Doug DeMuro - Carspotter!

June 24, 2009
0907 02 Z+carspotter+doug DeMuro
The Audi R8 is a sitting duck, and Doug DeMuro bags it without pausing as he trolls through suburban Atlanta in search of exotic cars, turning on and aiming his Canon point-and-shoot with one fluid motion and nonchalantly banging off a perfectly framed image through his open window.
As the R8 glides off into traffic, DeMuro notices a flash of red - Ferrari red - in the left-turn lane of the next cross street. "An F430 Spider," he announces matter-of-factly. "If it's an Asian driver, then I think it's from California. The plate is going to read 430 F1."
DeMuro pulls a quick U-turn against a red light to position his Audi A4 in front of the Ferrari. The 430 turns left, as expected, but then ducks into a strip mall. DeMuro backtracks for a closer look and catches the Ferrari in the parking lot. Sure enough, it's wearing a California tag. "I shot it a few days ago," DeMuro says. But as we schmooze with the Asian owner, DeMuro hears the signature snarl of a V-12 engine and sees a blue Lamborghini cruising past on the far side of the street. "Murciélago!" he shouts, and we sprint back to his car.
0907 03 Z+carspotter Doug DeMuro+shooting Ferrari
Furiously working his Tiptronic transmission, DeMuro peels out of the parking lot, hurtles the wrong way up a left-turn lane, and cranks off another illegal U-turn. Two minutes of brisk driving puts him in position for photos of the back of the Murciélago. But the money shot is a side view, and each time DeMuro starts to pull even with the Lambo, we hear its exhaust crackle and see its rear end squat under hard acceleration. "That's gorgeous!" DeMuro says as he darts from lane to lane in hard pursuit. "Man, that thing is sinister!"
DeMuro doesn't usually chase cars through traffic for long, and even now, he gets his best shots when the Murciélago is stopped at a red light. While DeMuro snaps the Lamborghini, photographer A. J. Mueller jumps out of the car to shoot DeMuro. As traffic crawls past, a young woman calls out, "Is that somebody famous?"
So far as I know, the owner of the Murciélago is just a rich guy with a flamboyant streak. But DeMuro is a minor celebrity. Actually, he's a major celebrity among a really, really small subset of car enthusiasts. The obsession that binds them together is known as carspotting, and DeMuro is among its most successful and indefatigable practitioners.
0907 01 Z+carspotter+doug DeMuro
The point of carspotting, as the name implies, is to spot cars - the more exotic, the better - in their native habitat, i.e., at speed, on the road. Two centuries ago, John James Audubon documented birds in elaborate paintings. Nowadays, of course, digital cameras or cell phones make life a lot easier. And this being the digital age, sightings are routinely posted online, often to Web sites that have been created to feed the carspotting cult.
It's impossible to say how many people are seriously active in the hobby. Hundreds, probably. Certainly not much more than a few thousand worldwide. The demographic skews sharply young, male, and insanely car crazed. Fittingly, the world's best-known carspotter - the felicitously named Spyder Dobrofsky - came to international prominence in 2006 when he was fourteen years old, thanks to video he'd shot of a Ferrari Enzo in Los Angeles that was subsequently and notoriously totaled in a high-speed wreck on Pacific Coast Highway.
DeMuro, 20, is a perfect fit for the carspotting demo. Tall and gangly, with a baby face and an earnest, eager-to-please manner, he's a junior at Emory University in Atlanta who's majoring in economics (with a 3.4 GPA) in the hopes of landing a job in the automobile industry. He took up carspotting not because he'd heard about it and thought it was cool but because he is, first and foremost, a demented car guy.
"When I was on my first date with my first girlfriend in February of '05," he explains, "I saw a Porsche Carrera GT. I told all of my friends, and they didn't believe me, so I said, 'Well, we'll see about that.' Now, I've photographed five of them."
DeMuro has 1579 sightings of 834 individual cars catalogued in an Excel spreadsheet that he updates constantly. He's shot as many as thirty-six cars in one forty-hour thrash, and his record for a month is eighty-six. He doesn't pad his total by ambushing exotics driving in and out of dealerships, and like a fisherman who throws back the small ones, he can't be bothered with Volkswagen-engined Bentleys ("They're literally everywhere"), Maseratis ("That was a sad day when I dropped the Quattroporte. I lost about a hundred sightings right away"), or Porsche 911 Turbos ("I hate the people who own them. For that money, they could have a Ferrari").
DeMuro collected his first trophy, a Bentley Arnage, on May 14, 2005, near his home in Denver, and he's captured some of his rarest prey in Colorado. There was, for example, an ex-Steve Wynn Enzo (black with a tan interior) that DeMuro got a ride in - at 140 mph - after giving the owner a blown-up copy of the photo he'd posted on And he nailed Ralph Lauren in his Bugatti Veyron near Telluride.
0907 05 Z+ralph Laurens+bugatti Veyron
"I was with my girlfriend, driving the other way, when I saw him, and I just freaked," he recalls. "I made a U-turn in the middle of the [two-lane] highway and caught up with him in a gravel parking lot. I don't usually approach the owners. But he rolled down his window and motioned me over. I didn't know what to say, so I asked him, 'What's it like, Ralph?' "
Still, for DeMuro, the land of plenty is the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta, home of the ninth-wealthiest zip code in the country and antebellum-style mansions straight out of Gone with the Wind. He spends most of his time patrolling Peachtree Road between two ultra-upscale malls - Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square - and making periodic sorties to check the valet stands at posh hotels and exclusive restaurants.
During the past two years, DeMuro has put 53,000 miles on his 2001 Audi, even though he lives in a dorm on campus and walks to his classes. He tries to hit his hot spots in Buckhead for at least an hour every day, with longer stints on weekends. "Nobody in Atlanta does this as frequently as I do," he says, "because everybody else has a job."
DeMuro agrees to let me ride shotgun with him on a Friday evening. We plan to grab a bite to eat before getting started, but on our way to dinner, he spots a 360 Spider in Phipps Plaza. He hangs a quick right and barely slows to shoot the Ferrari. "Finding cars at valet parking is easy," he explains, "but it's kind of cheap." Sort of like going to a local zoo instead of on an African safari.
0907 07 Z+floyd Mayweather JRs+fleet
At 5:57 p.m., immediately after dinner, DeMuro snaps a Bentley Azure parked at the InterContinental Hotel. "The InterContinental has the best stuff in town," he says. "Floyd Mayweather had his retirement party here. He brought a [Ferrari] 599, a [Mercedes-Benz] SLR, a Murciéago roadster, a Maybach 62S, and a long-wheelbase [Rolls-Royce] Phantom. That was something."
At 6:19 p.m., DeMuro shoots an Aston Martin DB9 Volante. Seven minutes later, he lines up a yellow Lamborghini Gallardo that he immediately IDs as a rental that he's shot before. "I recognize the chrome wheels," he says. Four minutes after that, he catches a white Arnage, then a DB9 with black wheels, then the 360 Spider we'd seen earlier at the mall.
0907 04 Z+ferrari Enzo+denver
Like a shark, DeMuro never stops moving. "You're not going to see anything sitting still," he say, goosing the throttle. He goes wherever the lights let him (and sometimes where they won't), swerving onto side streets, doubling back along shortcuts, and ducking into mall parking lots at regular intervals. He drives confidently and aggressively, liberally using his horn, constantly working the Tiptronic and darting into openings in traffic. Early on, I lose track of how many moving violations he commits. But even on those rare occasions when we're in full-on chase mode, DeMuro never does anything stupid or dangerous.
At 7:16, he collects a Phantom going in the opposite direction. ("That's the new one, with the new wheels.") At 7:31 p.m., as the light fades, he spots an R8. ("I'd recognize those headlights anywhere.") At 7:42 p.m., he zeroes in on a black Dodge Viper, shooting it blind out the open sunroof. ("Out the top is preferable, actually, because I can rest the camera on the roof.")
Like any big-game hunter, DeMuro has a few empty spaces on his wall - for an F50, an F40, and a 288GTO among modern Ferraris; a Saleen S7; a McLaren F1; a Chevrolet Corvette ZR1; a Tesla Roadster. Other than that, he says: "I've seen pretty much all I want to see. But at this point, it's not even about the cars. I just love driving, and it keeps my love of cars going. My friends understand that if they want to hang out with me, they're not going to sit in my room. They're going to be in my car out in Buckhead. It's become a litmus test for girlfriends."
DeMuro swings his camera into position to snag an early '90s Bentley Continental with honorary diplomatic plates in the Ritz-Carlton parking lot. Then he hangs a right on Peachtree and resumes his vigil. Somewhere out there, somebody is driving something he's never seen before. And sooner or later, he's going to have it in his crosshairs.
Top carspotting Web sites Founded in 2005, this is the best-known site in the United States. Its name notwithstanding, this site is based in Germany. Another site with a strong international flavor. Open to all exotics, this is where DeMuro usually posts. Features tuner cars as well as exotics.
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Doug DeMuro's Hit List
1. Lamborghini Gallardo: 71
(38 coupes, 25 Spyders, 4 LP560-4s, 2 Superleggeras, 1 Nera, and 1 SE)
2. Ferrari F430: 69
(35 Spiders, 33 coupes, and 1 Scuderia)
3. Ferrari 360: 61
(30 Spiders, 29 Modenas, and 2 Challenge Stradales)
4. Rolls-Royce Phantom: 55
(46 sedans, 6 Drophead Coupés, 2 Extended Wheelbases, and 1 Coupé)
5. Aston Martin DB9: 47
(27 Volantes and 20 coupes)
6. 1992-2002 Dodge Viper: 44
(25 RT/10s, 16 GTSs, and 3 GTS ACRs)
7. Aston Martin V8 Vantage: 43
(35 coupes and 8 roadsters)
8. Bentley Arnage: 40
9. 2003-current Dodge Viper: 39
(30 convertibles, 6 coupes, and 3 ACRs)
10. Lamborghini Murciélago: 28
(11 roadsters, 9 LP640s, 7 coupes, and 1 LP640 roadster)
Doug DeMuro's Six Favorite car sightings
Ferrari Enzo in Denver
Ralph Lauren's Bugatti Veyron.
Maserati MC12 in Atlanta.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr.'s fleet.
Valet with Ferraris, Ford GT & SLR.
Porsche Carrera GT.


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