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Car Clubs: Drive the fancy cars, leave the owning to us
For an annual fee, clubs will let you drive their cars and see the occasional fashion show.
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - You don't have to own them, store them, restore them or insure them. Just write a check once a year and drive them.

That's the promise of such groups as the Classic Car Club London, the owners of which recently opened a branch in New York City.

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The club owns a fleet of about 18 cars at any given time -- they include a 2005 Subaru WRX, a 1969 Dodge Super Bee, a 1980 Ferrari 308, and a 1968 Lincoln Continental.

For a membership costing as much $10,500 a year, members get points toward time behind the wheel. Each car "costs" members a certain number of points as do certain days of the week or year.

For example, taking out the Shelby Cobra replica on a summer Saturday would cost you a lot of points; it'd be less for the 1965 Ford Mustang convertible on a Tuesday in late autumn.

Exclusive membership

The cars are parked in a glass-walled garage in lower Manhattan with an open bar on one side and a mechanic's service bay on the other. On a recent visit, the Cobra was up on a lift for servicing. The appropriate smells of rubber and hot oil fill the environment.

A Gold Membership, which gets you 1,500 points, costs $10,500 plus a $1,500 initial fee. The club claims that members get about 40 driving days a year at an average cost of about $175 per day.

But not just anyone can join. They will check your driving and criminal history records. And, if they want to, they can turn you down just because... whatever.

At these prices, though, applicants are usually pretty responsible types, said Phil Kavanagh, one of the brothers who founded the London club in 1995.

"You're not getting checks from jerks off the street," said Phil Kavanagh, he said.

The club is limiting itself to 250 members in the first year and capping it at 500 members after that.

Variety is the attraction

Despite the flashy brand names, the average price of the Club's cars is about $30,000, said Zac Moseley, a club director.

The club's 1989 Ferrari GTB would retail for about $40,000, according to Nagaguides.com which supplies estimated values for used and collectible cars. The 1977 Aston-Martin V-8 is worth between $17,000 and $34,000.

The most expensive cars in the fleet are the newer ones, like the BMW M3 that retail for over $50,000.

So the main appeal is variety -- you may be in a muscle car mood one day and a European sports car mood the next.

Good old-fashioned socializing is at least half the appeal, club executives say. At least you know that everyone else will be fairly interested in cars. The club has held fashion shows and is sponsoring a New York-to-Miami rally in May.

Besides cost of buying and insuring the cars, said Moseley, the club tries to make sure the cars in the fleet are easy to maintain and keep running so they're ready to go when members want them.

That's a major reason, besides cost, that the Ferrari has a V-8 engine rather than the must trickier V-12. In this business durability counts.

"They're probably not driving it very easily. They're probably flogging it," said McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, a company that covers classic collectible cars. "That's what I'd want to do."

Hagerty said his company has been approached by a few car clubs to provide coverage but has ultimately declined since the cars aren't exactly being treated as "collectibles."

For anyone thinking of joining a car club like this, take a close look at the terms, the cars and the other members, advises Hagerty.

California-based Club Sportiva's fleet of cars leans more toward newer high-end exotics. They recently a purchased a Lamborghini Gallardo for members to drive. They also have cheaper stuff, too, like Mini Cooper S convertble and a Honda S2000.

Besides fun, a car-sharing club could offer the opportunity to dabble in different types of cars and decide what you really like. Then you can just buy your own and drive it any time you like.

To see some of the Manhattan Club's fleet, see our galleryTop of page

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