New York Times contributor blogs about cars and other interesting ways of getting around.
Sampling supercars: A timeshare for 150-mph
Ever wondered what it was like to drive a Lamborghini, Ferrari or Aston-Martin? Me too. I was able to find out as I got access to an exclusive country club for cars. They only allow 100 members. And they let me in for the day.
CHESTER, NEW JERSEY—I am at the wheel of a $495,000 Mercedes SLR McLaren Coupe, which offers sick acceleration and probably the most conspicuous automotive consumption this side of Koenigsegg (which makes $1 million supercars and just bought Saab).
My car, which is a brutal barely disguised racer, was once owned by a New Jersey groundskeeper who hit Powerball for a cool $77 million after taxes. But now it—and 11 other over-the-top road warriors—belong to the Vulcan Motor Club, which you can join and do what I’m doing if $35,000 a year is burning a hole in your pocket. That buys 40 days with the fleet, and they even deliver on flatbeds.
The idea for this business occurred to founder Aaron Fessler when he picked up a car buff magazine and noticed the insane price asked for Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Aston-Martins—and how quickly they depreciated. With 100 miles on the odometer, a $150,000 car is worth $100,000. For Vulcan, Fessler and partner Tom Mizzone buy garage queens and hand them over to the club’s 100 members—who include doctors, lawyers and hedge fund managers who’ve suddenly decided to be more prudent with their shrinking supply of available cash. A second outlet just opened in Glen Cove, Long Island, and the Greenwich, Connecticut area (where the rest of the hedge fund managers live) is next.
But enough nuts and bolts: What are these cars like to drive? Usually, only Road and Track reviewers and Arab oil sheikhs get to sit in these drivers’ seats. In point of fact, they’re very different. I drove a Ford GT-40, a Lamborghini LP560-4, an Audi R8, a V-12 Aston-Martin DB9 and a Tesla Roadster, and some were snarling snakes and others relatively docile.
My favorite was the R8, which had the perfect balance of criminally rapid acceleration and civility. The gated gearshift was heaven to use, and it made all the right noises, but underneath it all was a sensible Audi. On the other extreme were the McLaren and the GT-40, which as almost anyone will tell you is practically uncontrollable in the rain. And guess what? It was coming down hard all day. Keeping Ford’s hairy-armed beast in check gave me new respect for the drivers who won Le Mans with them four times in a row. It took two arms and a lot of push just to get it in reverse. Check out the video above.
They made me fill out insurance forms, but I didn’t come close to wrecking anything. Aside from the GT-40, most of these cars have redundant safety systems and tires the width of a T-Rex’s foot, with serious grip on the road. But if you were entirely sane you probably wouldn’t want to have anything to do with the Lamborghini or Ferrari brand. Two Vulcan cars, the first GT-40 (whose mangled hood serves as a warning in the reception area) and a Lamborghini have been totaled by members.
At the end of the day, I had the most fun in the green Tesla roadster. Although zero to 60 comes up in four seconds and 135 mph is possible, it feels incredibly fast even when pottering along at 50. The Aston-Martin made 90 seem slow, and that might be dangerous if the local constabulary is an issue.
There’s also the carbon footprint question. The Tesla has zero emission. The Lamborghini Murcielago averages 11 mpg—you pay gas guzzler tax for a reason. By spending this high-octane day in New Jersey I probably equaled car nut Jay Leno’s carbon output for the day. The Tesla lets you have your fun and wave the green flag, too.
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