It looks like a Ferrari, runs like a gazelle and is the creation of a Cuban emigre'.

It is the Machiavelli and, depending on which of the three models you choose, costs from $29,995 to $35,995. Its Ferrari equivalent -- the 308GTSI -- would cost about $62,000. The Pontiac Firebird and TransAm, on whose chassis the Machiavellis are built, are about $15,000 and $19,000 respectively.

The car is the brainchild of Robert Henderson, a participant in the Bay of Pigs invasion, and is named after Renaissance statesman and writer Niccolo Machiavelli, whose name has come to personify craftiness and expediency. "A good politician misunderstood by many," says Henderson.

The prototype (still on the road) was built in 1984. Limited production of the custom-crafted cars began last fall, with something under 200 built so far. Besides plants in Florida and California, a third is due to open this summer in Flushing, N.Y.

The cars are assembled on a custom-order basis, with the gap between orders and delivery running about 4 to 5 weeks. About 1,000 1987 models will be built, with output expected to peak -- at around 3,000 per year -- with the 1988 production run.

While they have a distinctly European flair, the cars are all-American, carrying a standard GM warranty, with an optional extended GM warranty also available.

The first Machiavelli is expected to arrive in the Washington area later this week. Appointments to see it can be made through the local representative, Steve Lynch, 307 West Maple Ave., Suite M, Vienna, Va., (703) 281-2066.

National spokesman for the Machiavelli is Philip Michael Thomas, costar with Don Johnson on NBC-TV's "Miami Vice." Thomas, says company official Jim Riegler, "is under contract with the company to create and maintain an image for the car."

The GTS-305 comes standard with a 170-hp., 5.0-liter, V-8 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission or 5-speed manual shift. A high-output, 190-hp., 5-liter V-8 engine is optional.

The hottest Machiavelli -- the Max, named after Henderson's 8-month-old son, Maximillian -- will do about 145 mph and get 19 to 22 miles-per-gallon with its 210 hp., 5-liter, fuel-injected V-8.

You won't be seeing a big national advertising campaign for the Machiavellis, says a company official. "They sell themselves."

*Watch Out. Schools are closing for the summer and more and more kids will be cycling on or near the streets. More than 500 youngsters are killed and more than 300,000 injured each year while riding their bikes and trikes.

*Beating the Heat. Old Cars Weekly notes that a six-pack of soda water, 7-Up or ginger ale can extinguish car fires. Punch a hole in the can, cover it with a finger, shake and point the can at the base of the fire. Other sodas also will work but the sweeter they are, the stickier they may be, leaving a more difficult mess to clean up.

*Getting Burned. So it gets hot and sticky here off and on over the next few months. Before you leave your car unlocked -- "I'm just running into the grocery for a moment" -- remember: A car is stolen in this country every 29 seconds, 3,000 a day, 45,000 in Washington alone in 1984. Four out of five thefts involved unlocked cars. One in five had the key in the ignition.

*Armchair Travel. For those who enjoy reading about cars as much as they enjoy driving them, there's an impressive newcomer on the racks: Automobile magazine. It's edited and published by David E. Davis Jr., for 15 years editor and publisher of Car and Driver magazine and a self-avowed "car-nut." Davis points out that the other "major-league" magazines all are more than 30 years old. The premiere (April) Automobile issue pulled around 260,000 newsstand and subscriber (12 issues, $14.95) sales. Subscriptions are expected to reach 100,000 by the first of August. The July issue is due on newsstands in a week or 10 days.