King for a Day: How to Drive $1 Million Worth of Exotic Cars

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — Ever had the keys to a $300,000 Lamborghini dropped into your lap and told, you know, to take it around the block? And while you’re at it, how do you like the looks of that red Ferrari F430?

Dream cars: Most of us have at least one automotive ideal that we simply must drive in our lifetime. And unless you’re a famous comedian who goes by Jay or Jerry, opportunities are few on the ground.

Enter a new breed of outfit that charges customers an affordable fee to pilot a bunch of exotics in a single day. (It’s less of a commitment and cheaper than a membership in one of the car clubs.)

So I find myself in an uber-exotic Lamborghini Murcielago, which has scissor doors and looks like an alien fighter spaceship. The thrum of its insane V-12 engine is jangling through my bones. Car reviewer that I am, I still gotta admit: This is awfully cool.

I’ve signed up for the half-day program with World Class Driving, which has provided $1 million or so of foreign hardware to test out.

The price? A very reasonable $1,295, especially considering the five cars include two Lambos, a Ferrari, and a 604- horsepower Mercedes. (Insurance is included, with a $5,000 deductible.)

The cars are tested on public roads, and for today’s program the eight guest drivers meet at West Point, New York. WCD doesn’t start its drives from a single location; rather it goes on “tour” around the country, putting the cars in trailers. (See the company’s Web site for the schedule.) This year it will organize about 100 drive days in places ranging from New York to Texas to California.

Legal Speeds

Personally I’d prefer to carve up a race track with these sinful machines, a program that other companies do provide (I’ll try one next year). Yet driving exotics at legal speeds, which the company insists on, has a considerable upside.

It’s a chance for those without track experience — that is, most of the world — to test out high-performance cars in a less fraught environment. (Concentrating on not cracking up a half-million-dollar car on regular roads is worrisome enough; get it up to 120 miles per hour on the track and you’ll welcome the everyday stress of your job.)

After all, the company’s current fleet includes rare specimens such as the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, which costs nearly a half mil, or the new Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, which accelerates to 124 mph in 11 seconds.

Tight Leash

Yet as I sit in a briefing room in a West Point hotel listening to WCD partner Jean Paul Libert explain the rules, I have my reservations. Guest drivers are sandwiched between a lead and a sweeper vehicle piloted by company employees, so the supercars are effectively corralled. No flaunting all that horsepower today.

Also, several of the more interesting cars, such as the Ferrari 599 and the SLR McLaren, are being used at another event in Napa Valley, California. Instead we were given a Mercedes SL65 AMG (a V-12 with 604 horses), a canary-yellow Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder ($200,000-plus and 520 hp) and a Bentley GTC ($200,000-plus and 552 hp), which seems out of place among the faster, more svelte cars.

My first ride of the day is in the Ferrari F430, which has its V-8 engine mounted under glass behind the cockpit. As soon as I punch the red start button on the steering wheel, my reservations take flight. Any day in a Ferrari is a good day.

Then, like a chainsaw in a horror movie, the Murcielago’s engine rips through the quiet Saturday afternoon, making the noise from the other four exotics sound positively timid.

This will be a very good day.

Back Roads

Watching people watch the caravan of “Miami Vice”-worthy supercars is entertainment in itself, especially as the company sticks to winding back roads to avoid congestion. The area around New Paltz, New York, doesn’t see a lot of Lamborghinis.

The pace driver, in a Dodge Charger, spirits along the winding roads at a nice clip and I drop back, downshift and accelerate into curves, pinning my passenger’s noggin to the seat back. Crockett and Tubbs have got nothing on us.

After 30 minutes, guest drivers and their passengers (who get to ride along all day for an extra $250 fee) switch cars. Customers include a young lady in a pencil skirt and high heels and married lawyers who are treating their teenage son to a thrill (as a passenger).

One fellow chugs along in the Murcielago, never breaking a steady 45 mph (of course, I’m stuck behind him). No pressure from the WCD crew, though. Their easygoing natures defuse anxieties.

In all, we put in more than 220 miles, and the drive lasts almost five hours.

European Import

For 12 years, Libert ran a similar company in Europe before bringing it to the U.S. in 2006. During that time, he forged relationships with exotic-car dealers, as it can be next to impossible to buy a supercar even with cash in hand. Other staff members include Didier Theys, a race driver who’s won at Daytona and raced the Indy 500 a number of times.

Libert says the goal is to update the fleet continually with the hottest new cars. In 2008, it plans to add the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera, the new Ferrari 430 Scuderia and the Audi R8. (The price will go up incrementally to $1,495.)

I test-drive cars every week, yet just the like rest of our group, by the end of the day I’m ebullient. There’s nothing like looking in the sensuously sculpted side mirror of a Ferrari and seeing two Lamborghinis peeking out behind you.

And the sound of the Murcielago’s engine when you pointlessly drop it a gear and charge up a hill? I think I’d ante up $1,295 just for that.

For WCD’s schedule, see

(Jason Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)