By Donna Loughlin

The first time Ferris Rezvani sat in the cockpit of a military fighter jet, he knew he wanted to design the car of the future.

Yes, you read that right.

His father was a pilot in the Iranian Air Force and while Ferris knew his poor vision would prevent him from ever flying himself, he became obsessed with bringing the strength and speed of military aircraft to the road. Today, Rezvani’s luxury vehicle startup Rezvani Motors has carved a unique niche for itself in the crowded automotive market. His high-performance, military-style vehicles have captured the imagination of celebrities and big-ticket buyers, including stars like Jay Leno, Jamie Foxx and too many professional athletes and rappers to mention.

What’s the attraction to these six-figure vehicles with names like “The Tank” and “The Beast?” Rezvani says he builds fantasies for his customers.

“Our buyers love to live beyond the norm,” Ferris told me. “They want to be very unique. So what your fantasy car looks like as a kid, or when you’re playing a video game, that’s what we create. It’s about living your fantasy but being able to do it every day when you’re driving down the road.”

Though he’d been obsessed with cars his entire life, Ferris started his career about as far away from the automotive industry as you can imagine. He spent years working his way up the ladder as an IT engineer with IBM. Though he was quite successful at building and maintaining computer systems, he spent years worrying that he’d missed his true calling. So in 2014, Ferris embarked on an ambitious side project while still working for IBM: he taught himself to design cars.

“Automotive designers are typically very hidden by car companies,” he says. “It’s their secret sauce. They’re usually working in solitude and they’re never really recognized for their designs. So it’s a very closed kind of environment — they don’t really want the how-tos to get out. So there’s a real barrier to entry and I just set out to really learn how it’s done.”

Around that time, he started working on the earliest sketches of what would eventually become Rezvani Motors’ first signature vehicle, a monstrous sports car he called “The Beast.” Rezvani cars, Ferris decided early on, would be sleek, fast and more muscular than anything else on the road. They would also be equipped with gadgets that would make Batman and James Bond jealous: bulletproof exteriors,  smokescreens, electrified door handles and other military- and superhero-grade features.

His first design found its way onto the homepage of Yahoo.com — then still the center of the internet powerhouse at the time — and soon, a professional football player named James Allen reached out asking if he could buy one. Rezvani Motors was in business.

These days, Ferris estimates the company builds between 35 and 50 cars a year. Each is built to order in about three or four months. That small-business approach is important to Ferris, who says he has little interest in taking Rezvani Motors public or partnering with any of the major automakers.

“We have a great product,” he says. “We’re profitable. We love what we do. Is there any reason to try to grow big? What do we get out of that? We get more investors, more personalities, more expectations, more scrutiny. You scale your company to go public and you could potentially lose control of your own business. There’s something to be said about just staying small.”

And what of his fighter-pilot father? What does he make of his son’s success building the types of military-inspired vehicles he spent his Air Force career flying and driving on his own?

“He didn’t really believe at the beginning, but he loves what I’m doing now,” Ferris says. “And you won’t find him behind the wheel of The Beast or The Tank very much. He’s driven them a couple of times, but he usually just drives his Honda CRV. He told me once that once you’ve experienced going three times the speed of sound in a jet, there’s no car that can match that. It always makes me laugh, but I guess he has a point.”

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