Monday, October 03, 2011

In Cars

Lamborghini knows how to make advertisements for their products. What we learn from the video for the Gallardo LP 560-4 is that if you own one, you will get phone numbers from models, and then have sex with them. You will be able to take to the city streets, and spin the car around at will. It will guarantee you access to any club in the world, bypassing any queues that you may encounter. Photographers who happen to be standing on street corners doing nothing will photograph you, ostensibly to publish said pictures in famous magazines. Should you encounter other Lamborghinis on your trip, you will be able to drive in circles with them. The other driver will be a model. You may then street race with the other driver as while you were circling, the police will have cleared all traffic off the roads. On long distance drives, the LP 560-4 will warp space and allow you to reach your destination in less time than if you had driven another automobile.


I've mentioned quite often that I'm a big fan of the driving experience. I love sports cars, but I really don't have any experience in high-end cars. I own a 2004 G35 Coupe, which was a very nice car for it's time. I've driven 350Zs before their power upgrade a couple years ago, and more recently 370Zs with their "tiptronic" style auto transmissions. However, I've never driven a "super car". The most expensive car I've ever driven is John's Mercedes Benz S550. It is powered by a 400 hp engine.. but you know.. it's a tank. It's quick for a tank though.

I've been thinking of buying a new car for ages, as some of you know. I don't like to think of myself as the type of person that is "all talk" and no action. I'm not really like that. After all.. the G35 was one of the top coupes for the money at the time I bought it. I'm just trying to figure out how to go about this process in a way that makes sense. It looks like buying a car is going to have to wait for a bit though, as I'm buying another house this month.. a rental property, not to live in. Cars tend to depreciate, but homes.. usually a good investment if you do it right...

The problem is finding the sweet spot. To justify buying a car over $100K, you really do have to be quite wealthy. It's not just the price of the car. The maintenance of that sort of car is unbelievably expensive. I've been thinking about a range of cars that might fit the bill for me, but what I've noticed is that over the time I've been thinking about it, which is the last 3 or 4 years, manufacturers release new models that push my thinking in a different way.

I've decided that I'm not going to buy new cars anymore. I had to have the G35 when I bought it, and it was only in its 2nd year of production so there was really no opportunity to buy used. It's not that I don't prefer a new car, it's just that I'm trying to approach this as an engineering problem. Everywhere there are price premiums - and the new vs used issue certainly is a huge one. I've determined that from a math perspective, it makes more sense to buy something with around 10k miles on it for the amount of money saved.

So then, the range of cars. On the top of the range, my preference is a Porsche 911 Turbo S or an Audi R8 v8. The cost premium for opting into the v10 on the Audi is $30k, taking it to around $150k. The 911 would be around $130k. That's for new cars. Obviously those cars hold their value very well, so buying used is difficult mainly because there aren't that many available and the percentage of price reduction is low.

In the mid range, we have the Porsche Cayman S, or the Nissan GT-R. It's much easier to find a Cayman S, but the GT-R is a legitimate super car. We're looking in the $50-$65k range for the Cayman, and $65-$75k range for the GT-R, used. However, the 2012 GT-R is significantly improved so if a person is thinking about a GT-R, it makes much more sense to go the 2012 route. That means waiting about 3 years for enough cars to come off lease and the price to be reasonable, or just going ahead and paying MSRP, which would be about $90K or so.

In the lower range, there is only one car I would consider, and that's the 370Z.

So what do I want from a car? That's the question everyone asks when they buy a new car, right? I want a sports car that is powerful, with very responsive feel, and fits my personality. Ultimately, I consider the G35 purchase a mistake. Prior to the G35, I was driving a Mazada Miata (MX5). Say what you want about the MX5 - it had a tremendous amount of "wow" when driving it. I felt the road and I could drive that thing on the edge with confidence. The feedback from the car was exceptional. The G35 is completely disconnected from the driver, and frankly, it scares me. I've tried pushing it (I've done 140mph - but in a straight line), but I never got to the point where the car was telling me that it had reached its limit. Perhaps that's a credit to the car that it corners so well that I couldn't get it past that limit. Maybe. I just liked the way the Miata gave you cues as you were going along to tell you where you were in its capability. The G35 says nothing until it's too late.

Despite the power difference, I'll bet I could drive laps in the MX5 faster than I could the G35. I don't drive laps, but I find little spaces in roads where I can push a little and I enjoy the feeling. There is just no feeling in the G35.

So.. we do the math. I'll probably have the next sportscar I buy for a long time, unless we really get obscenely wealthy, which I rather doubt but one never knows. I'll drive it for maybe 2k miles in a year. The car will be specifically for weekend drives and some road trips. We'll probably want to be able to take the dogs with us, and we're likely going to be adding a 3rd dog at some point in the near future.

So a small back seat becomes an advantage. The 911 has one, as does the GT-R. The Audi and 370Z do not, however it's possible the the dogs could fit in the back of the Z and just poke their heads underneath that pillar behind the seats to keep in touch with us. I don't think the dogs would fit in the back of the Cayman.

Maintenance costs become an issue directly proportional to the miles you put on the car. Could I afford to maintain an R8 if it's doing 2-3k miles a year? Probably. Could I maintain the Z on those miles? Easy.

In fact, what the Z has going for it is that it's not maintained like a super car. It's very similar to my G35, with things like Brembo brakes that are expensive to re-pad, and tires that are not $4k a set. The Pilot Sport tires on my G35 last about 25k miles, so that would be several years before a new set is needed.

So.. due to the rather small amount of miles I anticipate putting on the car, I could probably swing the Cayman and GT-R maintenance without much pain. I could probably keep the 911 and R8 up as well. I think we can call it a wash from the top car to the bottom.

I want that feeling of connectedness that I had with the MX5. Driving the Z, I would have to say that it's better than the G35, but it's still not the same as the MX5. This is especially true as the MX5 had no traction control like every other car. I hardly ever turned off the traction control in the G35 because it really did scare me. I would take freeway off ramps in the MX5 nearly in a drift. I could start on the outside of the corner, tap the break to rotate the car, then hit the gas to keep the back end moving out and just spin it around the corner and right back out onto a straight. With the G35, all I did was brake to reduce speed, down shit, hit the apex, and get back on the gas on the way out. Sure, that's how it's supposed to work, but not needing to ever counter-steer is boring.

True story - in 1999 (I think) I was on a business trip to Muncie Indiana. I got a Kia for a rental car. I drove it into the outside railing of a freeway off ramp. I was so used to the way I drove the MX5 that I had way too much speed coming off the freeway, and the Kia was all push and no corner. I knew the MX5 like a best friend and I could get totally out of control with it because I knew what being out of control felt like, and I knew how to get it back underneath me. I'd like to have that type of relationship with a car again, but I don't think any of the cars I'm looking at will provide that unless I'm on a track with them.

I have no idea how the Cayman or the GT-R would feel, but I have a feeling they are just ridiculously planted and the assumption is that they will do whatever you ask them to do. That's why you see a lot of wealthy, but novice, drivers wrapping their Lamborghinis around telephone poles. You don't realize you're on the edge until it is way too late.

Should I write a formula and assign points to features that are important to me, and score each car? I could find the best value that way by dividing the value points total by the price of the car and seeing who comes out on top.

There isn't much difference between a 370Z and a 2009+ Cayman S in terms of performance. The Cayman is faster, but not by a huge margin. The Cayman is more prestigious and from an artistic point of view is more interesting to me than the 370Z. The GT-R has the fastest acceleration of all the cars I've mentioned, and corners better, and is just ridiculously awesome in performance. You have to go to a MurciƩlago or its replacement, the Aventador to exceed the GT-R in performance. The Gallardo LP560-4 is similar in performance to the GT-R, but is something like 5 times the price. This is why Lamborghini and Ferrari are not in consideration. In the math, their value per dollar is extremely low. They are cars for people who don't know what to do with their money - and I do have budget limits.

You know what my head is telling me? Buy the 370Z and spend $10k or so with some mods and improvements. That could get me past the Cayman performance threshold, and perhaps exceed its styling score. A Z with some body work and engine tuning would be a fantastic car and I really like the feeling behind the wheel. It's very small, and wraps around you more than the other cars.

The 911 Turbo S fits my personality well, has tremendous performance, and will retain it's value well, but we're talking $100k for a used one with low miles in a recent model year. The R8 is stylistically the top of the class, but the price is dragging its value down.

What about a Corvette? It compares fairly favorably to the GT-R from a value point of view. The ZO6 is a fantastic car and the feel in the driver's seat is different than I had imagined. It feels bigger than it is, and doesn't give that same sense of wearing the car that the 370Z does. I'm not sure why I'm not giving it more consideration. I guess that since it's pretty much identical in price to the GT-R, there would be zero reason to buy the Corvette rather than the GT-R.

There are quite a few people that buy the Corvette instead. I'd be curious to know why. Maybe it's a style thing, and the fact that the 'vette is rear wheel drive. It could be the rear seat thing. While I'd like space for dogs to ride in the car, if not for that I would prefer a 2 seater.

Then again, the Corvette Grand Sport is an interesting car in that it approaches the ZO6 in terms of performance but is some $20k less. When I punch that number into my calculator, it makes a happy face. The Grand Sport is also a nice looking car.

What could I do if I bought 370Z with the touring and sport packages and put $10K into it? Would I need to spend a few thousand upgrading the sound system in a car that I'm not going to drive that much, or will the stock system be good enough? I could get a cool body kit, and a cat-back exhaust... new intake, an ECU tweak.

So that's what I'm thinking about today. I have time before I need to decide. It could be that I don't buy anything. We're still trying to figure out what we're going to do for a new house to live in, and no doubt that's going to make us financially nervous. John's business has seen a recent up-tick.. well.. more than an up-tick. It's a big jump.

The same process that I'm using to think about the car is the same exact thing we're doing when thinking about a house. We know we need a bigger yard for the dogs, and we have a really good idea what we want. It's just that it's nearly impossible to find. I think I've seen 2 houses in the last couple years that were close to what we'd like. One was a fantastic house that was pretty much perfect as it was (I posted a pic of it a while back) but it was on a small lot with a smaller patch of grass than what we have now. The other house was on a massive lot, which you couldn't hit a golf ball out of no matter how hard you hit it. The house was cool, but needed about $100k worth of work to get it how we'd like. I often say we should have just bought it.

It's become pretty apparent that we're going to need to hire a home builder, buy a lot, and have a home designed and built for us. I'd like to have all this sorted out before I turn 50, so we have quite a few more years to enjoy it all. I used to wonder why 50 year olds drove cool cars and had nice homes. I get it now. It takes until your 40s to make good money. It takes until you're 50 to feel safe enough to spend some of it.

Then again, it's not like we don't have a nice house now. It's just like my G35. It's boring, but at the time it seemed pretty cool. We tend to be cautious people, and we have enough cash to buy the house we want and a Lamborghini to go in the garage, but we want to retire early. Blowing wads of cash might put that at risk.. but then, I don't want to die not having had the experience of driving a car that made me happy, or having a house that would fit how we see ourselves and allow us to entertain more. We don't want to die with piles of cash that his sister would get.. just so she could live like we wanted to. Besides.. it's not like a house would depreciate. It's not like I care if the car I buy depreciates because I'll have it for 20 years. Heck, I'll have had my G35 for 10 years pretty soon.

My mother used to say, "shit or get off the pot". I think we need to take a big dump soon or just get used to the G35 and our too-small and not very cool house.

But hey.. John got his S550. Right?

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