For the vast majority of this magazine's readers (and, I would guess, a full majority of its writers), exotic cars are an exercise in voyeurism. I enjoy reading Ferrari reviews not because I need to make an educated purchase decision, but because I want to know what it feels like to mat the throttle of an F430 on an increasing-radius on-ramp. I want to hear about how the Bugatti Veyron's acceleration feels like a blind-side sack from Rodney Harrison or learn why, exactly, a Morgan Roadster uses wooden body framing instead of the possibly more-effective metal variety. And does the Morgan warranty cover termites? This is information I need to know.
One thing I don't bother with is calculating monthly payments on the Lamborghinis of the world. What's the point? I just assume that anyone who's driving one of those things has a bajillion-killion dollars under the mattress and probably sent one of his or her assistants to the dealer with a briefcase full of cash. But it turns out that's not necessarily the case. In fact, about one in five exotic cars on the road aren't even owned by their drivers. They're leased.
I'm a financial numbskull, but even I know that the basic idea behind a lease is that you simply pay for depreciation, which allows for a lower monthly payment than traditional financing. So I got thinking - what if I were to throw financial caution to the wind? What if I decided to disregard boring goals like retirement or college funds or my wife not leaving me? That would free up some cash, possibly enough to get me into the car of my dreams, at least for twenty-four months or so. Also, if I someday go to the doctor for a checkup and walk out with a terminal prognosis, I'll need to know what cars I can put on my bucket list. Ideally, I'd like to die penniless and with a lime-green Porsche 911 GT3 RS in my driveway, and that will require some precise financial planning.
To that end, I decide to do a little covert journalist-type work and visit my local hoity-toity dealerships to uncover the monthly lease nut on some of my favorite cars. I want to know how much it costs to get into an Audi R8, a Lamborghini Gallardo, maybe an F430 - the real baller cars. To support my persona as an individual who demands a salesman's attention, I also procure 512 horsepower's worth of car-shopping credibility, in the form of a pearl white Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder loaner. Game on.
My first stop is the Audi dealership, where I find the salesmen as attentive as one would expect when your entrance to the lot is punctuated by the howl of an Italian V-10 and the squeal of fresh carbon-ceramic brakes. I calmly step from the Lambo and express interest in leasing an R8. (Because, you know, tough economic times like these call for certain lifestyle cutbacks.) The salesman, who looks as if he's just found out he's Warren Buffet's only heir, hurries inside to get me a quote. Meanwhile, another salesman gawks at the Gallardo, gushing appreciatively over the mammoth yellow brake calipers. "Yep," I remark casually, "this one's got the optional carbon-ceramic brakes." Just then an RS4 rolls past on a delivery truck, and the salesman eagerly responds, "Oh, the RS4 has carbon-ceramic brakes, too." He's so proud of his little RS4 that I don't have the heart to correct him. Yes, your dad is as cool as my dad, and that's not rust on your RS4's brake rotors.
Meanwhile, the other salesman reemerges with some figures scribbled on his business card. "If we had an R8 sitting here - which we don't, but sometimes we do, because Audi can surprise us - it'd be $2600 a month with 10,000 miles per year. My number's on the card, but if you want, I can give you a call if we're getting a car in." But my contact information is definitely not forthcoming, because I'm so keen to get out of there that I probably do a fair impression of a Le Mans running start on my way out of the parking lot.
I'd intended to head to the Ferrari dealer next, but I find myself consumed with an unexpected emotion: sympathy. That poor bastard thought he had a big fish on the line when he'd really hooked onto a smelly old boot. I'm a jerk, and a poseur, and a fraud, with my white Lamborghini and my questions about R8s. That guy has a family to support, maybe, and I wasted his time. As I idle through traffic, I wonder if this is the most introspection and self-loathing that's ever occurred behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Gallardo.
Dreading the idea of taking my false pretenses to the Ferrari dealership - I might end up in a cubicle talking about down payments, a task that is a prominent feature of hell in my conception of the afterlife - I instead park the Lambo and switch to Plan B: picking up the phone.
Unlike Audi, a relative behemoth, the niche car companies don't run their own lease programs. So, how do you lease a Ferrari? You talk to a guy like Mitch Katz, CEO of Premier Financial Services, a company that writes exotic leases. "We have one car out there that's being leased for $40,000 per month," Katz says, declining to reveal what sort of car goes for that chunk of cash. I tell him I'm looking to spend somewhat less than that.
"It's not uncommon for us to hear, 'I want to spend X amount per month,' " Katz tells me. "Some people have good credit and a good income but don't have $200,000 sitting around." That's me to a T, especially the part about not having $200,000. Since I'm taking a shine to the dulcet tones of the Lambo V-10, I ask Katz how much it costs to get into a Gallardo - even a used one. "Well, we have a 2004 Gallardo with E-gear that's going for $1492 per month," he says. Wow. That's a lot of money, certainly, but not as much as I was expecting, given the R8's tariff. "But," Katz adds, "that was with a $26,000 down payment." Oh. With a more reasonable $6800 down, another Gallardo costs its driver $1970 per month.
"We lease a lot of Ferrari 360s and 430s, a lot of Gallardos," Katz says. "With Aston, it's the V8 Vantage and DB9s. Less frequently, we do Rolls Phantoms. But for $2000 per month, there are a lot of exotic and vintage cars."
That's good to know. Because with Wall Street's recent meltdown, I think I might be able to persuade my wife to move our money into something less volatile. The market goes up and down, but you always know what you're getting with a nice Gallardo.