Driving The Dream: Gotham Dream Car Tour in Los Angeles

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Here’s the proposition – take maybe, oh, 2,500 horsepower, divide it into six supercars that list for a total of around $1.5 million and invite people to play King For A Day for several hours around that auto enthusiast’s playground known as Southern California – places and roads like “Malibu”, “Santa Monica”, “Pacific Palisades”, “Pacific Coast Highway”, “Topanga Canyon”, “Mulholland Highway” which stir the soul of petrolheads everywhere. This is not a speed contest but drivers certainly can experience the thrill of the sound and acceleration in one of six thirty-minute segments. That, in an aerodynamic and high-torque nutshell, is the Gotham Dream Car Tour Los Angeles.

Gotham Dream Cars (www.gothamdreamcars.com) entered the LA scene in February of 2013 but they have been in New York since 2004 and in Miami since 2006. In all three of their main cities, plus in many others (Las Vegas, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, etc.), they rent exotic cars, ranging from BMW M6 convertibles to Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupes. But it was their LA Dream Car Tour that I recently experienced and it was a lot of fun (and, all things considered, it’s not that expensive – at the time of my experience, it was $895 for the day for one driver – extra for passenger or second driver).

Twelve of us (including my buddy, Dorian) started out at Gotham’s West LA shop where we met for coffee, soft drinks, water and munchies, and got to know a little about each other. Most of their road rockets hold two people, either drivers who swap off or, in many cases, a driver and a passenger – the difference being who would be behind the wheel — ride-alongs are much less expensive than a second driver. About half of our group was comprised of couples, typically where the gal had given her guy a birthday gift or a surprise to celebrate something special, while the other half was made up of two buddies or a father-son team.

Our group’s official experience commenced with a preflight instruction on each car (like where the “start” button was located, how to find reverse, etc.) as every manufacturer seems to have a different idea of how its exotic should be laid out. Then off we went, with a Gotham guy in the lead car and another in the tail car, with walkie-talkies in each vehicle so that everyone could stay together, with the understanding that we would pause approximately each thirty minutes to move to the next car (and we promised that we wouldn’t pass the lead car, as tempting as that was).

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First off for me was the Ferrari 599GTB, a big coupe, which turned out to be my day’s favorite. It was a 2008 red beauty, the kind of paint job that makes nail polish jealous. Boy, does Ferrari know red! And on the long-hooded V-12, with over 600 kick-ass cavalli, red is the must-have color. The paddle shifters, the stitched leather, the sounds, and the feel, the whole Gestalt – this is a classic grand tourer, Ferrari’s most-powerful series-produced road car up till that time – it was wonderful. We headed up the Pacific Coast Highway to Topanga Canyon road until we came to a place on Mulholland Highway where we could make our first rotation into the second car on the agenda. Thirty minutes never seemed so short and lucky me for having the 599GTB for such a special part of the route.

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The grey Ferrari F430 Spyder was next in line for me and, though I thought that it might feel like a step down from the 599GTB, it wasn’t at all. I loved the open-air drive, especially on such a beautiful California day. Nice crisp shifts, great engine sound (can’t beat a top-free drive), this hardly feels like an “older car” but it was, since “mine” was a 2007 (the last F430 was made in 2009). Still, it was a great ride and a perfect member of the day’s fleet. I like the looks a lot, probably as I was enamored with the old Dinos and the 308/328/348 models and enjoy that size of an open car. The car ran beautifully and didn’t disappoint on the straights or the corners. One upgrade from the previous model (F360) was to give the F430 an E-Diff, a computer-controlled limited slip active differential which is controlled by a computer and which can alter the way the engine’s torque is distributed based on such metrics as lateral acceleration and the steering angle. It’s a great setup that worked wonderfully for the Mulholland Highway run.

One of the great things about the Gotham Dream Tour was that we hits all types of roads — from tight horseshoes to long sweepers, from open straights to stops-and-goes – and the F430 was a great car to have during all types of driving. As a model, it may be gone but it shouldn’t be forgotten.

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After passing the storied Rock Store on Mulholland Highway (fittingly, a stagecoach stop in 1910 and more recently a haven for bikers every weekend) and wending our way up to “The Grandstand” (the well-known lookout from which enthusiasts watch the canyon carvers coming from down the hill), we pulled into the turn-out for the next driver change. People already there (no doubt including tourists) were surprised to see this multi-hued parade show up, providing great stories for the boys back home about how many amazing cars are on the streets of LA. Here it was my turn to climb aboard the Lamborghini Gallardo, which may be the least-expensive of Lambo’s vehicles but a car not lacking one bit. More edgy than the Ferrari, it was a fun experience to motor along in the snarling flying wedge. Like the F430, the Gallardo is an “older car” – the Gallardos were made from 2003 through late 2013 but this tour’s 2007 model didn’t feel dated. It’s a great experience to have both a Lamborghini and a Ferrari (or three) to try in one day as it pointed out the really different feel between these two Italian countrymen. Whereas Ferraris can seem more polished and have curved, sleek lines, the Lamborghinis tend to be very angular and sinewed – each has a very distinct “carsonaility”. With the Gallardo, especially in the canyons, up- and down-shifting and the accompanying roars and whines provided great visceral thrills. Like all of today’s great cars, a half-hour at the wheel felt way too short but was a great teaser for a later return for a more extended drive.

We pulled into the parking lot of Neptune’s Net, a hang-out since 1958 for bikers, surfers, car folks and other ne’er-do-wells at the northern end of LA County, right across the Pacific Coast Highway from the ocean, where LA and Ventura Counties meet. Time for a short break and some sustenance and a chance to swap cars yet again. Following the Gallardo with the Ferrari California was an interesting experience as they are pretty close competitors in the price arena (both start out sub-$200,000 but quickly rocket past that mark). This is an easy car to love – comfortable, quiet unless pushed, lots of whistles and bells, a seamless convertible top operation – a civilized prancing horse if ever there were one. While the “California” badge harkens back to the Ferrari’s of the 1960s, it could have been named after the southern part of our fair state – an open-aired car for most of the year but with a metal convertible top which pops into place in under a minute for that rare non-sunny day. I had the pleasure of driving south on PCH and then back into the Santa Monica mountains as we started our return to home base. The open road and then the canyons which followed were made for this car, which is both fast and agile.

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After carving more canyons, it was time for another stop and my turn at the wheel of the Bentley GT Convertible. Although these GTs are available in V-8 and V-12 power, Gotham opted for the steroidal version. It defies logic that a car that looks this elegant and is this heavy can run with the bad boys in this troupe but that the Bentley did just fine, thank you. Blessed with a perfect afternoon sunshine, we had yet another top-down experience with the GT. A surprisingly quick and agile car, this was a joy to experience. Not as “dramatic” as the prior rides, it was quiet and obviously heavier – leather and wool and burled woods, oh my — but we had no trouble keeping up with (and, given my speed addiction, mostly leading) the pack.

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As we got closer to where Mulholland Highway meets Topanga Canyon, where the last leg of our journey would commence, it was time for my experience with the BMW M6 Convertible. This car could pass itself off as a relative of the Bentley GT as it was fast and comfortable. It’s a less-expensive car but is no less capable of wending its way through the canyons on our way back to the Gotham West LA headquarters. One sits lower in this car than in the Bentley, and it feels lower overall, like a mixture of the Bentley’s luxury and the Ferrari/Lamborghini-like performance. Cruising down Topanga Canyon Road was the perfect place for this car to strut its stuff. Darkness was falling as we headed home and the seat heaters provided a welcome comfort. Luckily for me, this was the leg of the day’s ride where we hit the most traffic and the BMW, like the Bentley, combined great visibility with a tractability that’s so welcome in stop-and-go driving.

The Dream Tour was drawing to a close. We had encountered a wide range of wonderful cars, each terrific in its own way but also different from the others. It was great to have the experience of the open road in back-to-back-times-six experiences, running on some of the most remarkable roads known to enthusiasts – Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Boulevard, Topanga Canyon, Mulholland Highway – in traffic at times heavy and other times sparse. If one is considering one of these cars, having the ability to live with it and its competitors in such quick succession provided the ultimate test drive. And for those who just want to see what it would be like to own six of the nicest road-going cars around, the Dream Tour provides that in spades. It was a great afternoon and, judging by the constant grins of all of the participants as we said our goodbyes to our new friends, everyone had a great time.