Fantasy 5

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If money is no object, objects assume increased value by virtue of their “wow” factor. Objects make an impression. Be honest, now. Few who choose expensive items do so to admire them in privacy. They must be seen to be appreciated as a reflection of the owner’s taste and, yes, status. They go way beyond […]


If money is no object, objects assume increased value by virtue of their “wow” factor. Objects make an impression.

Be honest, now. Few who choose expensive items do so to admire them in privacy. They must be seen to be appreciated as a reflection of the owner’s taste and, yes, status. They go way beyond “need” and into the realm of serious “want.” And the special few who want them—and buy them—join exclusive clubs of the knowledgeable who share their acquisition.

So it is with vehicles.

Need is satisfied with production vehicles you’ll see at every stoplight. Want finds satisfaction in an owner’s never seeing his or her vehicle’s twin on the road. Here, then, are five vehicles anyone who dreams about the ultimate car would surely want. Most are expensive; some have waiting lists of buyers.

But they’re each worth whatever it takes to acquire one, to drive it publicly, to feel the admiration of all and the peer acknowledgment of a special few.

Arguably, the most desirable car in the world today is the Bugatti Veyron 16.4. There will be only 300 made and sold worldwide—very exclusive. You can order one, which will be made to your exact physical requirements, for $1.4 million. What you’ll be buying is the fastest and most expensive production car in history.

Behind the two seats inside a Bugatti Veyron 16.4 are two V8 engines joined at a 90-degree angle to pump 1,001 horsepower through a seven-speed automatic transmission delivering power to all four wheels. This power rockets the Veyron from zero to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to a precise 252.3 mph.

From that top speed, a Veyron will return to a standstill in 10 seconds. It’s said to be so stable under braking that a driver can take his or her hands off the steering wheel. Even the handbrake has ABS. If you must ask, it gets about five miles per gallon of premium gasoline around town.

Should your Bugatti Veyron have a problem, a mechanic flies in from France to fix it within 24 hours. This car is named for French racing driver Pierre Veyron, by the way, who won the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1939 while racing a Bugatti.

A few have been sold. Tom Cruise drove his to the premiere of his newest Mission: Impossible movie (and had a hard time opening the passenger door for Katie). Fashion designer Ralph Lauren bought a black one. And the wife of former VW president Ferdinand Piech wanted number 007—and got it.

A side note: Volkswagen AG owns Bugatti and says it loses $8 million on every Veyron sold. But features pioneered in the Veyron will benefit more pedestrian cars and makes the investment worthwhile, VW says.

There are 20 dealerships worldwide where a Bugatti Veyron 16.4 can be ordered. Braman Motors in Miami is the closest. They’re at 2020 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami; contact them at (305) 571-1200.

Come way down in price, but not in desirability, and put in your order for a Tesla roadster.

Tesla is a new American automaker, a start-up company that perfected the electric car and named it after the genius of electrical inventor Nicola Tesla. Financial backing for Tesla Motors has been provided from the deep pockets of the men who founded Google and PayPal. They believe.

The first customer was actor George Clooney. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, no doubt embarrassed that he once drove one of the planet’s worst vehicles, the Hummer, has hopped aboard the Tesla bandwagon. And the first year’s production of 100 sold out in the first four months. Four hundred deposits have been taken for these cars, which won’t hit the road in sizable numbers until the end of this year. If you order one today, you can expect delivery sometime in 2008, Tesla says.

What makes it so special? It shows what General Motors might have been able to do with electric cars if a serious effort had been made. GM gave electrics a terrible reputation with its pathetic EV model—no power and no range. A recent documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?, blisters GM.

The Tesla, with an electric motor the size of a watermelon sitting behind the driver, blasts from zero to 60 in four seconds. It can go 200 miles before its lithium-ion batteries need recharging (and a mobile charger is standard). There’s a two-speed automatic transmission, but you can outblast Corvettes and Vipers using just second gear.

If it were gas-powered, its equivalent fuel economy would be 135 mpg. That takes into account all the oil used to produce the electricity a Tesla uses to charge batteries. Driving a Tesla costs an owner about one cent a mile.

There are no exhaust pipes because there’s no exhaust. No pollution. There’s also no engine noise, so Tesla is working hard to eliminate noises in the suspension that drivers have never heard before.

“We foresee a day when all cars run on electric power and when people will struggle to remember a time when a love of driving came with a side order of guilt,” Tesla says on its Web site.

Indeed, Tesla is planning to manufacture a more traditional sedan that will seat four, and hopes to significantly lower the price of electrics, matching gas-powered models some day.

You want to get on the list now? Order from www.teslamotors.com and put $50,000 down toward a final base price of $92,000.

Trivia question: What automaker won the grueling 24 Hours of LeMans this past year? And the year before? What automaker won the 12 Hours of Sebring this year? What can tromp Ferraris and Porsches and Saleens and makes almost no noise as it rockets past them?

An Audi with a diesel engine.

The diesel Audi rules the racing world today. You can’t get that diesel just yet, but the aerodynamic styling of Audi’s racer hit the market this summer as the Audi R8. It’s a head-turner, to be sure. And at $109,000, this is a supercar bargain. Think of it as an Audi TT on steroids.

The R8 is mid-engined with a V8 powerplant behind the passenger compartment. It also uses Audi’s Quattro drive system, sending power to all four wheels. This is exactly what the “father” of the Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntov, said the Corvette should be by now in one of his last interviews. Alas, the front-engine, rear-drive ‘Vette hasn’t evolved to its full potential.

The R8 is being made in a special small-lot production facility adjacent to the Audi plant in Neckarsulm, Germany. Specialized teams attend to the construction of every part of each car, producing no more than 20 a day.

That V8 gas-sucker pumps out 420 horsepower, good to accelerate an R8 from zero to 60 in 4.6 seconds. It’s a high-revving unit, too, with a maximum 8,250 rpm. The sound is like a racecar’s.

Two transmissions are available, a manual six-speed or automatic with shifters on the steering wheel or the center console. The steering wheel’s paddle shifters are the same as those used in the LeMans-dominating Audi.

The suspension setup on the ground-hugging R8 is unique. Audi employs what is called magnetorheological fluid in its shock absorbers. That’s a fancy word meaning this fluid can change viscosity by applying an electromagnetic field. Like those sunglasses that darken when ultraviolet light strikes them, these shock absorbers stiffen or soften when variable, computer-controlled voltage is applied to them.

Want to go fast? The computer realizes that, and stiffens the ride for better handling. Want to cruise the beach? The computer commands a soft ride. It takes milliseconds for the computer to make up its mind and send a signal.

It’s the six-speed that sells for $109,000. The automatic begins at $118,000.

The best news of all? Audi is planning to put a V-12 turbodiesel engine in the R8 in 2008. This will be, by far, the fastest production diesel in the world, with a zero to 60 time under four seconds.

Get real. Two-seat sports cars are fine for a single person, but what about someone with a family? And what about the green person who loves the globe, doesn’t want to exceed interstate speed limits, doesn’t enjoying blowing dollar bills out a tailpipe?

Can we get practical here? What if a buyer wants luxury and status with a side serving of practicality? Mercedes-Benz, that consummate maker of status vehicles, has just such a car. It’s the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec.

Any time now, this Bluetec diesel will be joined by the C220 Bluetec, beginning a return to the time when about half of all Mercedes-Benz models were diesel-powered, before GM sullied the diesel’s reputation with a million failed Oldsmobiles and others. Mercedes-Benz said it will follow the E and C-class diesels with new diesel offerings in the R-, M- and GL-class models. Look for those next year.

Also look for diesels from Audi and VW, if not others, as 2008 models. In a matter of years, forecasters say, diesel-powered cars will go from 2 percent of all cars in America today to 15 percent.

The E320 has a V6 turbodiesel producing 208 horsepower and 388 foot-pounds of torque. This engine replaces an inline six in previous models, called the E320 CDI.

Bluetec is a word used to describe several technologies that combine to cut exhaust emissions. These are the cleanest diesels ever, even meeting future standards through 2015. They run on the new low-sulfur fuel now in use in the United States, and they’re more earth-friendly than gas-powered vehicles.

But it’s the C220 that’s most inviting to those who love the planet and worry about global warming and the decline of polar bears. Here’s a Mercedes that can deliver 43 miles to the gallon in solid comfort. It will have 170 horsepower, plenty for any sane person.

A DaimlerChrysler chairman said Mercedes’ diesels address saving fuel and decreasing the emissions that threaten global disaster if not checked. “We believe our state-of-the-art diesel concept is currently the best and most efficient solution available,” he said.

You can have your E320 diesel today ($51,550) and get mileage in the mid-30s, or order the C220 (estimated to begin about $35,000) and ring up 43 mpg tomorrow. Whichever, the world will thank you—for driving a Mercedes-Benz!

The world is a scary place today. There’s all this anti-American sentiment out there, and talk of renewed and increasing terrorism on the home front. Some people with tribal instincts and lots of petroleum don’t understand why we want democratic rule everywhere. They get downright violent toward us.

We need protection. We need a go-anywhere, anytime, through- anything vehicle that can seat a family in great comfort.

It’s ready today. Order a Range Rover Vogue.

It will cost you more than your run-of-the-mill Land Rover, but this one will bring hoots of derision from your family after a grenade explodes under it. It can keep you safe even while a terrorist empties a machine gun from 10 feet away. A Glock 9mm with hollow points is nothing to the Vogue. This is an armored, specially protected Land Rover model.

It joins a history of vehicles armored to protect the powerful and wealthy. Some say Mercedes-Benz wrote the first chapter in the 1920s with a special armored Mercedes for Emperor Hirohito. But, in fact, Rolls-Royce was armoring cars in World War I. Lawrence of Arabia dumped his camel for an armored Rolls-Royce as he fought the Turks.

Today, armored Mercedes-Benz models (the S-600) are still available, as are some from BMW. A new, armored Rolls-Royce Phantom ($525,471) just hit the market, and Jaguar has introduced an armored XJ long wheelbase (about $400,000 and able to withstand a roadside bomb attack from three feet away).

But only the Range Rover Vogue can go just about anywhere to escape attackers. “In an attack, the Range Rover Vogue’s armor and its go-anywhere ability can literally mean the difference between life and death,” Land Rover says in a press release. Further, “Fully armored, it has been designed to resist attack from machine gun or hand grenade, while its four-wheel drive chassis and off-road ground clearance allow a quick getaway from attack or ambush. Unlike conventional armored limousines, the Range Rover Vogue Security Vehicle can be driven across all terrains, including unforgiving urban obstacles like high curbs or even steep steps. Its broad-shouldered strength also allows it to be driven at and through obstacles such as gates or even walls.”

Now that’s a vehicle in which to face Armageddon.

The Vogue is available in four levels of increasing protection. Even the lowest level would allow your family to safely ride out a hurricane while being shot at by a mad gunman wielding two pistols. The top model laughs off an AK-47 being fired from 10 feet away.

The cheapest Range Rover survival sport ute is $148,500. A top-protection model is $263,100. And, yes, these vehicles are being sold.

“It’s not that there’s a massive panic,” a Range Rover spokesman said, “but the world isn’t getting any safer.”

You’ll love the options. James Bond would love the options. For $1,250 you can get electric-shocking door handles. A road tack dispensing system to stop those tailing you is $1,250. The same money will buy a smoke screen system. Pay $995 and you get dual ram bumpers that let you push the bad guy into Sarasota Bay. The sport ute can seal tightly and dispense oxygen in case you come under gas attack.

The Boy Scouts teach us to “Be Prepared.” “Prepared for anything” could be this Range Rover’s motto.

Southwest Florida’s Robert Bowden has written about cars for the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune, as well as for his own award-winning Web site The Car Place, which was named a Forbes Best of the Web selection in 2002.