Years ago, spotting an exotic car in DeKalb County was very rare– which was not surprising, since by the very definition of an exotic car very few people own them. And the people who do own them rarely drive them. The most common place you would see an exotic car, especially in the Chicago area during the winter, would be sitting inside a closed garage, possibly with a cover over it. However, in recent years, there has been an increase in this area. There are over at least 5 owners of exotic vehicles in DeKalb alone.
There are several reasons why people purchase exotic vehicles. Some people buy them for the name brand – for the recognition of owning an exotic vehicle. In addition to Ferrari, people automatically associate names like Lamborghini, Maserati, or Aston Martin with something special and exclusive. Some people are pure motor sports enthusiasts and drive these cars on race tracks, which is what most of these cars were originally made for. Some people just like to collect the vehicles and create their own private auto museums.
And then there are owners like DeKalb business owner Jim Mason, who just enjoy driving a vehicle with exceptional performance and craftsmanship, simply for the pleasure it brings them. Mason owns a 2009 Ferrari California.
Mason’s Ferrari has some unique features that help define it as exotic. First, it can hit top speeds of around 200 miles per hour. It has a “launch control system” that allows it to go from zero to sixty mph in about four seconds, ensuring that it will beat just about any vehicle on the road off the line.
The car has two suspensions that the driver can select from, depending on the desired performance – “sporty” and “comfort.” Its convertible hard top can go up or down in seventeen seconds, and the sound system is “incredible,” says Mason. All of which make Mason’s Ferrari “a pleasure to drive.”
Mason says that people frequently come up to him wherever he goes and want to check out the car, take pictures of it, and ask him questions about it. “It’s a museum piece … A lot of people don’t come in contact with quality like that,” explains Mason. Mason has previously owned two Corvettes and a DeLorean, but you get the sense that his Ferrari brings his driving enjoyment to a whole new level.
In fact, unlike many exotic car owners, Mason drives his car fairly regularly. During the summer months, he says he drives it a couple days a week. And he’s not obsessed with tracking the mileage, as some others tend to be with vehicles this valuable.
Owning a car like this does have its challenges. Mason has to park in two spots or away from other vehicles, since if the Ferrari gets scratched it can’t be touched up; it has to be completely repainted, said Mason.
Also, because the tires are so hard, it can’t be driven in temperatures under forty degrees or it will start skidding across the road. For that reason and the salt on Northern Illinois roads during the winter, Mason cannot drive his prized vehicle at all for a large portion of the year.
He knows of other exotic car owners in the area, and you get the sense that there may be a bit of competitiveness among them when it comes to their cars. “I drove a Lamborghini recently and it drove like a truck,” said Mason. “I wouldn’t take one if you gave it to me.”
Mason says that Ferrari doesn’t advertise, because they don’t have to. One of the most important characteristics of an exotic car like a Ferrari is that its production is limited, so owning one is like being a member of an exclusive club.
A Country Club For Exotic Car Owners
Tom Burgess of Geneva is an exotic car aficionado. The first one he owned was a Ferrari and he currently owns six vehicles that could be considered exotic, including three different Bentleys. As a commercial developer, he builds office and warehouse spaces to house businesses. He recently decided to develop a parcel of land he owned in Naperville near the I-88 and Route 59 interchange into a sort of country club for owners of classic, collector or exotic vehicles.
Burgess explains that he built Iron Gate Motor Condos because of his personal passion for cars and a desire to connect with other car owners. He describes the luxury spaces as a common interest community, or “cool hangouts” for people who like cars.
When he was deciding what to do with the property, he discussed with his architect his long-time desire to build a car-oriented development and the architect mentioned how he had designed several dozen airplane hangars at the Aurora Airport that functioned as sort of “mancaves,” where people could store their planes and also hang out. “The airplane guys kind of figured it out. Golfers figured it out,” said Burgess. “There’s a huge subculture of people who like cars.”
There will eventually be 160 units at Iron Gate Motor Condos, which is still under construction. They have sold a little over thirty so far. For Burgess, the development is not about just turning a profit. “I get to hang out with my friends. I get to build something for people who share the same passion that I do. And it’s fun to be out there, because there’s always a new car that comes through,” said Burgess.
As he took me out for a ride in his souped-up 2005 Bentley GT, Burgess explained the appeal of exotic cars. “The fun thing about some of the older exotic cars is they’re a little bit quirky … function follows form. It’s about showing up with the Ferrari; it’s not about ease of getting in and out,” said Burgess. “Newer cars are all about creature comforts and doing things excellently,” he continued. “When the car is built for being on the Autobahn or European highways, the noise level is like nothing. You’re driving ninety miles an hour and it’s a quiet ride. It’s like driving fifty in a more mass-produced car,” said Burgess, as the vehicle accelerated quickly to speeds that “could possibly have been in excess of the speed limit.”
For car owners like Burgess, though, owning exotic cars is also about participating in a community. While exotic car owners may be obsessive about their cars, their passion gives them a vehicle to participate in social events and fundraisers regularly. “Car culture, in general, is a wonderful group of people,” said Burgess. “My customers – I couldn’t be more blessed to have them.” His customers want to do stuff, like attending events, road rallies, and track days. “We have several fundraisers a year and they’re very generous with their time and their pocketbooks, so it’s not just a bunch of folk who ferret away and hide,” said Burgess. The second Saturday of every month, they do an open house at Iron Gate that the public is welcome to attend.
They have marquee Saturdays that are often in conjunction with specific manufacturers. Last week a Mercedes Benz club was out. They have the Viper club, the Porsche club, and the Ferrari club coming up. Most of them are open to the public. In the middle of June they have their car show. They do a “special rides for special kids in special cars.” It is in conjunction with their lead charity, “Cal’s Angels,” which raises funds to help families of children who have cancer. When they have an event, they raise money to pay for the parking at Lurie Children’s Hospital downtown. “It brings purpose to what we’re doing. It’s not just sitting around,” said Burgess.
One of the places where Burgess and other local exotic car owners purchase their vehicles is at Chicago Motor Cars in West Chicago. They have a large selection of pre-owned exotics on site, including Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Bentleys, Jaguars, and McLarens.
The average price of their vehicles is around $100,000, but they have had cars in their inventory priced up to 2.5 million dollars, such as the Ferrari Enzo, Bugatti Veyron, and Porsche 918. “The market [for exotic cars] is better than ever,” said Omar Salaymeh, Marketing Director for Chicago Motor Cars. “As the economy’s picked back up, more people spend money on extra items such as exotic cars.” Salaymeh has personally owned Porsches, Maseratis, Vipers, and other exotic vehicles over the years. He said that the people who buy exotic cars tend to be business owners or executives. “Our customer base is a well-rounded guy who actually enjoys driving his car, enjoys showing them off,” said Salaymeh. “Most of them are humble and respectful. They don’t mind letting people see their cars or talking about them.”
He said that since Chicago area exotic car owners only have a few months of the year to actually drive their cars, they are more prone to showing them off and answering questions. He says most of their clientele would let you open up the doors of their vehicles to take a peek inside and take photos at a gas station. Since exotics are limited edition cars, there are only so many made and they’re scattered across the world. That makes them stand out. “There are no two exotics alike,” said Salaymeh. “I would say every single one has its own personality and its own unique characteristics. Every car is unique to its owner.” Even though exotic cars are exclusive, by nature, Salaymeh believes they are attainable for ordinary people.
“I want people to know that it is achievable. Manufacturers made enough exotic cars over the last twenty years, that over the next couple years they will be available for well under $100,000. You can get Lamborghinis for under $100,000, which is a little bit more than an expensive BMW these days. Most of our clients are hard workers. They don’t just throw away their money,” said Salaymeh. “
The Exotic Car Share Program
George Kiebala, Owner and Founder of Exotic Car Share and Curvy Road fractional ownership in Palatine, IL founded his business on the premise that some exotic car owners want to get a better return on their investments than just occasionally driving them.
Kiebala, a 1980 graduate of Northern Illinois University in Marketing, used to race his vintage Alpha Romero. He and his wife were spending a lot of money to store his vehicle and racing equipment, so they decided to buy a warehouse and rent some of the space to other car owners. Through this business venture, they found out by accident that there are a lot of people who own exotic cars who rarely ever drive them, because they never came to get their vehicles from the storage facility. “And you could hear the cars depreciating at night,” said Kiebala. “As a CPA, it hurt my wife’s sensibility. I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’”
People had done time share programs with yachts, condos, jets and other things, but until Kiebala started Exotic Car Share, nobody had been willing to take on exotic cars because of some of the issues that come with driving and maintaining the vehicles. Exotic Car Share has a very high insurance coverage policy on every car. They go through a serious process of screening members. Members must be over twenty-five years of age, have a good driving record, and complete a criminal background check. And they put a lot of effort into training the members on driving the vehicles in a way that’s safe, but also allows them to have fun at the same time, said Kiebala. The big thing they’ve learned since 2000 when they started is that after the economic meltdown, there are a lot of people who own exotic cars who can’t afford to drive them.
A lot of times, what ends up happening is that people buy an exotic car for a quarter of a million dollars, but don’t have an opportunity to drive them much, because they’re not practical. They don’t have trunks. They get six miles to the gallon. They only seat two people, etc. “Wherever you go, there are challenges, because you have this very expensive vehicle,” said Kiebala. “You have to deal with parking it differently. It’s a big hassle, so people don’t end up driving them that often.”
Curvy Road, the re-vamped version of Exotic Car Share, offers “time shares” or “fractional ownership” of exotic vehicles. Their cars include a Ferrari 430 Spider, a Lamborghini Gallardo, and a Gallardo Spyder LP 560-4.
Members pay for either a 1/10th share or four weeks of driving time, a week or two weeks at a time, or a 1/5th share, which is five people sharing the car for eight weeks each during the year. Members pick a primary vehicle, but they can trade weeks to other vehicles.
Before anybody leaves with any of the vehicles they complete a driver orientation, which is between an hour and two hours, depending on the vehicle. That includes a driving session. “Unless and until the member is comfortable with that car, and we’re comfortable with them being in that car, nobody goes anywhere,” said Kiebala. “The classic cars require more training, because there are lots of ways to screw them up.”
All the cars in the Curvy Road program are owned by investors. They get royalty checks as their vehicles are used. They get their insurance paid, and they still get to drive the car for part of the year. “Monetize your vehicle while maintaining ownership,” Kiebala calls it. There are a lot of companies around now who rent exotic cars for only half a day. It is much more expensive, at least three times as much per driving time, because of the maintenance costs, says Kiebala. “When you rent a car, there is very little feeling of accountability,” said Kiebala. “If you give someone the keys to a Lamborghini for half a day, what do you think’s going to happen to that Lamborghini?” But if you have eight weeks of it and you’re going to be back, “It’s more like borrowing the car from a good friend,” Kiebala said.
“We like to be folks’ bat cave,” said Kiebala. “They show up in their daily car, leave it here, take off in their exotic, and a week later they come back and swap again.”And that is the perfect analogy to describe what if feels like to drive an exotic car: it’s like being Batman cruising down the road in the Batmobile, which is probably the greatest exotic car of all time.
– Stephen Haberkorn, DC Magazine