the display is a different feeling all together. Primarily, the biggest challenge is watching for drivers that are so focused on trying to figure out what you are driving that they forgot they are driving. At several points on our journey we witnessed drivers, pedestrians and children playing that dropped everything with mouths agape looking and wondering what is this fantastic beast?

With its minimalist design and lack of modern amenities, every sound is magnified, each bump becomes a striking reminder to the driver and passenger of the closeness of the road underneath. Alas, as mentioned before, the public roads are not enough, because by the time you think of unleashing the beast, you’re already at the braking point. It’s a car that will rarely find enough road to devour, leaving the driver always wanting for more. This need for more is the only criticism I can muster. It’s not unique to the Mosler as many other exotics and track purposed cars rarely are pushed to their limits, nor do they need to be for they are just as much art as machine.

I can’t thank JS enough for his auto-hospitality and willingness to let me get behind the wheel. Driving the Mosler was an automotive experience I needed to cross off my list, and admittedly, I didn’t know it was on my list until this opportunity materialized. As has been written many times on this blog, Sacramento has a strong automotive car culture and the arrival of the Mosler to the region is further evidence of this status.—Mark Farouk

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