Bored on Wheels

— You've worked hard, you've succeeded in your profession, you've gotten rich. And now you want a car that says those things to the people you blow past on the freeway. A Cadillac or even a BMW won't suffice. You need something exotic: a Lamborghini maybe, a Ferrari, or a Bentley. But before you spend well over six figures, Robert Mackey, co-owner and president of Luxury Toy Club, has a warning for you. "It is possible to get bored with a Lamborghini Gallardo or a Ferrari 360 or a Bentley Continental GT. It is possible."

Wouldn't it be a terrible bummer to buy such a car -- average price of the three he mentioned: about $170,000 -- and find yourself bored in a year? And boredom isn't the only hazard of owning an extreme luxury sports car. "The biggest hassle," Mackey explains, "with owning a car such as a Lamborghini Gallardo is maintenance. They can be a little temperamental. Then you have to have a special place to store them. A lot of us have kids, so it is not a fun thing to park a Lamborghini in your garage where kids are bringing bikes and baseball bats in and out."

Couple those problems with the high cost of insuring such vehicles, and owning one starts to sound impractical, irresponsible, and unjustifiable. That's the conclusion Mackey, who is 41, reached a year and a half ago while talking with a longtime friend and business partner. "Both of us had a similar interest in cars," Mackey says. "My background for many years out of high school was working for an auto racing team. We maintained cars for wealthy individuals and sold race cars for use on the track. We have always enjoyed fun things like cars, but we couldn't really justify going out and buying our own Lamborghini in terms of storage, in terms of cost, in terms of all the support necessary to have a $150,000, $200,000 car."

But Mackey, who owns the Internet marketing firm E-Mail Networks, could justify owning these cars as part of a business. The plan: Mackey and his friend would buy a fleet of high-end European sports cars. Then they'd sell club memberships to people like themselves who enjoy exotic cars but don't want the cost and hassle of owning them. Membership in what they named the Luxury Toy Club would give access to the cars. "Once they are a member of the club, then they can schedule and drive the cars when they like. There is no possibility of getting bored because we always have new cars coming into the fleet. And in addition to the exotic or luxury automobiles, we also have what we call specialty vehicles, such as a ski boat, a corporate motor coach, a six-passenger airplane. Those kinds of things a lot of our members could own on their own, but they really don't want to because it doesn't make sense financially, and you have storage issues and maintenance issues. But we take care of all of that for our members. All they do is drive the car and have fun with it. We take care of all the behind-the-scenes stuff: detailing, maintenance, anything that needs to get fixed on the car."

Mackey delivers the cars to the homes or workplaces of members who have reserved them. While that member is out driving the 450-horsepower, $160,000 Aston Martin DB9 or the $124,000 Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG convertible, Mackey and his crew detail the member's regular ride. Such service is not cheap. "It is kind of like joining a country club," Mackey says, "in the sense that there is a onetime membership fee that you pay; it is a lifetime fee. That ranges from $7000 to $20,000. And that allows a member and one other designated driver to operate the different automobiles and specialty vehicles. Then, as in a country club, since we are a club, there are monthly dues. Dues are about $1000 a month, and that provides for a certain number of days in the particular cars for that member. We really customized a program for each of the members, because everyone's needs are different."

Kurt Stuber, who lives in Ramona and is a regional sales manager for Commonwealth Land Title Company, joined the club in mid-fall. It cost him $10,000. "Then there are quarterly dues of, I think, $3000. So it's about $12,000 in dues every year." (Mackey says it's $12,750, to be exact.)

In the first month and a half of membership, Stuber says, "I used club vehicles only twice. The very first one I drove of theirs was their yellow Lamborghini Gallardo. I have a young son, ten years old, and he and I took it up to the Laguna Mountains, through Julian, Sunrise Highway. It was great. We got to really open it up and fly around the corners. That was a fun day. Last weekend was the Bentley Continental GT. That is a beautiful machine. We had a baseball tournament in Palm Springs, so I wanted to take the Bentley out there. And, of course, that's a four-seater, so my wife could come with us."

For his $10,000 buy-in and annual dues of $12,750, Stuber gets up to 18 days' use of the club's vehicles per year. That breaks down to $1264 per diem in the first year, $708 per diem thereafter. Expensive? Yes, but Stuber, who already owns two high-end European sports cars -- a Porsche 996 and a BMW M5 -- says he joined Luxury Toy Club because "I thought this would be a fairly inexpensive way to drive some of the cars that I probably would never own."

Mackey declines to share financial details of the privately owned club, but he admits that, as a business concept, it's got obstacles to profitability. "An investment in depreciating assets is always a difficult one," he says.

That's especially true when the assets cost so much money. But Mackey figured the cars would be not only the club's inventory but also its chief advertising. "Rather than investing huge sums of money in different types of marketing that we are not sure would work," Mackey explains, "we invested that money in inventory. A lot of times [prospective members] find us because they see the cars. For example, I was in Carmel Valley recently with the Lamborghini dropping it off to a client, and a gentleman came up who had a Ferrari F30, and we started talking. As it turned out, he was looking to sell that car because he was bored with it. The best car that you can have right now, the Ferrari F30, and he was a little bored with it. I told him he could join our club and drive not only Ferraris but also Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Maseratis."

To protect these expensive assets, Mackey uses the tool of exclusion. "We are a very exclusive club," he explains. "We are only taking up to 50 members right now out of [two plus] million people here in the county. It really is a needle-in-the-haystack type of member that we are looking for, members that have the financial wherewithal to operate these vehicles. If they scrape a wheel, dent a bumper, things like that, there shouldn't be stress of how that will be taken care of, first of all. So there is the financial element of being exclusive. Next, there is the fun element of it and the social element of it. We really want members who are going to take care of the equipment and be part of a club environment."

Mackey envisions a kind of clubhouse/private showroom where members can ogle the cars, smoke cigars, and have a glass of wine or a cappuccino. At present, that facility doesn't exist. Luxury Toy Club is headquartered in the College Area. The vehicles are stored in the College Area, Carmel Valley, and La Jolla while Mackey searches for a permanent facility to house them all. "We have not wanted to commit to exactly where our permanent location is going to be until we figure out if there is a geographic center that is most convenient for our members. Because we've got East County members, we've got North County, we've got beach community, we've got La Jolla, Del Mar, Carmel Valley, a whole smattering. Surprisingly, they are not necessarily from where we expected they would be: La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe, and Del Mar."

Kassandra Reina, Luxury Toy Club's tall, blond, twentysomething membership director, says the membership wasn't what she expected either. As she accelerates the navy blue Bentley Continental GT down Mission Bay Boulevard from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds, she confesses, "I was expecting most of them to be older gentlemen that maybe were divorced and looking for a younger woman. But most of our members are actually married guys who just have this itching to get into a fast car every once in a while."

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