Time to share the car

A lot of folks dream of owning an exotic or classic car. But then reality sets in. First, you need a place to garage the car. You may have to pay more than usual for insurance. If anything breaks, you may struggle to find the parts to fix it. The car also needs regular maintenance. All that can be enormously expensive and time consuming.

Enter time sharing. The idea, often associated with vacation condos and business jets, has gained popularity among wannabe classic- or exotic-car owners, who don't want to pony up the cash.

The concept grew out of a classic-car storage company, D&V's Auto Nook, in Chicago. The company's owners, George and Kathy Kiebala, saw how much energy was wasted maintaining these cars. They suggested to owners that they could save on time and overhead by sharing their classics with other car collectors.

The Kiebalas started Exotic Car Share three years ago. After paying an initial membership fee of up to $250, customers can choose one of more than a dozen classic cars from Ferraris to Camaros to drive three days or a week. Weekly rates range from $800 to $2,000 - a little cheaper than exotic-car rental rates.

"[Members] want the fun and the experience of driving the car, but not all the hassles of ownership." says Mr. Kiebala.

Time-sharing, he says, encourages drivers to treat the cars like their own. "Our members take really good care of the cars, because what we do is more like borrowing your best friend's car. If you bring it back with a dent, he's going to know who did it."

ECS has 430 members, and in 3-1/2 years, has experienced only one accident. All members go through background and credit checks. Before they can drive, they are given a one- to two-hour orientation about the car, its quirks, and its history. Each car is fitted with a global positioning transmitter, so ECS can track where the cars are at all times.

One member always wanted to own a Jaguar XKE, but couldn't bring himself to spend the money. So his wife bought him a membership, Kiebala says. Another driver didn't know how to drive a stick shift. The Kiebalas taught him to drive a stick in one of their private cars, then in ECS's Alfa Romeo. Those steps allowed the member to rent a week in one of the Ferraris.

More recently ECS has started selling time shares in a new Rolls Royce Phantom, a Bentley Continental R, and a Porsche 911 GT3.

Other companies have followed in the Kiebalas's footsteps, including Drive-A-Dream in St. Louis. "This company grew out of the idea of time-sharing business jets," says owner Reese McLaughlin.

One of Mr. McLaughlin's customers, Phoebe Telschow, owns one-fifth of a 525-horsepower Superperformance Shelby Cobra replica. Her interest would sell for $15,000, she says, plus a $125 a month membership fee. The fee covers insurance, maintenance, and repairs. Ms. Telschow says the time she spends driving the car "is the most fun I've ever had."

But sharing ownership of fancy cars may bring bigger benefits than affordable fun. It may mark the start of a larger trend in efficient transportation, says Dan Sturges, founder of Cobility, an environmental transportation consultancy in Boulder, Colo. "If people are attracted to this because it's fun, then they'll get used to the idea of sharing cars" other times, Mr. Sturges says.

He sees sharing of transportation resources, from cars to Segway scooters to golf carts to trains, as inevitable.

Zipcar, a more pedestrian car-sharing program in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Denver, has experienced a similar phenomenon. When the company put a relatively expensive BWM 325ix in its fleet this fall, the car quickly became one of the most popular rides in the program - even at $12.50 an hour instead of the usual $8.50. That may not be as exotic as a Shelby Cobra - or as fast - but many people may find it beats their everyday transportation.

Certainly car sharing isn't for all classic car enthusiasts. Jamie Kitman, Automobile Magazine's New York bureau chief owns 16 collector cars.

"I don't know what makes me need to keep buying old cars," he says. "I can't drive them all." But for him, the joy isn't in driving them, but in owning them, even all the hassles.

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