A week ago, Todd Wagner was selling America's next great supercar and helping launch an exotic female singer's career, all under the banner of a world-renowned automaker. Until this week.
Now his mentor calls him a pest, his alleged business partners deny they're involved with him, and his exotic female singer friend is being ridiculed on the Internet.
This is a story of just how fast everything can go to hell.
To understand this story you first have to see the video that was the spark that set off the explosion blowing up Todd Wagner's world. It's called "Feel My Fire."
Internet commenters have said even worse.
All we'll say is it has the quality of Rebecca Black's "Friday" but with that video's child-like amateurish charm replaced by a woman in a leopard-print unitard and some sort of strange, writhing lesbianish orgy. Just watch it.
"This is not what I was anticipating, not how I envisioned things," Cubey tells me while her hair is being done for the reshoot of the video. "I'm a little sad about some stuff that are being written [sic]... It was crazy, have you heard the reviews?"
Cubey says she's not in it to make money and is donating half the profits from downloads to charities for "street children."
She also tells me she regrets the way the video looks and wishes it wasn't still out on YouTube — where it's racked up tens of thousands of views. She's hopeful the new version of the video will be better and says it's going to be "one of the best" music videos coming out this year.
But how was this video bad enough to destroy a man's dreams and possibly invalidate seven years of his life?
The root of the problem is the video's four-wheeled co-star.
Todd Wagner worked for seven years as chief engineer of Mosler Automotive, a small, well-known supercar maker, where he developed a new vehicle with Warren Mosler, the famous supercar designer and builder. What they created was the MT900s, a modern exotic with a 7.0-liter V8 designed to tackle "the most challenging road courses" for a price of roughly $200,000.
However good the 530-hp MT900s was, it was launched at the worst possible time — the start of 2009's global recession. Warren Mosler had trouble selling cars and was forced to let go of staff and wind down much of his operations just to stay in business.
Wagner wanted to try and build a cheaper version of the car they could charge more for. He thought the car wasn't marketed properly and, with enough power, could beat the Bugatti Veyron, the $1.7 million top-of-the-power-food-chain super car. Over the next two years he worked to bring the power up to a level he though would make it competitive while still getting EPA certification.
The result was the 2012 Mosler RaptorGTR, which is advertised as offering 838-hp with a power-to-weight ratio 36% better than the Bugatti Veyron's. It also, at $700,000, cost more than three times as much as the MT900s.
But, by the time the car was finished, Wagner was no longer working for Mosler, but instead, for his own company, Supercar Engineering Inc., based in the Florida town next door to Mosler Automotive. He bought the RaptorGTR from Mosler and planned to market and sell the car internationally through a distributorship agreement with his former company.
The only problem? The agreement may not exist.
"He goes around claiming he has a distributorship agreement, he's a distributor of nothing because we're not producing a car," Warren Mosler tells me in a phone call on Friday.
Mosler wants nothing to do with Wagner, whom he calls "a pest." The 62-year-old former bond trader and self-styled economist is selling his car company because he's no longer interested in producing automobiles and is instead out promoting his new economic theories from his home in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"In fact, part of the documentation [for the sale of Mosler] is that Todd is not involved," says Mosler.
Jill Wagner, current manager of Mosler Inc. and also Todd Wagner's ex-wife, confirms, despite Wagner's own press releases and actions that make it appear as though he is aligned with Mosler, that there's no existing agreement between Wagner and Mosler.
"Todd has been misrepresenting himself," Jill Wagner explains.
She believes her ex-husband was attempting to sell the car in order to buy the company, though she doesn't think Mosler would sell it to him.
She also thinks that the music video was an attempt to promote both the car and the music career of Cubey, whom she believes is romantically linked to Todd Wagner — Cubey outright denies she's his girlfriend, Wagner says they're friends and Cubey is an investor in his company but won''t go into details.
"Love is blind and he's trying to help her music career and kill two birds with one car," Jill Wagner tells me.
Though Jill Wagner thinks her ex is "burning bridges" with his behavior, she also expresses her belief that his intentions are probably good.
But good intentions can't overcome bad-timing, bad-press, and one bad comment thread on an automotive news website.
It's a funny post, but it was lost in the L.A. Auto Show crush until Matt Farah, co-host of Speed Channel's The Car Show and YouTube video show The Smoking Tire, started commenting on TTAC about Wagner and the car (his comments have mostly been deleted).
Farah and The Car Show reviewed Wagner's car at the Mojave Air and Space Port Runway in September and represented it as a Mosler product.
"Mr. Wagner and Ms. Cubey were in attendance. Mr. Wagner introduced himself to me as the car's owner and "Head Engineer," says Farah. "Naturally, I assumed he meant the head engineer at Mosler Automotive, as he had contacted the show as a representative of that company, and the car had Florida license plates, where Mosler Automotive is based."
Though the review is mostly positive, the vehicle doesn't perform after a certain point due to a heat-induced safe mode kicking in. Farah believes the car is as fast as claimed under the right conditions. He also mentions that Cubey's song "Feel My Fire" plays from the speakers when the car is started.
"Me and the power button became very close friends," Farah jokes.
He does point out, though, that a stock Ford GT was able to drive on the same track at 185 mph an hour after the RaptorGTR failed. He's also said that he's unable to comment fully on anything but the car's performance because Wagner has threatened to sue him and the show for slander due to a debate, in the comments at TTAC, over the car's exact nature and EPA certification.
Both sides agree Wagner sent documentation to Farah, but then Wagner became upset when it was published, stating in the comment thread "Matt Farrah [sic] was instructed not to post the private Mosler documents."
That back-and-forth on TTAC exposed the underlying issues with Mosler and Wagner.
I'm fully expecting an argument with Todd Wagner when I call him late last night. People who've spoken with him describe him as a delusional con-man and I'd be confronting him with the fact that, if his business is based on selling these cars, he probably doesn't have a business anymore.
Mostly he's just surprised and confused.
"This is not the way we envisioned this going down," says Wagner. "This particular thing is actually quite painful and I don't fully know how or why it went down this way."
Do you have a distributorship agreement with Mosler, I ask?
"Yes, I have a distributorship agreement for China and Thailand," he says. "I'd really rather not comment on this too much... Yes, I'm a distributor for Mosler products."
I confront him with the fact that neither Warren Mosler himself nor his ex-wife say he actually has an agreement and he tries to clarify by saying he has one, and it requires him to do promotion (thus the video), but that the timeline's screwed things up.
After more questions on the topic and the revelation that Mosler made Wagner's exclusion from the company a requirement of any purchase of the company he pauses and then seems to relent.
"I think this pain, drama thing embarrassed [Mosler] a lot and I would understand why he would be upset," says Wagner. "And if he doesn't want me to be a distributor in the future I'm ok with it."
We dance around the topic for a while. I'm trying to get him to admit that, if his business is selling a car for Mosler, without Mosler he doesn't have a business. I'm trying to find out how screwed he is if the car doesn't sell as planned and grasping for a diplomatic way to ask. Eventually, I just come right out and ask him directly.
"How screwed am I?" Wagner laughs, repeating the question. "Well, I'll still be handsome. I'll say that. Oh my God... I'm not worried about it. That's really great, though. How screwed am I?"
Dealing with the reality that his business venture has failed somehow frees Wagner up and I feel less like he's trying to give me the "right" answer and is now just answering the question.
"No one really has any idea how difficult this is," he tells me. "I'm a smart kid, I've dedicated my life to try and help Warren's dream come true to build the best American super car. I don't mind, as long as I can sell the car, as long as I don't get super screwed, I'm ok with drifting out in the background."
And what about the music video? The short clip that set this whole chain of events into motion?
"I watch the video and it's a blast, [Cubey] does the rolling thing, it's great, it makes people smile, and it's viral in that way and that's a beautiful thing," he says. "And life doesn't have to be super serious all the time."
He defends Cubey. Says she's been the victim of initial bad press. She's just goofy and fun and this is her personality and people are just piling on either because they have a vendetta against him or because it's easy to be negative.
I ask him if he could go back in time if he'd destroy the video before it could destroy his dream.
"I can only give you my opinion on the video and I think it makes me smile and that's it. I liked it. Whether it's the best thing holistically? I don't know."
In a weird way, his goal to launch the car with a viral video was semi-successful in that it's been viewed almost 40,000 times in the last five days and written up on numerous popular automotive websites.
By the time I get off the phone with Wagner he seems resolved to the fact that it is truly over once he sells the car at, hopefully, close to full price (with some of the money, up to "100%" maybe, going to charity).
"I really thought I was doing something great for the world and it's really heartbreaking to see how it went down."
Wagner calls me again a little before 5:00 AM Monday morning and leaves me a message, then calls me twice more saying that he wants to thank a few people. First on the list is David Houston, executive Producer of The Car Show, whom he credits with being helpful and kind through the whole process. He also wants to thank other designers/engineers who worked on projects at Mosler: Uriah Baet and Dave Keiffer. Then he calls again to say he wants to "thank all the guys at the factory for building such a high quality car."
I have a hard time imagining how anyone in his position would feel gracious.
He thinks he'll be able to find another job easily and he's learned an important lesson: if you try to "feel the fire" you risk getting burned.