By on November 14, 2017

2018 Ford F-150 , Image: Ford

They say Leo Fender never learned how to really play the instruments that bore his name. Ronnie Schreiber, itinerant TTAC contributor and respected scholar of Detroit’s historical culture, uses that excuse when he explains how he managed to invent and patent an electronic harmonica without ever achieving much more than an enthusiastic novice’s skill with the thing.

I was an early backer of the Harmonicaster idea and I attended the most recent NAMM show as a worker bee at Ronnie’s booth there. Luckily for me, I was off talking to James Trussart when an executive of a major music-store chain stopped by to work a deal with the man himself. You’ll be seeing Harmonicasters out on the street in the near future. Which brings us to this week’s episode of Ask Jack.


Ronnie writes,

I don’t want to count my poultry before it’s produced, but thanks to my Harmonicaster deal I could be looking at a significant bump in my income in the near future.

I’m close to perfectly happy with my ’15 Honda Fit and intend to drive it into the ground, but if I do start making serious coin I’m going to want to have something a little more fun to drive.

A six figure income isn’t unrealistic (well, if I don’t screw up) and if someone is making six figures, spending roughly $60k on an automobile wouldn’t be regarded as extravagant. Being the non-conformist that I am, should I be fortunate to have the money, I’d spend that $60,000 on two cars, not just one.

You’ve described the Lotus Elise as a $30,000 car. That’s about how much you pay for one in decent shape and it’s about how much you’ll get for one if you go to sell it a couple of years later. Much as I’m a acolyte of ACBC, though, any Lotus would be a toy. The other $30k or so I’d spend on a CPO Cadillac ELR to daily drive when I want something more luxurious (and quieter) than the Fit. The Volt drivetrain has been endorsed as a great daily driver by car enthusiasts like Matt Farah and Jay Leno and I think the ELR looks as good or better than the CTS coupe.

One can dream, though, and if my gizmo succeeds beyond my wildest dreams, well then an upgrade would be in order. The McLaren 570S is a terrific bargain at ~$200k.

Of course this is all spitballing and fantasy, but at those two income levels, six figure and seven figure, what car or cars would you recommend?

I think there’s an Unwritten Rule Of Autowriter Advice and it goes something like this: If a reader is considering the purchase of a single vehicle at a given price, split that price in half and recommend two cars. The problem here is that Ronnie, as an autowriter himself, has already split his budget into two cars! What am I to do?

Let’s create a corollary to that unwritten rule: If a reader is thinking about getting two cars, then add them up and suggest something at the resulting price. Except in this case, I don’t think I can come up with a $60k car that performs both tasks as well as Ronnie’s proposed dynamic duo. Knowing the man as I do, however, I suspect that Ronnie wouldn’t drive an Elise much if he had one. He’s already let one Lotus kind of vanish into a barn (what? You didn’t know he owned a Lotus already?) and I think that purchasing another one would do him precisely zero good.

Instead, I’m going to suggest this used Tesla Model S P85 in a fetching shade of brown. It’s faster than the Elise or the ELR in a straight line and it’s a modern successor to the clean-sheet luxury superstars that poured out of Detroit after the First World War. It has plenty of room for the amps, guitars, and other stage hardware that Ronnie drags around to various Detroit venues on a regular basis. And it’s a fitting vehicle for a man whose mostly unadvertised scientific credentials are matched by his flair for showmanship.

So that’s the six-figure garage covered then. What about the seven-figure garage? I’m going to wag my finger at Ronnie’s proposed purchase of a McLaren 570S. It’s a half-measure car, purposely dumbed-down from its Super Series relatives and wickedly difficult to run at the true limit of the chassis and (narrow front) tires. No, what Moneybags Ronnie wants is the 720S. No reason to do anything by half measures. The 720S might cost another $80,000, but that represents a tremendous value and you’ll get your money back at resale time.

And as long as we’re spending money, let’s find Ronnie something that he will actually use most of the time. I’m thinking a Ford F-150 XLT SuperCab with the 2.7-liter EcoBoost and not much extra gingerbread. And I happen to know that the NorCal McLaren dealerships make very nice stainless-steel license-plate frames with the McLaren logo for just $250 or so. If Ronnie becomes a harmonica zillionaire, I’ll be happy to buy him the McLaren frame for his truck, just so he can have the joy of correcting people who give him a hard time about it.

I’d consider it money well spent.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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27 Comments on “Ask Jack: A Fleet In Perfect Harmony?...”


  • avatar
    Eggshen2013

    Whatever makes you happy is always the answer.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Lease a Giulia Quadrifoglio and write about the experience on TTAC.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    As long as you don’t waste a lot of money finding cars that don’t make you happy.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Ironically the lights/grill form a “bow tie”. I bet they did it as a dig at Chevy for how fugly they look in this area and don’t know how to fix it.

    But he should get the crew cab 4X4 even if just the plain-old boring Lariat short bed. He’ll get better resale with the best versatility.
    Yes the 5.5′ bed is kind of a joke but you can always drop the tailgate, net the load, and carry more junk in the back seat.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    If you need American, fun to drive, and practical, you can’t do better than an LX car. Maybe Taurus SHO/Lincoln MKS if you like to Ford approach.

  • avatar
    srh

    Every time I try to get my fleet down to two, it slowly works its way back up to four. The pickup truck is a gimme. You don’t need it every day, but when you do darn if it isn’t super handy. Then there’s the van, ideal for driving to a trail network for a few days of mountain biking. Plenty of secure room in the back for food, water, cot, and bikes. Of course you need the “fun” car, in my case a FoRS I spend plenty of time fantasizing about other options here. And finally the commuter EV, since the three others are all gas guzzlers.

    Getting it down to two for under $60K total? That’s hard. The truck Jack recommends and Miata I suppose?

    All that said, $60K of new cars with an income that /might/ tiptoe into 6 figures (and seems just as likely to tiptoe back out soon thereafter) seems like a pretty foolish endeavor to begin with. Personal decision obviously, but at that point I’d be looking for as much fun as you can get in a functional car. Maybe a FoST?

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Do you want something that is more versatile and handles better than a Mustang or Camaro and built on a luxury car platform with “better than Big 3 build quality” and is cheap?

    A 3.3 AWD Kia Stinger, or for some fun the RWD variant.

    I’m seriously considering one, it will make a great addition to my family.

  • avatar
    01 Deville

    If you stretch your budget by another 15k, you can lay your hands on an R8 and be done.

  • avatar
    relton

    My Bentley Continental, even with maintenance and upgrades to make it an all-weather car, is still well short of $60K. HRH the queen had one foe a while. If it’s good enough for her, it should be good enough for Ronnie.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    1. Miata. There someone said it. Isn’t it always answer #1? That would be Ronnie’s toy.
    2. Dodge Caravan to carry his samples, displays, assistants, etc to and from trade shows.
    3. With the money saved, a classic piece of Detroit iron.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I really like Jack’s sports car+ crew cab half ton idea. Although Id’ swap the finicky/fragile Brit or electric for a V8 Challenger.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Fun game!
    6fig:
    ’13 GS 350 AWD
    Miata Grand Touring (new)

    7fig:
    Raptor
    ZR1 Vette
    LC 500
    Wrangler
    Whichever Super Towing PU fits your fancy
    Tesla S
    spend the rest of the car budget on a bigger garage/shop.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I would go with a gently used 16 or better Base Camaro, stick, convertible. For the Michigan winter, a low mileage, rust proofed Silverado Double Cab 6 ft box.

    In Canada that would put you in the $75-$85 CDN range..Not sure about U.S. prices, would $60K USD cover that?

    @Ronnie ..Best of luck.. eh ! Hope it all works out well : )

  • avatar
    TwoBelugas

    For 60k you can get a well optioned Ram crew cab (1/2 or 3/4 ton) with 4WD and an LX car(charger starts around 22k around my area) as mentioned above and still stay under the budget after taxes.

    I have both and they are pretty solid, neither has been to the shop for anything other than than maintenance yet. If the internet was right I should be stranded on the side of road right now because Chrysler, but surprisingly my Toyota breaks down way more often (twice in the last year) than my Chryslers(none).

    Though I encourage internet experts to continue the Chrysler lack of reliability narrative, I like the cheap prices. :)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I don’t have any suggestions, but congratulations, Ronnie, truly. It’s excellent to see a first-hand account of the still-alive entrepreneur / inventor spirit in this country.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    You guys live up north. You need four wheel drive. Get a base Laredo Jeep Grand Cherokee 4×4, and for summer fun forget useless Lotus. Get a slightly used Mustang GT 2015 and later. Problems solved.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I’m not a fan of the 2 car solution anymore. I’ve done it multiple times, and I realized a few things. 1, I never drive anywhere “for fun”; if I get in my car it’s to go to work, to run an errand, or to somewhere. My pleasure drives are at the kart track, or on a sim racer, or at a motorcycle track day. I get my kicks off the street. Secondly, we have a 2 car garage we use, with nowhere to keep a 3rd car out of the way. With winter coming that is just no go. We have 3 cars right now since I haven’t sold my Civic yet, and I’m in a micro panic with my wife being ~8 months pregnant and winter coming. It’s gotta go before the snow.

    I’ve realized all I need is one car with 4 doors and usable seats, a triple digit 1/4 mile trap speed, and the ability to handle and brake as fast as I think (which generally requires suspension/brake/tire modifications). The concept of something like a Miata or whatever is great, as is some kind of project car (I kind of want to keep my Civic and turbocharge it) but I just don’t have the space or bandwidth. I would definitely make some PRACTICAL considerations for such a setup.

  • avatar
    notwhoithink

    “Secondly, we have a 2 car garage we use, with nowhere to keep a 3rd car out of the way. With winter coming that is just no go.”

    Me too. Fun car in the garage, wife’s SUV in the garage, and my car with a remote starter in the driveway. Granted, I live in central Ohio so the number of days I’d have to dig the car out to get to work are less than minimal.

    As to the “driving for fun”, I have multiple children so any time I get to “run errands” by myself is “fun driving time”.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      “…any time I get to “run errands” by myself is “fun driving time”.”

      Heh. That’s the reason for the popularity of the El Camino: “Sorry, dear, no room for the kids, or your mother.” Some day GM will realize a compact E-C would be a big seller.

  • avatar
    notwhoithink

    I will take exception to two comments in the article:

    1. Ronnie, a $60k car on a six figure income seems extravagant, unless you’re talking several hundred thousand a year.

    2. Jack, you’re not going to get your money back out of a 720S when you sell it. McLarens generally depreciate significantly faster than the competition (and by that I mean Ferrari and to a lesser extent Lamborghini). That’s not to say they aren’t amazing cars, but if depreciation is any sort of a concern you’re better off buying a 3-4 year old Ferrari 458. Not only is it less expensive up front it will also hold it’s value better. And 99% of owners are equally unlikely to be able to drive either car anywhere approaching their full capabilities.

  • avatar

    Musician’s Friend or Sweetwater? Keeping my eyes pealed for the Harmonicaster! (or should that be peeled?)

    Hope you do well, Ronnie!

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