Daniel Reyes lost more than his right leg when a runaway car crushed him in 1999. He lost his ability to tool around in his 1967 Ferrari 330 GT, which as a sport car's sports car featured a five-speed stick.
Living in Southern California, not driving wasn't really an option for the businessman.
"People were driving me around all the time," he recalls, noting that he gave away two cars he had and opted at first not to drive at all. "Losing a limb is devastating. But I love cars, and eventually I bought a Jag and a PT Cruiser, which is a rather mundane car. I thought, 'This is where my life is going.' I remember in rehab they told me, 'Get used to big cars like vans so you can get in and out. And you'll be driving automatics from now on.'"
He took a hard look at his situation. At the time of his accident he was a consultant for Mattel Toys, leading the team crafting the 2000 version of the Barbie doll.
"I didn't go back to toys at all – I tried to re-evaluate where my life was," Mr. Reyes says. "Of course, when something takes a limb off, you don't do these things in a week. I'd always been interested in cars, so I went back to cars to look at how I can do this, and I found this huge hole in this whole business – nobody in America could do these things [allowing the disabled to drive a stick], or cared to."
Mr. Reyes didn't have the money for the engineering to pursue his goal, but then he learned of an Italian-made system that had allowed a professional racer to return to his BMW after a double amputation. Mr. Reyes sped off to the Guido Simplex factory in Rome.
Now, through his Santa Monica-based RediAuto Sport he's selling specialized equipment that allows other disabled drivers to tool around in their favorite vehicles, whether they are Maseratis or Miatas, Mustang GTs, or Dodge trucks.
The system activates the clutch through a lever on the stick shift, the accelerator via a ring on the steering wheel, and the brake with a leather-covered lever found between the steering wheel and the stick.
Installations run from $5,000 to $9,500.
The exclusive distributor and installer of the Total Hands Driving System in the United States, Mr. Reyes has found a niche that's showing growth almost solely through word of mouth. While most of his trade has come from California, he's done jobs for people as far away as the Deep South and Canada.
Not every client suffered a catastrophic loss of limb or spinal injury, whether in an accident or perhaps a war zone. Mr. Reyes and his six employees are riding a demographic wave as the nation's baby boomers refuse to let the impediments of age get in the way of driving pleasures they've always known.
"Everything is accelerating in its own way," he said recently from Europe, where he was working on a new deal with the factory for soft-touch hand controls for aging drivers. "The business is really, really growing very quickly."
That's not to say he's making a profit yet.
"We're a million and a quarter in the hole right now, and that's out of my own pocket," he readily admits. "Cash comes in, but that's what fuels growth."
RediAuto is looking for investors, but at the same time it has cut some favorable deals with companies, such as Ford, for custom installations in models such as the Mustang or Buick for the soft-touch line.
"We're going to keep endeavoring," Mr. Reyes says. "I don't know how to give up, so I don't know how to not endeavor."
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