• Roger Witherspoon

Extended Joy Rides: The Car as a Vacation

By Roger Witherspoon


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LAS VEGAS – The towering hotels along the Strip faded to a glittering orb in the rear

view mirror as both the desert sun and speedometer in the Shelby Mustang GT topped

120.

This was a custom modified Mustang, augmented in Shelby’s facilities hard by

the Las Vegas Speedway to give it more power, better handling, a lower stance and the

ability to transport the imagination as well as the body. This was the car Steve McQueen

used to roar down the bad guys in Bullitt, and I couldn’t help but imagine a posse of

assorted motorized bad guys trailing in my dust.

Heat waves shimmered off the nearly deserted highway and cactus flew by as the

black Shelby with the twin gold racing stripes roared along. The image of the high

powered car racing along the open desert roadway trailing a gently arcing cloud of dust

has long been a staple of car ads and boys’ imaginations. So when Hertz provided the

opportunity to take a 325 horsepower Shelby Mustang GT and just go in any direction I

jumped at the chance. And though Las Vegas – the nation’s glittering gambling capital

and architectural wonderland – was the base of operations, the lure for this trip was the

open road and sports cars to play with.

And that is the objective of a growing vacation niche, which postures the car as

part of the destination rather than just an additional expenses to get you from one fun

place to another. For Hertz, the notion of the car as a part of the destination comes in two

flavors: activity vehicles, and show cars.

If you want a high profile as part of your vacation, you tap the company’s Prestige

line and rent a Cadillac XLR – the high powered sports car with the retractable hard top

and ability to hit 180 miles an hour – or a Jaguar, Lincoln Navigator, or other set of

wheels that turn heads as you cruise by. Or if adventure is what you crave, you tap into

Hertz’ Fun Collection, which includes the custom Shelby Mustang GT, the Mazda Miata,

the eclectic PT Cruiser, or go off-road in a Hummer H3 or Jeep Wrangler.

You do pay a premium for the fun: Shelby Motors converted 500 Ford Mustang

GTs into the high performing sports models bearing the Shelby logo specifically for

Hertz, and they cost more than $300 per day to rent. You pay a premium for their other

vehicles as well. In addition, you risk forfeiting the insurance coverage and violating the

rental agreement if you truly go off the deep end in their off-road vehicles.

The notion of a car as part of the vacation came from Hertz’ marketing vice

president Frank Camacho, who joined the company eight years ago after a career in the

hotel business.

“I thought cars were exciting,” Camacho said, “and I always felt when people

went on vacations at resorts they loved to pamper themselves and do something that was

special. A lot of people save up all year long to take a one or two-week trip but would

pull up to a luxury hotel in a four-door sedan that they wouldn’t want to own. That didn’t

make sense to me.”

So he came up with the Prestige line of luxury cars – the XLR will set you back

about $100,000 – for vacationers to travel in style. From that beginning evolved the Fun

Collection for those who didn’t care about their profile, but wanted to have fun on

wheels. Essentially, the Fun collection has cars in the $30,000 to $50,000 range and with

the exception of the Shelby, will cost about $150 to $200 daily to rent.

In that price range you can get a Mazda Miata, put the top down and head out

across the desert. The two cup holders are perfect for the required two bottles of water –

one to drink, and the other to periodically pour into your hat to prevent sunstroke. It is not

nearly as fast as the Shelby, but when you are low to the ground in a roadster, pushing

100 miles an hour and sliding through the road mirages shimmering just above the

highway, the feeling is pretty much the same.

For those to whom the car is the vacation rather than an exotic part of the

vacation, there is Club Sportiva. If you crave excitement and really want to splurge, you

can pay $3,000 to $12,000 and join Sportiva, a performance car time share, and have

access to a Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini Gallardo or Formula 1 race car and private

club house to talk to other hot rod enthusiasts about the day’s adventure.

This is not a rental, but an investment. Sportiva is a time share membership

requiring the purchase of points which are redeemed for cars for varying periods of time.

Essentially, the membership gives you 30 days’ a year behind the wheel of the sports car

of your choice, plus year-round access to its club houses. (www.clubsportiva.com )

Sportiva is relatively new to the vacation car business, with operations currently

in San Francisco and San Jose, California, and Munich, Germany. But as word has

spread, it is expanding to Las Vegas – primarily the Speedway outside of town – Miami

and San Diego. And there are plans to spread to Florida and elsewhere in the South and

Southwest.

“We are not rushing to get into the Snowbelt,” said Sportiva founder Torbin

Fuller. “It is counter intuitive to encourage people to drive a Lamborghini in snowy

weather. Putting a $100,000 sports in the snow would give you pause.”

To people like Suzanne Garner, a software engineer from Santa Clara, Cal.,

adventure and vacations were synonymous. She had left her keyboard to go step out of a

plane 3,000-feet above Oahu and skydive over the Hawaiian isle. She has a white Mazda

Miata with pink and purple racing stripes which she pits against other small roadsters in

stock car races set up by Hooked on Driving, which sponsors events in northern

California.

The thrill of the race and push of the gravitational forces deeply into her seat

became Garner’s drug of choice, and she began driving bigger and faster cars. Then she

saw a brochure for Sportiva, with a Formula 1 Prost race car with an 800 horsepower

engine and the opportunity to try it out at the Las Vegas Speedway.

“As son as I saw it, I said I must do that,” she recalled. “There was no question I

was going to Las Vegas.”

It was a cool morning by Las Vegas standards with the temperature hovering

around 100 degrees when Garner left the clubhouse and walked across the paddock to her

car of the day.

“I remember thinking it was much smaller than the Miata,” said Garner, and it has

half the weight. But then there is that huge engine. I remember feeling a grin all across

my face and thinking ‘This is mine’. And then, things got real intense.


“That thing was a rocket. I didn’t move the throttle more than two or three

degrees and my body was jerked back like the way a plane takes off – but multiplied by a

hundred. And I just yelled ‘Wow! This thing can go!’ It was such an amazing car.”

And when the day was done, and she finally rolled in for her last pit stop, “the

grin was real wide and it didn’t leave. I loved sky diving and the thrill of leaving the

security of the airplane and stepping off into the unknown.

“But the Formula 1 was a million times more fun than sky diving.”

Roger Witherspoon

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