Budget Ballin'

To hell with the economy! South Florida's lawless exotic rental car industry keeps rolling.

But Lehmann-Haupt did get into the exotic trade on something of a lark. The Riverdale, Bronx native was already a success by the time he was age 25, having sold a financial software company, TruExchange, that he developed as a 20-year-old MIT junior. When he tried to rent a Ferrari and found no companies in New York "worth a phone call," Lehmann-Haupt decided to fill the niche. "I thought this would be a hobby business," he says. "I thought I would pay my apartment rent and maybe make a little cash."

Instead he expanded to South Florida last year and is now eyeing California with the hope of selling the franchise once it becomes a national brand.

But even a Bill Gates-esque business acumen can't make him immune to recession. Recently he has dreamed up some interesting gimmicks. One particularly brazen idea — the Gotham Dream Car Tour — fills the highways of South Florida with adrenaline-giddy, underexperienced exotic drivers topping 100 mph as they hurtle through traffic on a November morning.

Luis Elera claims his exotic car rental business was the first on the crowded airport strip.
Ian Witlen
Luis Elera claims his exotic car rental business was the first on the crowded airport strip.
Strange dealings: It's unclear who owns Biscayne Boulevard's tiny Exoticars.
Laura Massa
Strange dealings: It's unclear who owns Biscayne Boulevard's tiny Exoticars.

It's a simple idea, really, but also a brilliant way to separate customers from $895 without surrendering a vehicle for the night. A flock of drivers goes out with $1.3 million in six exotic cars — Ferraris F430 and 360, Lamborghinis Gallardo and Murciélago, a Maserati Granturismo, and a Mercedes SL65. Escorted by Gotham employees in lead and rear cars, they drive 300 miles of surrounding highway, up and down stretches of I-95 and Florida's Turnpike, with a brief turn into the Everglades. They switch every half-hour until they've each driven them all.

On a recent Thursday, most of the nine drivers tell New Times they were given the tour as an anniversary or birthday present. There's Jorge Reisin, a plastic surgeon whose son Raul, a Botox provider, gave him the tour for his 70th birthday — which you'd never guess from the perfectly unwrinkled, deeply tanned skin stretching around his designer shades. And there's Bentley-driving marketer Sidney Johns, age 27, who is taking the tour not because he's too poor to afford an exotic car, but because, he explains, "I can't drive them all at once!"

The lead car, an Acura, is loaded down with radar scanners and connected to the motorcade by two-way radio. It allows the front driver to warn the others of cops on the road — implicit permission to speed that easily outweighs Lehmann-Haupt's pre-tour pleadings to the contrary.

When he slumps behind the wheel of the Ferrari F430 a couple of hours into the tour, Roland Murillo, a 31-year-old tagging along with Johns, slams the gas in a quest to top his personal mph high. Tapping the paddle shift at the right moment produces a jolting burst from the engine vents that sounds and feels like a jet hitting a new Mach. Other traffic seems to stand still. "We just got up to 160," he declares as he eases the pedal, offering up a sweaty fist to celebrate. His puffy cheeks quiver with adrenaline.

As the cars stream north on I-95 on the way to Delray Beach during one of the tour's last legs, an alarm sounds over the radio: "State trooper! State trooper!"

A roadside lurking cop has evaded lead driver Andy Ward's best efforts. He pulls over both Lamborghinis with a blare of siren and some practiced finger-pointing. Both drivers — plastic surgeon Reisin and a tourist from Georgia named Trent Taylor — were going over 100 mph.

Ward isn't particularly concerned. "I would've thought he'd go with the bright red Ferrari," he says of the cop as he pulls into a rest stop to wait for Reisin and Taylor. "But I guess he's a Lambo guy."

Fifteen minutes later, when the two drivers catch up with the rest of the tour, it is revealed they escaped with only $91 seatbelt tickets. "It could've been a lot worse," Taylor intones. Back in Georgia, he explains, he was arrested and had a motorcycle impounded for doing 135 mph in a 55 zone. His driving rights flashed before his eyes when he saw the trooper's lights.

Their bewildering luck does nothing to dissuade the notion that the cosmos favors the wealthy.

The Monday after Raul Regalado's trawling expedition down Ocean Drive, the Regalado cousins queasily pick at poached eggs in the lobby restaurant of the Ritz. It's 8 o'clock on a Monday morning, and their plane leaves for Caracas in five hours. After each swig of coffee, Juan frowns as if stifling nausea. It's been a very long weekend.

They hit every club on a list penned for them by a concierge: Mansion, B.E.D., Cameo, Set — homes to valets accustomed to seeing the same exotic cars driven by different owners. Juan estimates they put a paltry 30 miles on the Lamborghini before returning it Saturday afternoon.

"I don't want to go home to my Volkswagen, bro," he laments before turning back to his coffee.

One lingering question remains, and it seems Raul is dying to have it asked. How did the date go with Nicole?

"What's that saying — a gentleman never tells?" Raul coyly responds. His cousin shakes his head, knowing what's coming.

Five minutes later, Raul is digging through a backpack, looking for his digital camera. He is offering to show nude photos of his prize. New Times politely declines.

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