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$500 Puts You in the Driver's Seat of a Fantasy

June 16, 1989|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Your old college roommate--the one who ignored your advice to open a chain of disco clubs and is now a multimillionaire health club magnate--is throwing a major shindig in Coto de Caza. You have a big date and you have to get there in style.

You could drive your Volkswagen Rabbit, but somehow the occasion calls for more of a statement.

For a mere $500 you can cruise in with a Rolls-Royce. For $350, a Ferrari 328 GTS will get you the kind of respect you deserve. If you must be practical, $149.99 will allow you to roll in at the wheel of a BMW convertible.

Several Orange County car rental companies are now renting luxury cars by the day, along with the standard Fords and Pontiacs. Avon Rent-A-Car of Newport Beach rents Rolls-Royces for $349 a day, plus 95 cents a mile, and Porsches for $259 a day, plus 75 cents a mile. The company also has Mercedes-Benzes, Ferraris and a Shelby Cobra.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers Cadillacs and Volvo 740s, and Executive Rent-A-Car has BMWs and Cadillacs.

But perhaps the largest local collection of what the industry calls exotic cars is available through Budget Rent-A-Car at Le Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach, which three weeks ago began trading luxury cars with Budget Rent-A-Car of Beverly Hills.

Among the fancy wheels are: Ferrari Testarossa, Bentley Eight, Cadillac, Jaguar XJ6, Lotus Esprit Turbo, BMW, Rolls-Royce Corniche, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Range Rover. Convertibles include Corvettes, Mazdas and Nissan 300ZXs. The company has more than 400 autos in its luxury line, called the "Car Collection," that can be rented for a day or longer.

"During the weekends these things have been going like crazy," says Joe Molina, spokesman for Budget Rent-A-Car. "It's kind of a rent-a-fantasy type thing. We call it the Walter Mitty syndrome.

"There are a lot of people who want to live like royalty on the weekends but might not be able to afford the $207,000 it takes to buy a Rolls--and people who think they're Magnum P.I. and want to cruise down Coast Highway in a Ferrari."

Dorothy Bisaha of Tustin plans to feed her husband's fantasy of taking off in an eye-popper by renting a $500-a-day red Rolls- Royce Corniche as a Father's Day present.

"It's always been a fantasy of my husband's to drive down Coast Highway in a Rolls-Royce with the baby in the back seat," says the 31-year-old mother of a toddler. "It's definitely a splurge. I've never done anything this extravagant before. Ordinarily, if I were going to blow the budget it would be for something we'd buy, not rent. But this is for him."

The most difficult part isn't the cost, she adds. "It's trying to figure out what to wear with it."

According to John Peterson, director of marketing for Budget Rent-A-Car in Orange County, the fantasy renter constitutes about a third of Budget's market.

"During prom season our phone rang off the hook," he says, adding that the age requirement is 21 years for most luxury cars and 25 years for a Rolls or Ferrari. "Unfortunately, they are a little too young to rent a $70,000 vehicle."

The other renters are tourists and business people who want to impress clients.

As for tourists, they are easily tempted by luxury, says Peterson.

"People are in town, they need a car and they'd rather rent a 190 Mercedes than a Ford Taurus," he says. "They're on vacation and they have the money in their pocket."

Daily rental prices for Budget's exotic cars range from $59.99 for a Camaro IROC Z28 with 50 free miles to $500 plus $1 a mile for a Rolls-Royce Corniche. Convertible Corvettes rent for $179.99 a day with 50 free miles, BMW 325i convertibles rent for $149 with 50 free miles and Ferraris go for $350 a day and $1 a mile.

Other local companies that rent luxury cars--Avon, Executive and Enterprise--have age and credit card requirements. Some car rental companies have luxury models available occasionally, such as Ferarris at A Select Rent-A-Car in Anaheim. But the Lincoln Town Car is the top of the line at most car rental companies.

Peterson says convertibles are the most popular rentals and Corvettes the hottest style for Budget. The next biggest mover is the BMW 325i convertible.

He says dollar for dollar, renting exotic cars is cheaper than hiring a limousine, which costs about $50 an hour.

"When you put it in those terms, it's not that much money," says Peterson. "And you get the excitement of driving a $70,000 car you might otherwise never have the chance to drive."

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