How a Rally Fighter became one city family’s daily driver

Meet Jay Shapiro. At 40, he's already founded several tech companies, roamed the planet with his wife and two young children, and is currently hard at work on his next project, an innovative drag-and-drop platform called Infinite Monkeys that enables anyone to create their own mobile apps.

But perhaps what separates Shapiro from his fellow tech entrepreneurs the most is his daily driver — the one he uses to make trips from his home in Jersey City, N.J. to Manhattan. It’s called a Rally Fighter and it didn’t come off of an assembly line; he built it himself. The Rally Fighter, which Shapiro describes as a “crazy Baja desert racer,” is the brainchild of Local Motors, a company that specializes in futuristic, crowd-sourced, co-created vehicles at its "microfactory" on the outskirts of Phoenix.

Last year, Shapiro traveled with his family to Phoenix to take part in the "Local Motors Experience," an interactive project that tasks buyers with building their very own Rally Fighter (which is road-legal in all 50 states) with help from a team of expert builders who guide participants through the process of automotive fabrication and assembly. The build takes about six days and costs approximately $99,900, according to Local Motors.

In addition to inviting buyers onto the factory floor, Local Motors also employs a new approach to car design. "They established an online challenge to find the coolest rally car design out there," says Shapiro. "The winning design eventually became the Rally Fighter. I love the concept of it being a crowd-sourced design. When I saw the winning entry I knew I had to build one."

Upon completion of the build, Shapiro did what most serious car collectors never do: He hitched up his matching Adventure Trailer and embarked on an epic, cross-country journey from Arizona to Jersey via the bumpiest, dustiest, most off-the-beaten-path dirt roads in America.

"The trip was like nothing else," says Shapiro, adding that all Rally Fighters come fully equipped with air conditioning, a sweet sound system, and more importantly, a Corvette LS3 V-8 engine that pumps out 430 hp. “It's amazingly comfortable, seats four and is crazy fast,” says Shapiro. “Even my kids like it. They helped build it, after all. They think of it as the family car."

After the 3,000-mile trip ("It was a purely connected driving experience," Shapiro says), the Rally Fighter found a home next to Shapiro's growing collection of oddball cars, including a 1985 BMW 635i; a diesel-powered Toyota Land Cruiser; a Toyota Prius, and the one-off EcoRoamer, which Shapiro describes as "the world's first open-source, eco-friendly, family sized, 4x4 overland expedition vehicle." In recent years, he's taken the EcoRoamer around the globe — from the Arctic Circle in Alaska to the tip of South America, to the Strait of Gibraltar, into Europe and through Russia to Mongolia and Asia.

Today, the Rally Fighter is Shapiro's vehicle of choice when it comes to traversing the frenetic, pot-holed streets of New York City, though he usually tries to avoid areas rife with tourists. "We once made the mistake of driving it through Times Square on a Saturday night, just for kicks," he says. "We couldn't move. We were swarmed by people who wanted to take pictures of the car. Nobody knew what the heck it was."

In fact, the Rally Fighter draws so much attention that bystanders will often overlook far more expensive vehicles parked nearby. "I have parked on the street next to a brand-new Ferrari and people won't even look at the Ferrari. It's like it is invisible or something," Shapiro says. "Don’t buy this car if you don’t like attention."