Second time around for luxury car company
by Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
February 15, 2003
Max Prinzing has always wanted to own a car company. He makes new cars out of modern materials based on classic designs. (MPR photo/Mark Steil)
There are few things as sweet as catching a dream and making it come true. Max Prinzing is still a few steps behind his, but he’s closing fast. Prinzing builds brand-new cars that look like old classics. They remind people of a Rolls Royce or Duesenberg from the 1930s. The cars cost nearly $100,000. Prinzing hit some bumps along the way, but so far the wheels have not come off.
Redwood Falls, Minn. — In an old auto parts building in Redwood Falls, the newest Prinzing automobile is nearly finished. It has the running boards, shiny grill and wood steering wheel of a luxury automobile from the roaring ’20s. The doors close with a satisfying thunk. Max Prinzing says it’s a stainless steel, mahogany and white sidewalls incarnation of his boyhood dream.
“I was getting to the age where if you’re going to make it happen you better do it now, or it will be too late,” says Prinzing.
Max Prinzing wants to build a car company. He’d like to produce a car a week. He’s standing next to a model known as the Madame X. It’s a “greatest hits” package of the golden age of automobiles, the years between the world wars.
The grill is modeled on the Rolls Royce. The engine vent covers come from the Packard. The artful lines of the fenders recall a Duesenberg or Cadillac. But beneath the classic lines is space age strength. The car body is made of Kevlar, the same material used in bullet-proof vests.
“It’s the most expensive way to build a car, but it’s the best,” says Prinzing. “We don’t guarantee them to be bullet-proof, but we guarantee them not to rust.”
Prinzing likes to describe himself this way: “I have simple tastes. I like to have the best.” But those tastes are not cheap. The Madame X lists at $90,000. But for that price Prinzing throws in some freebies. A jar of Grey Poupon mustard, for one. Remember the old television commercial? But, of course. Another gift is a CD by his favorite singer, Frank Sinatra.
Prinzing built his first car more than 25 years ago. It got such good reviews he decided to start a company. The orders for Prinzing cars poured in — even singer Neil Diamond bought one. But it came to a messy end. By 1980, the first version of the Prinzing Motor Car Co. was bankrupt.
“I got into some trouble,” says Prinzing. “I went broke. I owed taxes and I owed employees money and stuff. It was not pretty, and there’s customers that didn’t take delivery. And I got charges against me because of that.” Prinzing pled guilty to one charge of theft. He paid restitution and set his dream on a shelf. But he’s a guy who knows how to keep going — lessons learned from farm life and as an Army Ranger in the Vietnam war.
During most of the 1980s and ’90s he worked a day job, but kept building cars on the side — one or two a year. He usually hired a few people to help out. Some were people with criminal records. He says after his run-in with the law, he knew what they were going through.
“They’re all off probation or parole now,” says Prinzing. “They’re living productive lives with families and children. We all make mistakes, but you know, you’ve got to forgive and give a fellow a second chance.”
Prinzing never gave up on his dream. Three years ago he quit his job, pulled his retirement funds and used them to start another car company. He found a building in the small town of Winthrop. Last year he had $1 million in sales.
He opened a second shop this year in Redwood Falls, and plans to transfer most production there. The Madame X is just about finished, ready for delivery to a Calfornia vineyard owner. A second chance for a classic car, and the man who builds them.