This guest blog post is by Kristin Shaw.
You can hear the car before you step into it…a quarter million dollars’ worth of Italian engineering is warming up to the task ahead, seeming to protest loudly before settling into a content purr. The sleek lines of the vehicle attract me like a magnet, and I am in awe as I lower myself into the smooth leather seat, close to the ground.
Pulling onto the access road and then the highway, I feel a slight jerk as the car settles into second gear, third gear, fourth gear. The faster I drive, the smoother it rides.
“The Ferrari is happiest at 3-4 RPM,” Jacob tells me from the passenger seat. “You’ll feel it adjust.”
I had worn high wedges for the pre-drive photo shoot, but I switched into flat sandals with the idea that I want to feel the power of the automobile as close to me as possible. It proves to be a wise decision as I press my foot to the floor on the on-ramp to the new toll road, near the Lone Star Exotic Rentals office south of Austin.
The Ferrari takes flight, hitting 100 miles an hour without a blink. A mile or two into the highway portion of the drive, I push it a little faster, glancing at the speedometer kissing 120 before I slow it back down to a respectable 90 and exit the toll toad to tackle the curvy back roads.
Handling this gorgeous automobile is surprisingly easy, and no other music is needed from the radio; the sound of the engine is enough to keep me focused and alert. Inside the car, though, I feel the gears shifting more than I hear them. It’s quiet enough for a normal-decibel-level conversation to take place inside the car.
This particular Ferrari F430 is equipped with both automatic and paddle shift transmission, and I try both. I had mentioned to Jacob, the co-owner of Lone Star Exotics, that I hadn’t driven a manual transmission for about ten years; the last time was in a Winston Cup car on the Atlanta Motor Speedway. I had nothing to worry about, as the paddle shift is ingenious – listen for the whine of the engine asking you to shift, and gently push the right paddle to increase the gear. It’s as easy as riding a ten-speed bicycle.
I asked Jacob if customers get nervous on the drive and he said, “Absolutely. People shake and sweat and are afraid to touch anything sometimes.” I admitted that I had been nervous up until the moment I stepped into the car and placed my foot on the gas. After that, it was as if I was driving any other car. Any other car, that is, times one hundred.
Lone Star Exotic Rentals is new to Austin, open for business as of January 1 this year. The co-owners, Jacob and Justin, met in Denver when Justin was running a company focused on car detailing. Exotic drives were on the side and Jacob was a customer. Jacob said, “I pushed and persuaded my way in as an employee instead of a customer, and together we decided to drop the detail part of the business and focus on the drives.”
There is no competition for the exotic car rental business in Austin, which suits them just fine. “Most markets can’t support more than one company like ours,” Jacob told me. “Austin is the perfect size for us, and the weather is conducive to business more days of the year [as opposed to Denver].”
Car fanatics as kids, Jacob and Justin spent all of their money and time working on their cars. Justin speaks wistfully of the first car he ever loved – a 1992 Fox body Mustang. “In our circle of friends, anyone smoking pot would have gotten the snot beat out of him,” Justin remembers of his high school days. “We were passionate about cars and we didn’t take them for granted, which means we would not have dreamed of drinking and driving.” Or texting and driving, as it might be today.
Their passion for cars shines through in every step of their business. Customers checking in at the front door are greeted with a friendly handshake and hello, and paperwork is dispatched quickly and painlessly. There are the required waivers and forms, but Justin explained them to me simply and honestly, and the process is even – dare I say it? – fun. One item gives me pause and I have to stop and think about it. “This item says that you understand you are undertaking a risky activity, and you could even die,” Justin tells me and the other customer in the room.
Indeed, if you heed the advice of Jacob and Justin while you’re in the car, your risk factor is decreased drastically. Jacob tells me of a customer who earned himself a ticket after speeding through a residential area, against Jacob’s advice. “We tell every customer, ‘If you want to speed, fine, but it’s on you,’” Justin says.
The owners of Lone Star Exotics know the area and the cars as well as they know themselves. One of them sits in the passenger seat with the customer on every one-hour ride experience and, while that might turn some off, they believe that those are the customers they don’t want anyway. “Our goal is to make this pleasurable and fun,” Justin says. “Some exotic rentals give you 15 miles and if you’re stuck in traffic the whole time, too bad. We are in the car with you to help you make the most of it. We can tell you where it’s safe to let out the throttle, and where you need to pull it in. We’ll help you avoid roads that could cause damage to the car. We’ll encourage you to really drive the car the way it’s meant to be driven.”
While fifty percent of their customers are women, Jacob and Justin estimate that only about five percent of the actual drivers are women. Most are purchasing a drive as a gift to their husbands, fathers, or boyfriends, and don’t buy it for themselves. The reality is that there are more male car fans than female car fans, Jacob believes. “Car guys are everywhere, but car girls are hard to find.” It’s possible that women are intimidated by the gadget factor. Back in the day, an Italian sportscar was as difficult to wrangle as a longhorn steer. The Ferrari has come a long way since the stripped-down version rolled out of Italy all those years ago. Now, the controls are smooth and simple, and anyone can drive it.
Lone Star Exotics also has a Dodge Viper SRT-10 (Jacob’s dream car), a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and a Lamborghini Gallardo in the fleet. The Lamborghini is a gearhead’s dream: muscle-bound and gritty. Driving the Lamborghini is like “taking a tiger by the tail,” Jacob says. (Note to self: try that one next time.) It’s a car girl’s dream come true, talking about cars while driving an ultimate machine. I relish the looks from other drivers as the Ferrari speeds past.
Near the end of the drive, Jacob directs me to pull into a local business to switch drivers. “Do you trust me?” he says. I settle into the passenger seat and he whips around the U-turn on the access road, letting it fishtail just slightly as la macchina adjusts quickly to the skid. I laugh out loud and am grinning widely as we fly down the road back to the Lone Star headquarters. It reminds me of pumping my legs and swinging as high as I can on the swingset at school – weightlessness and that kid-like feeling of taking on the world.
So where ARE the other “car girls” out there like me? After driving a Ferrari, I felt like a more-accomplished driver stepping back into my 12 year old Range Rover. I checked a box on my bucket list. And I can’t wait for the next drive. There is nothing to be nervous about and the experience is not intimidating, but exhilarating. You don’t even have to nudge the speedometer past 100 to feel the pure joy and adrenaline of driving a car that fewer than 0.001 percent of the population owns and drives on a regular basis.
Do yourself a favor and follow Lone Star Exotics on Facebook to keep your eye out for special deals and reduced rates during the week.
READERS! A special deal: $150 off all one-hour rentals from Lone Star Exotic Rentals if you reserve via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and use the code “Two Cannoli.” Go! (This translates to half price on the Ferrari drive and less than half price on the Lamborghini: a steal.)
Kristin is the mother of a sweet 2 year old boy and wife to a 6th-generation Texan, living in Austin, Texas. Loves: family, airplanes, airports, classic cars, sports, Italy, and dessert – not necessarily in that order. You can reach her via Twitter @AustinKVS or via her blog, TwoCannoli.com.
Many thanks to Megan Ortiz of Mean-Baby.com for taking photos of the dream drive. Check out her blog – she’s great and she named her daughter Pistol, which is just cool. And very Texan.