For years, the hovercraft has represented the ultimate in all-terrain vehicles, a futuristic mode of transport capable of traveling with ease over almost any type of surface. The prototype for just such a machine was unveiled Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where it will be on display as part of this weekend's Charlotte AutoFair.

Michael Mercier built his first ACV from plans he found in a Boy's Life magazine in ninth grade. He later earned a degree in mechanical engineering with plans to develop his own model. Mercier-Jones (started with cousin Chris Jones), now has a prototype that will "bring you the future of hovercraft design."

The Mercier-Jones design features an open cockpit where a pair of bucket seats is arranged in tandem fashion. At 149 inches bow to stern, the craft is about four inches longer than a Mini Cooper, although it is about 20 inches wider and 14 inches shorter.

Weight is a surprisingly low 800 pounds, about the same as a new Harley-Davidson Road King with full accessories. Construction techniques from automotive, marine, and aerospace industries, and liberal use of carbon fiber and metal alloys, help it step lightly on the scale.

The Mercier-Jones utilizes a patent-pending hybrid propulsion system that is quiet and efficient. It has a 40-horsepower, motorcycle-style, V-twin engine that charges a battery pack, which runs three independent motors spinning one lift fan and two side-mounted directional fans. A 10-gallon fuel tank gives the Mercier-Jones pilot up to five hours or 150 miles of cruising range. Estimated performance figures put the amphibian somewhere between boat and economy car territory - zero-to-50 takes 10 seconds, cruising speed is 35 miles per hour, and it tops out at 80.

The Mercier-Jones hovercraft is expected to sell for around $30,000 when it enters the market. 

At this weekend's AutoFair, the Mercier-Jones hovercraft will be on display as part of the apocalypse survival vehicles display, alongside vehicles like the Local Motors Rally Fighter, Can-Am Maverick X rs utility terrain vehicle from Carolina Truggies and Organic Transit ELF solar/pedal-powered bike car. Although there's no such mention in the Mercier-Jones sales materials, the hovercraft would likely be on the short list of those looking to survive the undead in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

The fall AutoFair features more than 50 car club displays and more than 7,000 vendor spaces that offer a vast array of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway. In addition, up to 200 cars will be auctioned by Dealer Auctions Inc., and kids can enjoy bounce houses and other games and entertainment in the huge Play Zone.

Hours for the Sept. 19-22 AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults and children 13 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Fans who buy three tickets get the fourth day free. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

To purchase tickets, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267), or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

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