Recently, Road and Track outlined just how batshit crazy expensive maintenance on a supercar is. I decided to challenge their assertions by sitting down with an actual supercar owner, YouTube personality, and die-hard car guy Rob Dahm to see what he thought about his expensive investment.
Cars are a pretty expensive hobby in general, whether you own a $500 LeMons racer or an $18 Million Le Mans-winning vintage Ferrari. While I do have a wide range of vehicles that I've owned in my portfolio , I've never had something truly exotic. Enter Rob Dahm, living proof that the harder and smarter you work, the luckier you tend to be. He owns his dream car - A 2001 Lamborghini Diablo VT 6.0 - along with two heavily modified FD Mazda RX-7s, a daily-driven Cadillac CTS, and a rusty '60s-era Lincoln Continental.
About a year ago, he crashed his Lamborghini, but got it fixed with willpower, determination, and about $26,000 from some kind-hearted insurance adjusters. I caught up with him while he was replacing the spark plugs in his car, getting ready for an event, and I asked him a few questions about what it's really like to own not only an exotic supercar, but his childhood hero.
Tavarish: First things first: is owning an exotic car batshit crazy expensive?
Rob: I think the most important thing that people don't realize is that it's not that the car's expensive, it's that everything else becomes a bit less expensive in your mind. When everyone is like "Holy shit, it's 12 spark plugs, it's this amount of coolant or oil", I just think that I chose that path buying this car, it's my current status quo, so when I go to get a brake rotor for a regular car like my Cadillac CTS, I'm like "Wow, that's actually really cheap". You kind of appreciate the cost of a normal car instead of saying "Oh my god, this is so expensive". Your frame of mind changes a little bit, and it's something most people don't usually think about.
I've had the Diablo for 3 years now, so I think I've gotten through a lot of its life cycle, and that car is a great example because everybody assumes that it's like the old Diablos, where those were truly Italian, raw and irreplaceable. The other thing that everybody always talks about, and has a little bit of a misconception on is the clutch.
"Oh, did you have to replace the clutch?!" That's the second most common question I get, second to "What do you do for a living?" Your mind goes through a process when you're financing or buying a car that expensive - you still put aside the same percentage of the purchase price for maintenance, but it's not like "I bought this car, and now it's $20 million in service". It's a little bit more than your average car, but it's relevant to the car.
Tavarish: Let's say someone just sold their company for half a million dollars and wants to buy their dream car. What advice would you have for a exotic car newbie as far as maintenance goes?
Rob: There's instantly two numbers in my mind, I felt it when I first bought it, and I can verify it now that I've owned it for awhile. There's the amount you have to do, and there's the amount that you should do. If you're in the exotic car world, and you're going to finance it because you're younger, the case tends to be that if you're like me, you're cheap. So what you end up doing is the middle ground between the two.
For example, the tires on this thing - I did not want to replace them anytime soon. This was actually a quote from a guy at one of the tire places: "You have a Lamborghini, you can afford to spend more!" No, I have a Lamborghini because I spend less on everything else. They quoted me $2700 for all 4 tires, and I said "Hell no", so I ran them as long as I could and that seemed to be a bit of my downfall and the reason why she was in the shop for 9 months. The interesting thing is the shop's cost on those tires is $1300. I got them for $1500, but it only works when you know somebody that can give you that deal. That's much more reasonable.
But the number that you have to spend on maintenance, at least on this car, about $1000 a year, and that's not bad at all. What you need to do is budget it closer to $2 grand every year and roll over what you don't spend to the next year.
Tavarish: So far, what's the most expensive thing you've had to do?
Rob: The tires, by far are the most expensive thing on this car I've had to do. For example, I just did another oil change - 15 quarts of oil, oil filter, my own labor, it was $120 in parts. The spark plugs, 12 of them, 8 bucks apiece, ended up being $100-something. Anything related to wheels and brakes, that shit's expensive. So I would say hands down it's disproportionately higher on your suspension and rotating mass. This is your choice as an owner, but Lamborghini quoted me $800 for brake pads. Brake. Pads. And you can go to the aftermarket world, which is what I feel comfortable doing, but some people, when they buy brand new cars, they want to have service records, and all that sort of stuff. That's not for me, I'm driving this because I'm going to own it for the rest of my life.
Tavarish: Are you in this for an investment, or is it more of a "This is my baby" hero car type thing?
Rob: I lucked out and it's technically both. I purchased it for my second-grade-version-of-me's obsession. I've wanted this car my whole life. The depreciation really stalled around the time I bought it and the economy was in a shittier spot, so the only ones I see for sale now are $20 grand more than my 2001. I basically paid an extra $40 grand to get this one versus spending $100,000 to one of the older ones, and the older ones - I've got a couple friends with them - and they're rough. You almost think that they're kit cars. I mean, they're beautiful, don't get me wrong, but comparatively, they've improved greatly over the years.
Quick aside: Rob's car was purchased for around $140,000, 3 years ago. Now, the same year, make and model is selling at more than double that. Who needs a stock market with a profit like this?
Rob: People kept asking me when the Road & Track article came out "What would you do if the engine blew?" From whispers on the street, I've heard that replacing the whole engine - if the whole engine grenaded and threw a piston or something like that - it would be $60,000, but the chance of that catastrophic failure is very, very slim. But it could occur, but it's much more likely on the RX-7s, where it's a smaller percentage of discretionary income, where you think "Ah, I didn't want to replace that block, but I can." The Lambo engine, on the other hand, would probably sit for a little until I saved up the cash.
Tavarish: Do you really save much money doing the work yourself?
Rob: I wouldn't have been able to speak from experience on that until I had the shop do all the repairs on the car. A shop's gotta make money, and especially when they're good, the hourly rate is going to be higher. I'm in the IT business, and we do hourly rates, so I completely understand it. The problem is that when they're a for-profit business, they're not going to put the level of love and detail into their work as you will, even though it's a high end car. There were things that I saw - they were trying to get to a sensor and they snapped the bracket that holds the sensor, whereas if it was yours, you would gently pry it, you would try different a different angle because you don't want to spend money replacing that. There were things I saw on this car that made it clear that the shop was a business at that point. For a person like me or you, it's a passion. And no disrespect to them, but that's why I like working on the cars myself, especially RX-7s, because the number of hours you're going to spend on it, if you were being charged $70 an hour, the amount of money you'd spend just wouldn't make sense.
When I had the shop work on the car, there were quite a few times when we were fact checking, where they treated me well, but just like if you're not in the medical field and you need some medical work done - they might be sloppy, try to run tests that might not necessarily be needed, and cut corners - the same goes for the shop. There were a couple of times where we went head to head, but not in a bad way. But yeah, absolutely, you save a lot of money, but it's not even the saving of the money that's important, but the attention to detail when you do it yourself.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.