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Auto Hypnosis

If You're in the Market for the Planet's Priciest Production Cars, Look No Further
Joshua Shapiro
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

Of all the deceased presidents, the picture of the 28th, Woodrow Wilson, on the United States $100,000 bill commands by far the most respect. Issued in 1934 and backed with gold, Wilsons gave the Federal Reserve bankers a means of accountsettlement long before the advent of electronic wire transfers. Today, dropping a Wilson--or more--is the hallmark of an ultraluxury-carbuyer.

No one needs a "Wilsonmobile." Of course, no one really needs a $40,000 designer gown or a $2,000,000 string of black pearls, either. At this rarefied level, cars are a pure extension of self, as personal in fit and finish as a fine Savile Row suit.

Since a vehicle of this sort is rarely an investment or a mere means of transportation, it stands to reason that acquiring one is an irrational lifestyle decision that expressesthe ego and achievement of the owner. For example, the in-your-face Lamborghini has considerable cachet with in-your-face athletic megastars. The baddest--Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson and Deion Sanders, not a shrinking violet in the bunch--all picked up Diablo VTslast year.

What does a such a car bring its owner? Besides proclaiming an immunity to Richter-scale sticker shock, superluxury

automobiles offer exceptional styling, performance and exclusivity. They are undoubtedly the most beautiful, powerful, and rarestcars, to be kept hidden in estate garages or furtively glimpsed onthe road. Most are individually built and come only in runs ofabout 300 a year, the number of vehicles Toyota makes in 15 minutes. Buying one means showing up at the club with the assurance that the rest of your foursome didn't drive up in the same car.And suddenly, every parking valet and service-station attendantis your best friend.

You do not save up for these cars by putting pennies into a cookie jar; nor are they financed by taking out a home-equityloan. The base price is just that. Options, when available, aren't cheap: a rear spoiler for a Lamborghini makes a $5,000 tailwind, while a cell phone to call from your Porsche Turbo will ring up charges of an additional $3,134. Luxury, gas-guzzler and localsales taxes typically add 16 percent to the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Then there are annual expenses for registration,insurance, gas, service and perhaps state tax and parking that can add another 10 percent. Replacement tires alone for these exotic creatures can run to more than $2,000 a set.

But the expenses directly associated with the car are only the beginning. A purely aspirational buyer will feel compelled to play the part. This creates an urge to upgrade wardrobe, restaurantsand clubs, and even friends or spouses to accommodate the imageof the new vehicle. It's difficult to go on a job interview or shopat the A&P while driving a Bentley. And if you have mortgaged your house to buy one, every dent and ding becomes a source of recurring anxiety.

The profile of dream-car owners: male entrepreneurs with successful, private businesses that throw off significant cash. One MercedesS 600 owner runs a business that nets $40 million in profits a year. While perhaps 15 percent of superluxury automobiles are leased, most are purchased for cash, apparently as something of an afterthought. One Mercedes dealer recounts the story of an unassuming couple who came in to shop for an S-class sedan. The husband couldn't decide between the S 500 and the S 600. Finally, he asked the salesman, "Which one would my chauffeur prefer?" After hearing that the S 600 would certainly be more appreciated, he bought two, for cash.

The garage manager at the Beverly Hills Hotel tells a similar story of a visiting guest calling the local Ferrari dealership, which dispatched six cars to the hotel for review. The guest bought twofor cash and left them covered in long-term parking at the hotel.

A Bentley buyer is likely to have six other cars already. A hundred thousand or more for an entire two-ton package of machinery doesn't seem expensive from the perspective of someone who spenta Wilson or more for two ounces of exclusive tourbillon wristwatch.

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