Sunday, August 10, 2008

Something about expensive cars

A few weeks ago, I met with a guy, Dick Savidge, who told me a story about how he and his family went to California to visit friends. He and his family were going to stay at the friends' house. When they arrived at the house, there was a Lamborghini sports car sitting in the driveway. Dick's teenage son was--to put it mildly--quite wowed.

When they went to the front door of the house, they were met not by the owner of the house, but by the guy who owned the Lamborghini--a man who is also one of Dick's friends, but who was a dinner guest at the house. The guy says to Dick's son: "I hear you love sports cars. . . ."

"Yeah. . . ."

"How would you like to drive my Lamborghini? . . ."

Dick's son can hardly contain himself.

As it turns out, the bunch of them were heading off to their host's church that evening for a special meeting, and the Lamborghini owner repeated his offer as they walked out of the house. [I'll make up Dick's son's name. I don't know it.] "Terry," says the man, "you want to drive my Lamborghini? This is your opportunity!"

Terry looks at his father and Dick shrugs his shoulders: "You want to drive . . . ?"

"Yeah!!!! . . ."

"Well . . ."

Terry drove. And grinned for the rest of the evening.

So I got this idea.

Justin was coming home in a few weeks. . . . What if I were to ask him to [do something I've never done before] go "shopping" for a car when I have absolutely no interest or intention to buy one? What if we were to check out the cars at the Highlands Ranch Bentley Ferrari Lotus Maserati dealership over on County Line Road, about a mile and a half away from our house? --Maybe see if they'd let us drive some cars. . . . (???)

So Wednesday we went and did that. I thought you might enjoy accompanying us on our tour.

As we walked inside, the first vehicle to catch our eye was a silver-gray Bentley.

We had barely sidled up to it to admire the view when a salesman popped up from his wood-trimmed cubicle just a few feet beyond.

"May I help you?"

"Uhhhh . . . Probably not at the moment," I said. "We're just looking, for now."

He came over.

Justin and I were both wearing casual shirts (his a t-shirt, mine a short-sleeved, collared sport shirt) and cargo shorts with white socks and walking shoes (me) or white socks and running shoes (him).

I felt the need to explain our presence . . . and to suggest we might be legitimate customers.

"I was looking at the Tesla. --Are you familiar with it?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. And then offered: "They raised the price by $60,000 overnight."

"$60,000!?! What? . . . You mean they're asking . . ."

"$160,000," he completed my sentence in unison with me.


"And they haven't delivered one, yet, as far as I know," he added.


"Well, anyway," I continued, "I thought I'd find out what you-all have to offer. . . ."

"That's fine," he said, and returned to his desk.

So Justin and I spent some time looking at a few Bentleys.

Big, beautiful cars. All in the $200,000 range more or less. Brand new. A $3,700 "Gas Guzzler Tax" is part of the price. They get only 10 MPG City/17 MPG Hwy. --Though why does that qualify them as gas guzzlers? Aren't there a bunch of American cars that get such poor mileage?


We then evaluated all the Ferraris. Maybe a dozen of them sitting in the showroom.

They are truly amazing vehicles. Beautiful. And I think every one we looked at was used and was selling in the $125,000 to $150,000 range, more or less.

Most of them were just a few years old and averaged, I'd say, about 15,000 miles. I think the highest-mileage example had 23,000 miles on it. The lowest, something like 6,000. . . . And every one that had more than about 10,000 miles on it included a note about how it was fully serviced "including timing belts."

The low mileages bothered me. And the timing belt note bothered me as well.

Why are so many being sold back or traded in after so few miles of driving?

Are the owners unhappy? And about those timing belts . . . : I'm used to timing belts needing to be replaced at 60,000 miles. But here are these $150,000 vehicles that all need timing belt replacements at 15,000 miles, more or less???? . . .

After examining all the vehicles on the inside of the showroom, Justin and I walked outside.

There was an Aston-Martin. Sorry. The photo doesn't do justice to the amazing lines of the vehicle. (When looked at head-on, the sides are cut straight down. A very interesting look.)

I think it was that vehicle whose price caught my eye because it was a lease. Something in the $1,970 per month price range for 36 months. 7,500 miles per year.

"Hey, Justin!" I said. "Look at this. $24,000 per year, 7,500 miles per year. That means the lease alone is over $3 per mile. Add on insurance and maintenance: you're probably looking at close to $4 a mile just to own the thing. (Supposing you drive it for its full 7,500 miles per year.) . . . Hey! At that price, if the car gets 10 mpg on average (supposing you only drove it in town, then gasoline at $4 a gallon is just a very minor part of the cost of ownership--not even 10% of the cost of driving. . . ."

[By the way: that's a little piece of math a lot more new-car buyers probably ought to engage in. They get so upset about the price of gasoline. Have they ever calculated the basic cost of ownership apart from the gas?

Suppose it's a $25,000 car and they plan to operate it for 100,000 miles. The basic cost of purchasing the car (not to mention insuring it, maintaining it, buying replacement tires, etc.) is, then, 25 cents a mile. If the car gets 20 mpg and the gas costs all of $5 a gallon, you're only equaling the cost of buying the car itself. . . .]


We enjoyed looking at some really funny-looking Lotuses.

And some Maseratis.

And then we went back inside to talk with the salesman.

I knew, in my heart, that I couldn't ask for a test drive. Which one--of all the cars we had looked at--could I pretend I was really interested in buying?

But I definitely had some questions.

"What is the cost of ownership for one of these vehicles . . . I mean, in terms of maintenance after purchase?" I asked.

"Oh," he said, "it's almost nothing."

"Almost nothing?" I asked, incredulously. "When you have to replace the timing belt after only, maybe, 10- or 15-thousand miles?"

"Oh!" he said. "The timing belt needs to be replaced only every 30,000 miles or 3 years, whichever comes first."

"So the reason the Ferraris all had their timing belts replaced was not due to miles, but, rather, due to time," I said.

"That's right."

He then explained that Ferrari has begun to replace the timing belts with timing chains . . . which gives you the longer period between required services.

I turned my attention once more to the Bentley. "Can you actually use one of these vehicles as your primary mode of transportation?"

"Absolutely!" he replied.

"But they all--all the used ones--seem to have such low mileages. And I noticed the lease on the Aston-Martin was for only 7,500 miles a year. . . ."

"We have leases for 5,000 miles a year."

I looked at him incredulously.

"You have to realize: most of the owners of these vehicles have seven or eight cars. . . ."

"So they decide each day what specific car they would rather drive," I said.


"But suppose I really did want to make, say, the Bentley my primary mode of transportation. --Is it going to die after 50,000 miles?"

"Oh, no! That could be your primary car for the rest of your life . . ."

"Kind of like the old Rolls-Royces," I suggested.

"Absolutely." He let that sink in and then offered, "A Bentley would make a great primary car," answered the salesman.

"But could you actually drive one of these things in any kind of weather?"

"Of course! In fact, it will handle better than virtually any other car on the market," he said. He pointed. "That one weighs 5600 pounds. It has all-wheel drive. Wonderful handling."

"All-wheel drive," I mused. "So it handles well on snow?"


I asked something about such a drive system chewing up tires. (That has been my understanding: you don't want all-wheel drive--at least not in normal circumstances--because it demolishes tires.)

"No problem. The car is based on well-established all-wheel drive technology developed by Volkswagen." --He explained that Bentley is owned by Volkswagen.

"Volkswagen!" I exclaimed. "I thought Bentley was a British car!"

"They were bought out by Volkswagen several years ago . . ."

Continental GT Speed
I gazed at the car. The salesman infused me with knowledge: "That one goes from 0 to 60 in 4.3 seconds. It has a 12-cylinder, 600-some-odd [sorry, I can't recall exactly what he said]-horsepower engine, and a top speed of 205 mph. . . . It's a tidal wave on wheels. . . ."

Yes. I imagine it would be a tidal wave on wheels if it ever hit you. 5600 pounds of automobile accelerating at such a rate . . . or traveling at 200 mph: that would be like a tidal wave hitting you. . . .

I blinked.

"Have you ever sat in one?" he asked.

"No. . . ."

"Here. . . ."

He got the keyless entry system and opened it up. We sat in it.

Oh! Wonderful! The seat had every kind of electronic adjustment you might wish for, including a seat cushion extender to provide additional upper-leg support for tall people like me.

I noticed the starter was a button on the center console.

"You have the standard 6-speed automatic gearshift, and you have paddle gearshifts on the steering wheel," the salesman explained. (High-end racing cars will use paddles to provide optimal control to the driver.)

Wow! Very impressive. . . . Until I looked behind me.

The car is supposed to be a four-seater. But it suddenly dawned on me: there was absolutely no legroom for anybody who might happen to offer to take one of the seats back there. I mean, even if the seat cushion happened to be just long enough to extend the full length of my thigh, I don't think my lower leg would fit in what looked to me to be a three- or four-inch space between the front of the rear seat cushion and the back of the front seat.

Totally impractical for a family man.

I commented on the apparent impracticality.

"Well! This is just a two-door. You would want a four-door model. . . ."

Based on the salesman's response, it seemed clear that for a man like me who might want to carry more than a single companion, the Bentley I wanted was slightly larger, slightly lighter weight, had a smaller engine, wouldn't go quite as fast, but featured oodles of additional legroom in the back. (It looked to me like about two feet of additional legroom! --Even a 7'-some-odd basketball player could sit in that automobile in comfort!

As we got out of the car, I think I made some kind of comment about the car just seeming to be a little rich for my taste.

"The average annual income for an owner of one of our cars is a bit upwards of $3 million," said the salesman.

I cocked my head and pursed my lips as if to indicate the number didn't completely disqualify me, but it was definitely a stretch. I might "qualify." (Of course, there have to be people somewhat "below average" in order to create the average. . . . --Ha ha! )

It was obvious we were headed toward the door, but the salesman accompanied us.

In order to exit, we had to walk by a gorgeous, deep-black Ferrari: all-black except for the tiny "accents" of the various lights, the small white Ferrari indicias, and the huge, shockingly red brake-calipers on each wheel.

I had a question. I thought it would be my last: "I see the engine right behind the driver's head. And all they have is that window between the engine compartment and the driver. --Isn't it rather noisy?"

I have to confess, I don't really remember his answer. He may have said yes, but he may also have said you don't notice. I can't remember.

But I do remember his comments after that: "This car is $460,000--$180,000 over list."

I thought I must have heard him wrong. He couldn't have said what I just thought I heard him say. I couldn't help myself: "$180,000 over list? --$300,000 more than all those other[ Ferrari]s over there?"

"Yes . . ."

"How . . . ????"

"It is one of only 170 in the entire world. It was purchased but never delivered. We bought it back form the owner for $100,000 or $125,000 more than he paid us. . . . We're actually charging about $60,000 less than the car is worth. . . ."

I spent another minute or two admiring this half-million-dollar vehicle and then gently eased myself out of there.

"Well, thanks so much!" I said.

I apologized to Justin while we walked over to my car. "I hope you're not too disappointed we didn't get a test drive. I just didn't have the heart. . . . In fact, I can't imagine he would mistake me for a serious customer at this point. I mean, we looked at every car on the lot. --That's not normal 'customer' behavior. . . . A real potential customer would be more focused. . . ."

But I've been thinking.

Maybe if I were to invest a half an hour or an hour a week and just keep coming back and drooling over a few of the vehicles, the salespeople might actually begin to think of me as a serious prospect. . . .
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