Zen and the Art of Car Ownership

C Douglas Weir
by C Douglas Weir

I never met a pistonhead without a fully-stocked fantasy garage. Unfortunately, the ones who try to bring the dream to life learn a Buddhist lesson: that which you own, owns you. The Langoliers of depreciation decimate the dream from day one. Registration fees, taxes and insurance take their toll. The hassle and expense of service and repair suck. Four years and 12K miles later, the per-mile expenses are astounding. And then, inevitably, the enthusiast's eye begins to wander; their piston passion runs as hot and cold as a cheap motel shower. Another round of this automotive folly would be insane. Unless…

The car share club concept took root in London in 1996, with Formula One World Champion Damon Hill's P1 Prestige and Performance Car Club. The basic idea is simple enough: P1 buys and services a portfolio of high-priced heavy metal; England's well-heeled petrolheads pay a fee to drive them. No finance payments, depreciation, maintenance, storage or tax. Just drive, dump and go. Of course, P1 membership is only cheap relative to ownership, and there are plenty of rules dictating which car you can drive for how much and when. P1 has an elaborate points system that involves a joining fee, an annual fee, a sliding points scale for best to worst times and cars, and mileage restrictions. But it's all about the hassle– or lack thereof.

Having successfully ensconced England's petrolheads in a bevy of exotics, P1 and its imitators spread throughout the Eurozone. The car share club recently washed ashore in Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and now… Evansville, Indiana. Brian Buxton is the President and owner of Buxton Motorsports, a highline luxury and sports car dealership. When one of Buxton's major clients suggested they partner-up, LuxShare Auto Club was born.

LuxShare members pay a $7,250 annual fee. Their seven-and-a-quarter large buys them 1000 points. Members spend their points in one to four-day chunks, with an 850 mile limit (unless "special arrangements" are made). The car's desirability and the time of year (this can be snow country) determine the number of points each reservation deducts from the total. Buxton claims an average member can expect between 28 to 45 days of driving per year. They can also buy a more points-laden deluxe membership, or purchase extra points as and when.

Members must be pass an insurability check, have an acceptable driving record and carry a liability umbrella policy. As a driver fortunate enough to meet all three criteria, Buxton let me loose in the club's first (and currently only) whip: a brand new black-on-black Porsche Cayman S. It was a bit like a coke dealer giving you a bag "on the house." I'm sure we talked about the advantages of this and that and LuxShare's plans for expanding the fleet to include a Roller, Ferrari, Merc and more Porsches, but honestly, who was listening? All I heard was the wail of the Cayman's mid-mounted six.

The truth of the matter is that many of these new car share clubs are chicken v. egg non-starters: the club can't afford to buy exotic cars before they have members, and they can't get members before they have exotic cars. I wouldn't counsel a wealthy enthusiast to sign-up for a car share club before they catch sight of a well-stocked [non-fantasy] garage of pristine machines. I'd also ask to see the titles. And I'd rather be one of the later members than an eager early adopter. That said, in this case, Buxton has a solid rep; his foray into the field is no fly-by-night venture. As always, carveat emptor.

Legal disclaimer and due diligence aside, there's a lot of sense in the car share concept. Six Franklins per month buys or leases you a distinctly ordinary set of wheels. That same $600 won't even buy you two days in a 911 from Scottsdale's Rent-a-Vette ($349 a day, plus .49 a mile after the first 100 miles). And what could be better than driving a half dozen white-hot cars for six bills and no hassles? The bottom line is the amount of control you exert over your carviar addiction: once in a while or every day?

If you're a pistonhead with a Zymöl Princess in your garage, a car share club may provide the perfect mistress: a cheap, discreet and ready-to-get-sweaty alternative to perfection. If you're an undercarred pistonista reaching upwards in the automotive pantheon, a car share club is more like a house of prostitution. One drive may be enough to hook you but good, and running-up those membership points could end-up costing as much as buying a new Cayman S. (Fantasy never comes cheap.) In any case, be guided by the Buddha: "A good path is free from torture and groaning and suffering." Not to mention depreciation.

[Other than Dr. Weir's free ride, no financial consideration was made by Luxshareautoclub.com]

C Douglas Weir
C Douglas Weir

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