Crackpot inventors are the bane of automotive editors. Because they stubbornly believe they've discovered the secret to 200-mile-per-gallon performance or zero emissions, they naturally demand to be heard.

Their ideas seldom are truly new or backed by solid research, but that really doesn't matter. Someone is always willing to listen, eager to swallow the magic solution.

If he was simply a garden-variety inventor with big ideas and an ego to match - but not much else to back up his claims - it would be easy to dismiss Doug Magyari (pronounced muh-gear-ee) as just another dreamer.

His inventions, however, already are paying off big. None targeted for significant automotive applications is yet near production. Still, with his proven track record in other fields and his innate, creative approach to technical discovery literally just getting into high gear, he's not likely to remain a mystery man in automotive circles much longer: He has several potential breakthoughs, importantly including a totally new approach to lightweight transmissions.

Raised in the northern Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, the trim, red-haired 43-year-old inventor already has carved a growing reputation in audio technology. He credits his Hungarian grandfather for his technical DNA.

NBC recently began using a device he designed and developed to broadcast what Mr. Magyari calls "high definition audio (HDA)," providing lifelike sound for those owning TVs equipped with stereo.

Typically Mr. Magyari lets his ideas percolate for as long as necessary until they're ready for commericial development, in the meantime benefiting from advancing technology such as electronics. He began working on the HDA device in 1987. The unit is shaped like a large hawk with wings outstretched. He simply calls it "The Bird."

It was used for the first time on a Jay Leno broadcast in April. Since then NBC has used it to broadcast golf and tennis tournaments, and it's scheduled for the 2000 Olympics.

Mr. Magyari has the invention surrounded by 19 patent claims, so for the moment it's his exclusively. His company is investing $3 million to exploit the technology, he says.

He also has a thriving business, again based on audio technology similar to that forming the basis for HDA, in the personal motivation field: He produces CDs for major corporations, including Ford Motor Co., to help employees manage stress, quit smoking, lose weight and otherwise alter their behavior.

These are not ordinary CDs, however. He researched precisely how the ear and - indeed the entire body - absorbs sound and replicated the process, producing an uncluttered, direct link between the listener and narrator. It's not hypnosis, as you may suspect, but rather, a soothing repetitive message he claims clears the mind of cravings and anxietites.

He also may have relief for those suffering from "tinnitus," or ringing in the ears. He built a product line that, he says, is the only audio product ever granted approval by the Federal Drug Admin.

Mr. Magyari's first love, cars, hasn't diminished, however. His other pursuits help finance automotive ideas he has pursued since he was a schoolboy in the early '70s.

An inveterate tinkerer, as a teenager he was known as "Mr. Fixit" among his neighbors, taking on everything from lawnmowers to jalopies. He parlayed cash from that work into ownership of some 30 cars that he repaired and sold. And that was before he graduated from high school.

He next enrolled at Michigan State University, taking tough advanced classes in physics, engineering, mathematics and philosophy, then dropped out after two years because "I felt I'd learned everything I needed, and I didn't want to waste more time; I was anxious to get on with my inventions," he says.

He has several automotive inventions in varying stages of development. The most promising is a totally new transmission design.

Mr. Magyari is naturally wary about providing details because vital patents are pending. But as one measure that he's on the right track, he has elicited the keen interest of more than one major transmission component maker.

What he will say is that his "infinitely variable transmission," or IVT as he calls it, departs from traditional automatic transmissions and CVTs, or continuously variable transmissions, in that it does its job without requiring conventional gearing. He describes it as "infinitely meshable."

"I began thinking about this in 1991," he recalls, "but it wasn't until 1996 that by chance I discovered how to do it. What amazes me is that it's so simple. People have tried for years to get exact ratios under all conditions, but you have to bend the rules to find that solution.

"I always look for simple solutions," he says with a laugh, "because I can't figure out the complicated ones."

Although the "how" for now remains a closely guarded secret, Mr. Magyari is convinced that when it's fully developed his IVT will improve fuel economy and reduce emissions in everything from small cars to over-the-road 18-wheelers.

He's also aware that cynics abound. "It's 100% legitimate to be cynical because 99% of inventors are weird, wacky and don't invent anything," he observes.

By his calculations, the Magyari IVT will weigh about half that of other transmissions, around 60 lbs. (27.5 kg), and will boast "almost neglible energy losses" and practically no vibration in transferring energy from the engine. So far he has invested $100,000 of his own cash in the IVT, confidently predicting he'll have a "roadable" version ready next year.

Although he's nothing if not a confident visionary, Mr. Magyari is also a realist: He estimates it'll take $15 million to $20 million to fully test, develop and establish a manufacturing scheme to build the transmission, and at least $150 million to move it into volume production. Durability testing and metallurgical development are still to come. Mr. Magyari reckons it could take three years to introduce and five years to gain widespread adoption.

He cites these potential advantages:

n Gear ratio range from 20:1 all the way down to 0.4.

n No gears - in the conventional sense.

n Far greater performance from a wide range of cars and trucks, including heavy-duty rigs and sport/utility vehicles (SUVs).

"You can get to the power curve more quickly because everything is optimized," he explains.

Mr. Magyari's other automotive work includes a fuel induction system he has been working on since 1986 and has been experimenting with since 1972. The system aims to "phase-shift liquid fuel to vapor before entering the combustion chamber," he explains. "By doing that, your burn is optimized, improving fuel economy and emission levels."

Development has been delayed awaiting technical breakthroughs needed to support his work, he says, but he now sees "practical implementation" sometime next year.

A bachelor who typically works seven days a week and travels constantly (he dates an actress in Los Angeles), Mr. Magyari leads four companies he has formed. But it's very much a family affair: His brothers David, 41, and Dennis, 45, and sister Denise, 44, are involved in various capacities.

Three years ago he purchased a dilapidated, vintage-1920s vacant plant not far from his Royal Oak home to serve as his headquarters and the site of a high-tech digital sound studio. He plans to both record and re-record there when the studio is completed in 2000.

So far he estimates he has spent $3 million revitalizing the facility, which variously had served as a brewery, bakery and manufacturer of carbide tools. An accomplished designer, Mr. Magyari has his touches all over the sprawling building, including furniture, fixtures and decorating schemes. Employees (currently 25), visitors and customers will be entertained in one portion of the plant presently nearing completion that features a racquetball court, bowling alley and a simulated golf driving range.

Mr. Magyari also is an accomplished scrounger: Flooring in the sound studio was gleaned from shuttered bowling alleys.

His R&D lab is tucked away in a separate facility in nearby Troy, MI, where his IVT test stand is located.

Whether it gets out of the lab is up to someone else. "I can't (afford to) underwrite the next move," he concedes.