Art or Machine
Customized Jaguar hits the road in S. Florida

It has parts sculpted in Italy, layered in 250 grams of 24-karat gold and adorned with rubies -- and it can lake you from zero to 60mph in 6.9 seconds.

It is the Anastasia Jaguar XJ8, a joint venture between Italian artist Anastasia and Warren Henry Jaguar. With hand-painted designs on its leather seats and Versace-esque roman ornamentation elsewhere, the prototype brings new meaning to the British car manufacturer's slogan, "The blending of art and machine."

More and more people are buying customized automobiles, whether it's sport utility vehicles with Eddie Bauer interiors, or Ferraris with customized paint jobs. But few people would ever commission an artist to accent their car -- until now.

Dealership owner Warren Henry Zinn said if it happens anywhere, it'll happen here -- a place where cars are as much about personality as they are about transportation, and conspicuous consumption is king. The dealership is offering to sell 30 Jaguars, models chosen by and adapted to each individual's personality by the artist. So far, there have been about half-dozen serious inquiries, and Zinn said he hopes to close a few deals in September. The price: about $60,000 for the car and $40,000 for the art. îI thought, What the hell, let's try it' Zinn said. "A lot of people in this market are looking for things that nobody else has. Everybody wants what they can't have."

Certainly, Anastasia's designs aren't for the meek-- or for the typical Jaguar buyer. The British car is known for its understated elegance, while the Anastasia Jaguar is any-thing but understated. On the prototype, the gearshift is a bronze jaguar's head layered in gold; silver heads top the door leeks; a painted swath of brown leopard-skin cuts across the dash-board; and a Cuban cigar and cutter are painted on the backseat's armrest.

It is replete with Greco-Roman images: the head of Medusa juts Out from the dash-board door, and behind the leather head-rests are hand-painted laurel wreaths crossed by a quiver of arrows and a torch. "It's about power... This is a warrior's car," said Anastasia.

A Renaissance-style painter by trade, she describes herself as the "last of the Great Masters," on a par with Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Her client list ranges from the Vatican to Sylvester Stallone. She also owns a nightclub in Rome, designs clothing and sculpts.

Her current project, Glory of Miami, would be a bronze monument 180 feet tall, with fire, a water fountain, lasers, and 2,000 white marble steps. It will make Miami the "Venice of America," said Roy Hansen, Anastasia's producer, who is seeking investors for the project.

Todd Tarrant, who owns the Bal Harbour Gallery, which will exhibit Anastasia's work in November, said he initially was skeptical about combining a car like the Jaguar with work by an artist known for her flamboyance. After seeing the car, however, he was pleasantly surprised.

"I thought some of her treatments were very well thought out and fit the Jaguar very well," he said. Suggesting the cars might appeal to the South Florida buyer, he said: "It could be that fun side of their personality that they might not have in New Jersey"

Although customization is popular among American car buyers, the Anastasia Jaguar brings personalization to a new level.

Since 1995, requests for customized Ferraris have risen from about 50 percent to 70 percent of the orders placed in the United States, said Carlo Fiorani, spokesman for Ferrari North America. But Ferrari has not had requests for gold accents.

At a publicity event for the Jaguar last Wednesday night at the Forge restaurant, passers-by and diners critiqued the detail work.

"Wild! I love it," exclaimed Cindy Behier, 38, of North Miami, who owns an XJ8. "It's definitely for somebody who likes a lot of gold".