I pressed the accelerator as I neared the second tunnel of Kanan Dume, heading south toward Malibu. The midday sun of the Conejo Valley beat down on my wife and I; the wind rushed through our hair, but all that was secondary to the immediate sensory rush we were experiencing. Milliseconds after I pressed, the engine of our Maserati GranTurismo leapt to life, and a wild roar heralded our entrance into the tunnel. We shot past a few cars that had merged right, sensing that the car was going to open up at the next opportunity.
I’d only been in the car for about three hours, but I’d completely fallen in love. The first 80 miles or so were a dead panic: “Please don’t hit me.” “Please don’t run into anything.” “… Please GET OUT OF MY LANE SO I CAN DRIVE ALREADY.” In the afternoon sun, emboldened by some open stretches of the 101 in the far northwest reaches of Los Angeles, I’d finally gotten comfortable with driving it. Only on our return leg back into the city proper was I comfortable “giving it the beans”, as James May has said on occasion.
Now, I unfortunately haven’t seen any of my stock options come through, and I didn’t otherwise stumble into massive wealth that would enable me to own such a beauty as this Maserati. It was a saucy, fun idea my wife had for us to spend Valentine’s Day together in a little style.
Life with a toddler means scheduling around day care availability and sitters; moreso when I’m working on a project. Shortly after deciding we wanted to rent the car, we both took the day off work so we could have the maximum time together and in the car.
I’m a practical car guy. Playing drums and needing to lug stuff around, I opted for a Honda Fit – a tiny car that has a shocking amount of cargo space. Great for lugging an oversized kick drum around, or a feisty toddler and some toys. At the time, the $22,000 seemed like it was a ridiculous sum. I grew up riding in Cavaliers, driving a (very) used S-10 pickup truck, and a succession of used cars. While I could appreciate cars from afar, I kept myself away from any close up experience, for fear that I’d have some urge to rearrange my life around owning something insane – insurance, maintenance and garaging be damned.
My attitude softened in Will’s early days, watching tons of Top Gear in the evenings as he showed an interest in cars and things that go fast. More time and softening of the attitude brought me to Friday morning, when I sat in the Maserati and the agent handed me the key. “Go ahead and turn it on,” he said.
A high whine came out of the car for a half second as the starter turned, and then the engine turned over. That’s a bit unfair and clinical though – this car didn’t feel like it “started up”, but rather “came alive” with a bold growl that echoed through the silent garage. It felt like I was sitting in some sort of living beast – an elegant, dark presence (ours was a black car with black interior, broken up only by red contrast stitching) with just a hint of brutality. I pulled out of the lot and immediately pulled over so I could fix the mirror adjustments and set the GPS.
A very uncool diversion out of the way, I then hesitantly nudged the accelerator and headed north. What’s different about renting a car that retails for about $150,000 is that you don’t get that “nothing can go wrong” assurance of the damage waiver. YOUR insurance is involved. So if you decide to try drifting through Malibu Canyon and go over the edge or into the wall, you’re gonna be dealing with the fallout for a while. The end result is that you spend a while driving like the proverbial little old grandmother, and as Civics and Jettas pass you by, you wonder if you’ve made a terrible mistake.
That’s heightened when you’re in the city, close up with other people. With the top down (the only reasonable way to drive this car), there’s no hiding that you – yes you – are sitting in a car well in excess of most people’s annual salary (likely your own included). The center console proudly shows you that you’re getting 12.4 miles to the gallon. The guy in the Tesla next to you just rolls his eyes. “But my other car gets 36 miles to the gallon,” I wanted to shout. I figured that was the least cool thing to do in this car.
As the day unfolded, we drove north on PCH, the cooler ocean air whipping through our hair and helping combat the sun a bit. A brief stop in Malibu for lunch, and we cut through the canyons and hit the 101 with the intention of really opening it up. As I turned from Las Virgenes onto the 101, I buried the accelerator. I shot down the onramp at ever-increasing speed, meeting and then surpassing highway speeds in no time at all. A beastly chorus of engine nose echoed through the car, immediate sensory feedback that you are living life as it’s supposed to be lived. It’s a feeling I could only liken to standing next to a guitar amp when it’s at max volume: The sound just cuts through you but it makes you feel alive.
I punched the accelerator more and got up to about 100 before I eased back – the county sheriffs hand out tickets regularly and I’d been a victim. I didn’t really want to do that 30 miles over the limit in an exotic car.
There’s something about the experience that turned me into a little boy. It’s so primal: the engine has this all-consuming growl around you, but it’s this loud low-mid range unlike the grizzly-bear-like growl of a classic American muscle car. It just sounds like finely tuned power. I said to my wife at one point, “I feel like [my son] when he’s really excited – it’s such a pure feeling.” After having gotten over the yips, it was just a delight to rev up at every opportunity and hear that engine sing.
I’ve driven stuff with more power than the econoboxes with four cylinders of fury that I listed above. But nothing ever compared to or prepared me for the GranTurismo Sport. There was never any hesitance, it never wanted for power. 80 miles an hour up a fairly steep grade? No problem. We can do a hundred if you’d like. Wanted to get past a sketchy driver? Just punch it and he’s in your rearview mirror. And all while surrounded in a fantastically well-appointed cabin.
Standing 6′ tall, I found it to be totally comfortable to drive. Even though the clearance with the roof wasn’t great, and while the interior was somewhat close, it never felt like tight or awkward quarters. I’ve driven cars far larger that felt vastly more claustrophobic.
At the end of the day I got to return the car to the lot, a scant 12 miles shy of the allotted mileage for the day. Returning to a quiet Nissan was a bit of an adjustment, but it was fun to play with and live out a recent dream. No doubt insurance, registration and maintenance is more than I’m willing to deal with, so a Maserati isn’t in my near future (who knows; maybe I’ll save my pennies for a Ghibli) – and I just like my humble little compact family hauler.
But if you’ve ever entertained the dream of driving some otherwise unattainable car, I highly recommend checking out the rental options. It’s not cheap (though it’s not much more than two really high-end older bottles of single-cask scotch (err… or maybe not single cask?) but sometimes you have to just live life and not sweat the money.
And, as Ferris Bueller said, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”
Until the next time I do this — who knows what will be the next ride? — it’s back to the happy, humble Honda.
Maserati 2013 GranTurismo Convertible Sport. Price as driven, approximately $153,000.00 USD
It’s been a while since I last wrote. Apologies! A January of family illness gave way to a hectic February of work. This is the first in what will be a series of pieces that broaden the focus of this site in the weeks and months ahead.
Whiskey will still be front-and-center, but while I enjoy tasting and sampling, I’m finding that writing about how I’m being ripped off by the industry and how the PR machine is tiresome — while spending all my writing effort supporting that — isn’t really satisfying.
If you want just the whiskey, there are links to whiskey-only feeds in the sidebar. Check ‘em out. And happy new year!