Yes, that’s right! Friday has come around again, and that means it’s time for a new round of Letters to Doug, your favorite weekly Jalopnik column that features the answers to questions you never really cared to ask.
And don’t forget: you, too, can participate in Letters to Doug. Just send me an e-mail at Letters2Doug@gmail.com with your automotive question. And don’t worry about your privacy: all names are changed to protect the question asker, in case he wants to know something stupid like “Should I buy a used Mitsubishi i-MiEV?”
Today’s question comes to us from a reader I’ve named Jimmy, who lives in upstate New York. Jimmy writes:
Since you are someone who daily drove a Ferrari, which I know all about because I have read your columns here on Jalopnik and follow you on Twitter, I thought you would be the right person to ask this question.
When seeing an exotic on the street, what is the best way to approach the owner to engage in some discussion about his or her car? Or maybe that question should be “Is there a good way, to approach the owner of an exotic on the street?”
One side of me says, “Hey, they drive a flamboyant car, so of course they want it to be noticed and want people to engage them about it. But they other side of me says, “Stop, this isn’t a car show where people are looking to have discussions about the random idiosyncrasies of their pride and joy, this person just wants to pick up their dry cleaning and be left alone like the rest of us.”
I ask because I live in a small, upstate NY town which borders the Berkshires and there is a large weekend population. That population brings with it a good amount of money and sometimes interesting cars. So, while exotics are not super frequent like they would be in the Hamptons, they do occasionally show up.
As someone who enjoys cars, I want to acknowledge what they have, but don’t want to come off like a bumbling 7th grader and give a thumbs up with a goofy smile saying “Cool car, man!”. Should I just abandon the idea and let them get their dry cleaning, or is there a polite way to engage one of these individuals, where I can acknowledge what they have is unique, but not sound like a weird car stalker.
For those of you who don’t wish to read Jimmy’s letter, allow me to sum it up for you: he’s asking for advice on the best way to approach an exotic car owner. And my answer is: you crouch down to their eye level, and you hold out your hand so they can smell you, and then, if they walk over, you give them a nice pat on the head and a rub between the legs.
Ha ha! Just kidding! That is how you approach a bichon frise.
Interestingly, however, an exotic car owner isn’t much different. Not in the sense that you must crouch down, or hold out your hand, or rub them, although I am told this will work rather well in some parts of Miami. But rather because you must be vary careful, or else they will get upset and potentially growl at you.
Here’s what I’ve learned about approaching exotic car owners: the newer the car, the less you want to approach the person. I’ll give you an example. If you see some guy filling up his 1978 Ferrari 308 at a gas station, he’s an enthusiast. He wants to chat. He loves his car, and he loves Ferrari, and he loves vehicles in general, and he would be more than happy to oblige your interest for a few minutes, and possibly even show you his gated shifter.
On the other hand, if you see a guy in a brand-new 458, you can’t be so sure. Oh, sure, many 458 owners are huge automotive enthusiasts who would love to say hello and chat about their cars. But many more are the wealthy sons of the guy who invented the lined notecard, or something, and they merely view the 458 as a “lifestyle accessory,” sort of like how you view having an iPod.
As a general rule, then, I never approach anyone in a modern exotic. The sole exception to this is the Ferrari FF, whose drivers will be so happy that someone – anyone – noticed their vehicle that they may offer you a glimpse inside, a ride around the block, a photo behind the wheel, a piece of their estate, etc. Meanwhile, I always approach people in older exotics, and older cars in general, just to say hi, tell them I like their car, and – if they’re driving something British – offer my jumper cables.
But what about that weird in-between period that covers the 1990s and 2000s, where the owner could be a car enthusiast, or he could be a guy who uses more hair gel than shower soap? What do you do then?
Here’s my strategy: you approach them, but you ask them something about the car that only an enthusiast would know.
I’ll give you an example: when I owned my 360, getting gas was the single most annoying thing in human history, because people would come up to me and say stuff like: WANNA TRADE? MY TOYOTA ECHO FOR YOUR FERRARI? HAHAHAHA! HEY WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
But every so often, someone would come up to me and say: “Is that a stick or an F1?” Now, this is an entirely different type of person. This is someone who knows cars, someone who’s an enthusiast, someone who might have a discussion with me that goes beyond “HOW MUCH DID THAT THING COST?!?!”. So I would get all intrigued, and I would talk to this person, and I’d be all excited, until someone else walked up and said: “IS THIS THING REAL?!”
For further proof of this approach’s success, allow me to tell you a story that happened to me in real life, approximately seven years ago. I was 20, and I was in college, and I got up behind a guy in Atlanta who was driving a Ferrari Boxer near my school. Now, people, when you see a 458, you point at and tell your passenger that it looks cool. When you see a Boxer, you freak out like a PCP addict.
So I freaked out, and I followed the guy a bit, and after about three minutes he turned into his driveway. So I pulled up, and I rolled down my window, and I could see he had this look on his face like: “What does this freak want?” And so I opened with: “Hey! Is that a 365 Boxer or a 512?” Well, guess what? I’ve never seen a person’s demeanor change so quickly. He invited me out of my car and showed me every little detail on his Boxer for as long as I wanted to chat.
I suspect I wouldn’t have gotten such a positive response if I had asked “HOW MUCH’D THAT THING COST YA?”. But maybe he would’ve had the same reaction if I had given him a nice pat on the head and a rub between the legs.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.