Friday, August 24, 2007

The Annual Car Orgy

If ever you want a tiny firsthand glance at how ridiculous humans can get when they're endowed with inconceivable wealth ...

... go to Carmel, California in the middle of August. There, if you're lucky, you will find Pebble Beach Concours car show. There is no better or bigger display of car fanaticism on the planet, especially the kind of fanaticism that's expressed by the expenditure of absolutely senseless amounts of money (because they CAN) on pure toys. This stuff has no practical use whatsoever, and that's kind of the point. The median income of attendees is WELL into six-figures. Everyone owns multiple cars ... and houses ... and boats ... and probably a plane. Don't quote me on that, but you get the point.

Because of the demographic of the show, every "luxury" vendor (cars and otherwise) is there. So, aside from the ridiculous pumpkin-and-sage pants everyone wears there, what was all the rage among these famously fickle folks?

At the very top segment, the key is uniqueness. Cars are at a point where there's little additional benefit to more size and more power. And I'd say design is a huge driver right now; pure beauty also seems to have fallen off peoples' top-10 list. It's got to have an "interesting" or "evocative" design. Evoking what ? ... I don't think anybody knows. Bottom line, it's got to be attention-grabbing. To do that, it's got to be unique.

The breathtaking development of "mass affluence" over the past 30 years drives this. Over that period, the % of people below poverty line hasn't changed much, but people have moved in droves from upper-middle class to multi-millionaires. So, now the rich and very-rich are feeling a little bit ordinary. They are therefore driven to buy stuff that makes them feel different, unique. Thus "limited" everything is popular. Aston Martin's DB9 and Vanquish are just not special enough anymore ... you have to have the Zagato DB9 (of which only 99 were ever built). Ford build 4000 of their awesome "GTs" and then stopped even though they had a remaining waitlist of 1000 customers. Ferrari made only 400 uber-exclusive Enzos. They didn't even open an order book or place the cars in dealerships; rather, they sent invitations to certain existing customers. But that, too, just wasn't exclusive enough for some. Maserati (owned by Ferrari) was thus commissioned to use the Enzo platform to design a new, even more uber car, called the MC12. The factory made 50, with all purchasers hand-chosen beforehand ... Even THAT wasn't exclusive enough for James Glickenhaus. In an audacious attempt to buy his way out of an extreme case of inferiority complex, he acquired an Enzo in the secondary market (at more than double the original price) and tore the body off. He then had the world's top automotive design shop Pininfarina create a new, entirely custom body. From scratch. The car is called the P4/5 and "was commissioned as a modern homage to great Ferrari racing cars."

BTW, that's pronounced oh-mazh ... Dah-ling.

What else went over well at the show:

  • There's lots of enviro-talk:

    • Tesla - a new all-electric car based on a Lotus platform which has roughly Ferrari-level performance and costs under $150,000. 245 miles on a charge.

    • Priuses are also very popular there as a statement

  • Fractional car club membership ... like NetJets for Ferraris. NetJets, incidentally is even more popular this year.

  • Customized ... everything. One billionaire bought a Ferrari Enzo (the most extraordinary sports car ever) for $1.5m, tore off the body, and had Pininfarina build an entirely custom body for him. Shaq bought a Lamborghini Gallardo and had it extended 8 inches to give him better leg room.

  • 50's and 60's American muscle cars. Not the fastest, not the prettiest, not the anything-est anymore, but these cars get the highest prices at auction right now. Why? Every 60-year-old self-made millionaire out there is trying to regain his youth by buying "that car" they wanted but couldn't afford when they were 16. All these cars have to be customized with special wheels, special interiors, and especially special paint jobs. It's a Cali thing.

  • Ferrari 612 Scaglietti - Ferrari's largest, most "user friendly" car ever, typically Ferrari with hand-sewn engangered-wildebeast leather or whatever, but also full of German-sedan style creature comforts and gizmos like full automatic transmission, GPS, iPod connection, in-dash tire pressure display. The car, of course has a 6 liter V12 engine which must get like 15mpg, but it's not the fastest Ferrari due to size. Basically, people own this car for the status of the brand, not for the car itself. It is no sports car.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


“Apathy is the penultimate stage of decadence … civilizations proceed from bondage to faith to courage to liberty to abundance to selfishness to apathy to dependency back to bondage.” – Arnold Toynbee