Evidence that his expensive education is paying off can be found in Flowers' $1.5 million Gloucester County plant, which turns out 1,000 electric-powered scooters each month for the disabled and elderly.
Flowers, 65, a self-made, self-educated entrepreneur, was one of the many dreamers who saw profit in the oil crisis of the early 1970s.
His General Engineers Inc. of West Deptford is a 30-year-old firm that makes Low Boy trailers, used to haul heavy construction equipment, such as bulldozers, from site to site. There are also plants in Texas and Florida and a network of 600 dealers.
It was during the 1974 Arab oil embargo that an employee planted the idea of electric-powered vehicles in Flowers' brain. It became an obsession.
The first fruits of his thinking came six months later: a battery-powered bicycle called Pedal Power. "It was fun. We sold about 25,000 units directly through mail order. They cost about $100, and we still sell one once in awhile."
But he was also working on prototypes of an electric car. "There must have been 200 guys come to me with all sorts of zany ideas and devices to charge the batteries while the car is operating. If any had worked, we'd be billionaires. We'd have a perpetual motion machine."
In Sebring, Fla., a firm was actually making and selling a small electric car called Citi-Car. When the owners gave up in 1978, Flowers bought the firm.
"It was easy to get into and hard to get out of," he said, laughing. "It cost me $3 million of my own money.
"At that time, the price of oil was about $35 a barrel. It was predicted to rise to $50," Flowers recalled. "And I read and believed a book called 'Running on Empty,' predicting we'd run out of oil by 1990."
At first it seemed that Flowers would succeed where his predecessors failed. Renamed Comuta-Van, Flowers' redesigned vehicle could withstand the impact of a collision in accordance with government standards.
And most important, he won a contract to provide the U.S. Post Office with 385 vehicles to be used for delivery. He made 275 units. If the government had been pleased with the experiment, Flowers might be the Henry Ford of South Jersey.
"It was new technology, and I'm not saying they were 100 percent perfect," Flowers conceded. "But they could have worked to deliver the mail. Where the operators and maintenance supervisors liked them, they did work."
The trouble, Flowers claimed, was that some Post Office officials were against the electric cars from the start, and some drivers operated them in a fashion that caused tremendous wear.
At any rate, within six months the experiment ended. The government put the mail vans on the auction block.
The car and larger vans operated on standard car batteries that provided 12 horsepower and speeds up to 50 mph. The major drawback of all electric cars is their limited range. Flowers' cars required recharging after 30 miles - an operation that takes six to eight hours.
He said he made about 3,000 vehicles before folding the operation in 1981.
"If anyone has $100 million to perfect a battery that will go 250 to 500 miles before recharging, the market is there now for an electric car - especially in cities with major air pollution like Los Angeles and Mexico City," he said.
"My prediction is that a battery will be developed. People will drive into a filling station where the electrolyte (the battery fluid) will be changed."
The knowledge Flowers picked up amid his costly blunders allowed him to develop a three-wheel scooter for the disabled. Called the Rascal, it runs on a battery that can be charged on a normal house current.
His new Rascal plant in Mantua Township employs about 150 people. "We did about $17 million this year and should grow to $20 million next year," he said.
"It's a growing market because the population is aging. We're doing great with it. I consider us the leader in this field," he said.
But there are still cars, most in Sebring, to be sold. "One by one, we're selling them. Golf courses have bought them. Domino's Pizza bought six. We just sold two to the Florida penal system for guards to do patrol work."
Flowers keeps one parked outside his office a few miles south of the Walt Whitman Bridge. With little coaxing, he'll take a visitor for a spin. "This is my $3 million education," he said, with a certain amount of pride.