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Speed Racer Hits the
Street -- For Real

By MARK MAYNARD
Copley News Service

One of the more unusual vehicles at the San Diego International Auto Show was the Mach 5 Speed Racer, a limited-edition, Corvette-based roadster.

Speed Racer Mach 5Made popular by the 34-year-old cartoon series, Speed Racer is now the icon for the Child Safety Network, a firm that distributes safety information on automotive and roadway issues.

"We never thought we'd be in the business of selling Mach 5s," says Ward Leber, the network's CEO. "We needed an icon to attract men between the ages of 25 and 45, and Speed Racer kept coming up as the way to go."

The image of the cartoon racer and car has a 95 percent name recognition among men ages 25 to 45, Leber says, and almost 40 million fans worldwide.

"The focus on men brings in the fathers - the ones who are buying the family cars, either safe or unsafe, and installing the child safety seats, properly or improperly, and they are teaching the children to ride bicycles," Leber says.

As a hook to promote child safety in cars, Leber unveiled a working prototype of the Mach 5 at last year's Chicago auto show.

"We were asked so many times by serious people if they could buy a Mach 5 that we bought the license rights," he says.

The prototype sold for $180,000 at a collector-car auction in August and will go on permanent exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

The road-ready Mach 5 sells for $72,000, ordered at the Web site (www.mymach5.com) with a $35,000 refundable deposit. Twenty percent of the proceeds go to the Child Safety Network.

One hundred Signature Series cars will be built, each signed by actor Peter Fernandez, the original voice of Speed Racer, who also wrote and directed all 52 episodes, named all the characters and wrote the theme song, "Go Speed Racer Go."

Leber is also supplying Mach 5s for the Speed Racer movie, scheduled for release next summer. "I'm sure there will be much more demand than cars," he says.

Auto Books ...

Auto writer Dan Burger and photographer Robert Genat have just finished "Impala 1958 to 2000," (128 pages; 80 color, 40 B&W photos.

The softbound book is finely photographed and written and features factory photos and period advertisements.

Genat has written and photographed a dozen or so auto-motorcycle-truck tomes, including "Chevrolet SS." That history of the option package was introduced in 1961 and continued through the 1994-96 Impala SS ($21.95, 128 pages).

There's plenty of Genat's photography and factory archival material on the Chevelle, Camaro, Nova, Impala, Chevy II, Monte Carlo and El Camino SS models.

The book is available at Amazon.com.

You can also pick up the Hemmings Motor News Calendars at Amazon.com.

Currently available are the:


Sign Language Tour ...

Pontiac-GMC is reaching out to the deaf community throughout the United States in a program that provides American Sign Language interpreters at auto shows.

The tour to 30 cities began in January in Los Angeles. Outreach is through online publications, schools and organizations for the deaf, hard of hearing and senior citizens.

At the shows, one to two sign language interpreters accompany the participants and provide translation through the General Motors Experience display area at the auto show and beyond for up to six hours at the show.

Groups range in size from five to 100 and participants are given free admittance to the show, lunch and a souvenir memento.

At the Portland auto show, a group of 21 elementary school students spent the day at the show. "We have people as young as a preschooler and as old as 92," said Christie Conti, Pontiac-GMC program coordinator on the West Coast.

The nationwide ASL tour by Pontiac-GMC is in its third year, with more than 1,600 participants logged over the past two years. Around 1,500 are expected to take advantage of the program this year.

Reservations can be made by e-mailing: CarShowsforDeaf@aol.com.


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