Remember when anyone with a few bucks, some fiberglass and a weird automotive vision could start a car company? It happened. You know the big names like Zimmer and Stutz and the small ones like the Leata Cabalero. But do you know the Pegasus?
This past April, a strange, yellow coupe popped up at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Palm Beach, Florida. It looked like a third-gen Pontiac Firebird that was trying to transmogrify into a dollar-store RC car. The catalog listing confirmed the car had been legally registered as a "Pegasus" (not a Pontiac), and that it had been used in two episodes of "B.L. Stryker," a blinked-and-you-missed-it 1989 TV show starring Burt Reynolds and the late Ossie Davis. (Think "Nash Bridges" meets "Murder She Wrote." I can't imagine why that didn't succeed.)
In its reporting on the auction, Sports Car Market noted the Pegasus wasn't quite a perfect specimen. It had "wide gaps at the hood and driver's door," "numerous paint issues" and a passenger's side-view mirror that was "melted from the sun," among other visible imperfections. Despite the condition, the Pegasus gaveled out at $33,000, a figure that led SPM's correspondent on the scene, whom for the sake of illustration we will call Captain Obvious, to conclude it was "very well sold."
So what is a Pegasus, and where else might we have ever seen one? Turns out, at least three other places.
Charlie Van Natter of Pasadena, Texas was one of those guys with a unique automotive vision. His vision was to attach an aggressive fiberglass body kit to a late-1980s Pontiac Trans Am and sell it, in the Houston area primarily, as a new car. Design-wise, the Pegasus 2000 — the only model created by Van Natter's Pegasus Motor Cars — looked a bit like a Ferrari 308 with the first 1/20th of a hammerhead shark grafted onto its nose.
The fenders flared wildly over slightly wider tires, which from the side made the Pegasus look like it was wearing huge mud flaps. A bizarre rear section, aft of the C-pillar, merged the dual sins of a non-functional spoiler and a flared rear window.
Indeed, it was a quite a shitshow, although by some 1980s standards it was probably on point.
Before Barrett-Jackson, the most notable Pegasus coupe on the internet was a haggard-looking model, whose parched and faded paintjob marked years of neglect. A denizen of the LS1Tech.com forum spotted it at a Houston apartment complex four years ago, and the ensuing thread marks one of the only times on internet record that car enthusiasts addressed the Pegasus legacy.
And Pegasus does have a legacy. Van Natter formed Pegasus Motorcars in 1988, and before the trademark ran out in 1997, he sold 25 Pegasus models, as reported in 2013 by the Mecum auction people. (Unfortunately, there's no Pegasus registry to consult.) At the time, the auction house listed a 1991 "Pegasus Pontiac Firebird Coupe" as a "Custom Hot Wheels Tribute Car," although the Hot Wheels connection is a bit dubious. Apparently, it was a "no sale" at the company's Houston auction in 2013.
But it was the 1992 independent film "Behind The Mask," that gave the Pegasus 2000 the closest thing to a star turn it ever got. A take on the old serial movies from the glory days of cinema (although it was never an actual "series"), "Mask" follows the exploits of a superhero who wears a... well, you know. The Pegasus makes its film debut as The Mask's automotive sidekick, a sort of mute, machine-gun-toting version of KITT with a janky body kit and a lopey cam. A promotional handout from the film's release explained the car and its starring role in typically hyperbolic fashion:
The Mask's high performance vehicle used in Intercontinental Releasing Corporations' [sic] action-adventure mystery, Behind The Mask was constructed for the motion picture by famous automotive designer, Charlie Van Natter. Van Natter equipped the car with all of the action gear seen in the movie, and it could reach speeds of up to 160 mph.
Watch the first 10 minutes of "Behind The Mask" on YouTube (see below), and it's clear the low-budget thriller is only slightly more ludicrous than your typical deep-back-catalog title found at any video store of the era after 10 pm on a Saturday evening. The Pegasus scenes are good for a few giggles. Still, in some tiny circle of Houston-area fans, "Behind The Mask" is probably a cult classic.
Just like the Pegasus itself.