For Eric, renting a Lamborghini from Imagine Lifestyles in Miami was a transforming experience.
“I felt like I had gone from a regular Joe to Joe DiMaggio!” he beamed.
As a sales rep, Eric certainly couldn’t afford to buy a Lamborghini Gallardo LP-560 coupe, but he could afford to rent one for a day. After plunking down $1,500, and getting a driving tutorial from Imagine Lifestyles co-CEO Ryan Safady, Eric took the wheel.
“When I first sat in this beautiful piece of Italian machinery, I got bit of a rush—nervousness and, well, a lot of excitement,” he recalled. “I drove off and the adventure began.
“I drove around for a while before taking it home. I wanted to get used to how the car handled, and I decided to see what it felt like to go fast—not just any kind of fast, Lamborghini fast. Imagine going on a roller coaster for the first time: You feel the adrenaline, the excitement, and when you come to a stop, a bit lightheaded. Well, that’s exactly what it felt like.”
Eric, who requested that his last name be withheld, could not get over “the amount of women I talked to that night.” The experience “was one I will never forget,” he said, “something I will tell my children someday.”
In recent years, more and more Americans have gotten the chance to feel like Joe DiMaggio. Following a trend that started in Europe, exotic-car rentals have sprouted in major cities across the United States. Exotic Car Express has outlets in more than 30 American cities, including such smaller locales as Savannah, Georgia.
Whether at Gotham Dream Cars in New York or Carefree Lifestyle in L.A., the Italian imports are always the most coveted cars. “When you drive a Lambo or Ferrari,” said Safady, “it is almost as if you are driving a celebrity.”
Care for a Spin in the Bugatti?
The range of “rentable” exotics runs the gamut. Beverly Hills Rent-a-Car offers Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, and, in the recent past, even the Bugatti Veyron, a million-dollar supercar that can rocket down the San Bernardino Freeway at 250 mph. Of course, the cooler the car, the higher the rental fee. Beverly Hills Rent-a-Car charged $25,000 to rent that Bugatti. Chicago Exotic & Luxury Car Rentals offers the Ferrari F430 Coupe F1 for $1,499 a day—or $1,099 each day if you rent it for a week or more. For $279 a day, the company will hand you the keys to a Chevy Corvette or Porsche Boxster. A Cadillac Escalade will run you $20 more.
Who are the people who rent these vehicles? It could be anybody, including a Wall Street broker in Manhattan or a foreign tourist in Las Vegas. In 2007, Victoria Kennedy rented an Aston Martin Vanquish as a birthday present for her husband, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.
“His wife called us up and planned a whole weekend as a surprise for him,” recalled Noah Lehmann-Haupt, founder and CEO of Gotham Dream Cars. “We loaded our beautiful black Aston Martin Vanquish on our trailer and delivered it to his doorstep in Washington, D.C. His wife and staff were standing outside by the car when they called him out to see it, and he just lit up with excitement. It was a 75th birthday gift, and they drove it to their vacation home in Virginia for the weekend.”
Midway Car Rental in Beverly Hills rents to A-list celebrities, from hip-hop artists to movie stars. Some of them prefer to rent rather than own their cars in order to maintain their privacy—i.e., keep the paparazzi in the dark.
But much of the time, the renter is a regular Joe—a minivan driver who can’t take it anymore. Just for one day, he needs to drive like a man—even if it costs him a paycheck or two. Go for it, says Roshan Solay, manager of Florida Exotic Car Rental. “Our job is to make dreams come true,” he told The Orlando Sentinel.
More often than not, it’s women—not men—who contact the exotic rental companies. They want to surprise their husbands with a special Christmas, birthday, or anniversary gift. Other women want to indulge themselves, such as former banker Tammy Garay. “Just driving the Lamborghini, you feel so empowered,” Garay told The New York Times. “I was going down the New Jersey Turnpike with my sister, and I looked at her and said, ‘Do you realize we’re the sexiest women on the road?’”
Garay was 26 at the time, which barely qualified her to take the wheel. Companies typically set 25 as the minimum age to rent an exotic, particularly if it’s a higher-end vehicle.
Rental Insurance and the Mileage Leash
Renting an exotic car isn’t as simple as picking up an Aveo Rent-A-Wreck. Besides the hefty rental fees, companies typically require a pre-authorized security deposit, which is often four figures but could be $10,000 or more. Since most drivers’ insurance limit isn’t high enough to cover a Maybach or a Rolls-Royce, they have to take out temporary insurance policies for the duration of the rental. Also, “unlimited mileage” is not an option. Exotic Car Rentals of New Jersey gives you a 100-mile-a-day leash on its Ferrari before a per-mile charge kicks in.
After the money changes hands, companies do their best to please their customers. “Go out and have fun,” Steve Connor tells his clients, as quoted in the L.A. Daily News. “Be smart about it. Don’t be dangerous.”
Larry Shulan of Exotic Car Rentals of New Jersey quipped that “my drivers have pretty much uniformly come back with mixed emotions: overjoyed with the experience but very sad to give back the keys—and go home in their sedan or minivan.”
Alternatives to Exotic Rental Cars
In recent years, some companies have created membership clubs or adopted a time-share approach to exotic vehicles. Extreme Car Share has offered “The One Weekend Every Month” membership. For an annual enrollment fee plus a monthly payment, a member could drive a Ferrari F430, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Lamborghini Gallardo, and Bentley Continental GT convertible from January through April.
Such clubs may appeal to millionaire playboys, but they are too expensive for the everyday guy.
“Exotic car rentals is without a doubt the easiest and least expensive way to drive an exotic,” Shulan said. “Clubs and fractional car ownership require considerably more money—plus the downside of being booked into something that you may not have time to do or perhaps good weather to enjoy.”
Recognizing the popularity of exotics, some mainstream car-rental companies now allow you to pimp your rental car, albeit on a modest scale. The Hertz Prestige Collection includes not Maseratis but a Mercedes-Benz GLK 350, a Volvo C70 convertible, and a Lincoln Navigator, plus 10 other luxury cars.
For Americans who want to drive a real dream car, the best bet remains an exotic rental car company. If you’re ever in Miami, Eric encourages you “to take the plunge and contact Imagine Lifestyles. They definitely give you the right tools to let your imagination run wild.”