Honey, I Wrecked the Porsche *pics*

  1. Honey, I Wrecked the Porsche
    Fast, powerful and out of control. Jennifer Saranow on why some drivers are finding their new cars too hot to handle.

    Call it a metaphor for a prosperous, risk-embracing age or just call it bad driving.

    Auto makers are turning out a new breed of supremely fast sports cars that sell for upwards of $250,000 and share many characteristics of purebred racecars. But as more of them hit the road, often in the hands of inexperienced drivers, a growing number are ending up wrapped around trees, smashed into guardrails or otherwise totaled in accidents.

    In the past 18 months, drivers across the world have cracked up at least six rare $1 million Ferrari Enzos -- only 400 of which were built. In March, a California man rammed his $300,000 Lamborghini Murcielago into five parked cars; while in England, a 39-year-old driver caused an international stir among car enthusiasts by crashing a Bugatti Veyron -- an extremely rare $1.5 million turbocharged missile with a top speed of 253 miles per hour.

    It's not just drunken celebrities doing the damage. On the way to an M.B.A. class near San Diego one recent morning, Nasar Aboubakare, a 40-year-old private-equity firm president, lost control of his new 550-horsepower Ford GT and wrenched it over a lane divider. "The car is like a wild animal," he says.

    To compound matters, it's tough to be inconspicuous when you damage a $150,000 automobile. After Mr. Aboubakare's accident, several passing motorists snapped pictures while one leaned out the window of his pickup truck and shouted: "What an idiot!"

    Police in wealthy enclaves across the country say these accidents are not unusual. A spokesman for the Beverly Hills Police Department says his officers "regularly" handle accidents involving exotic vehicles, while Sgt. Jeffrey Kelly from Boca Raton, Fla., says his department has logged two Ferrari crashes in the past two years. "We've had our fair share," he says.

    According to the California Highway Patrol, the total number of accidents involving Aston Martins, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Lotuses and Maseratis rose to 141 last year, an 81% increase from 2002, while overall crashes declined statewide during that period. Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, which sell a wider range of models, saw a 22% increase during that time frame.

    These accidents are happening so regularly that a Web site called WreckedExotics.com2 -- which contains photos of dream cars reduced to smoking heaps -- added as many as 700 new examples to its gallery last year and says it attracts about 650,000 visitors a month. Founder Gregg Fidan explains the attraction this way: "It's like seeing a supermodel fall off the runway."

    More Cars, More Crashes

    One reason for the increase is that there are simply more of these so-called "supercars" on the road. CNW Marketing Research, a firm that analyzes the auto market, says Americans bought about 8,400 "ultra-luxury" sports cars last year -- more than three times the number from 2003. While the number of supercars registered in California is up sharply, the rate at which they are getting into accidents is still small -- just over 1% -- and hasn't changed appreciably since the state began breaking data down by make in 2002. (The statewide accident rate for all vehicles was 3%.)

    Stefan Winkelmann, president and chief executive officer of Lamborghini, a unit of Volkswagen's Audi Group, says he's aware of "four or five" incidents involving one of the company's new 640-horsepower Murcielagos -- a small fraction of the nearly 500 models the company sold last year. Toscan Bennett, a spokesman for Ferrari, a unit of Fiat Group, says the company does not track the number of accidents involving its cars, but adds that several high-profile incidents may have contributed to a false impression that these crashes are common.

    Auto makers say the rising horsepower is being offset by safety advancements ranging from all-wheel drive to ceramic brakes, rear-view cameras, extra airbags and monocoque safety cages that direct impact forces away from passengers. "The cars give themselves up for the safety of the driver," says Porsche spokesman Tony Fouladpour. Many supercars come with traction and stability control systems that automatically vary the power delivered to the wheels to help prevent drivers from sliding and skidding.

    Insurance companies say that while the majority of supercar accidents do not result in serious injuries, there has been an uptick in collision claims on these cars. In some cases, rates are rising. Based on the rising cost of claims, State Farm says the same driver would have paid 9% more last year to buy physical damage insurance for a new Lamborghini Murcielago than in 2003.

    Expensive sports cars have always been intimidatingly fast, but experts say the latest models are not just more powerful, they're also lighter: Ferrari's new 599 GTB Fiorano produces about .164 horsepower per pound -- a 21% improvement over the model it replaced. The trouble begins when overconfident drivers start trying to push the cars to speeds that even experienced drivers may not be capable of handling. "Generally speaking, the cars are well over the heads of the drivers," says Glenn Roberts, the owner of an auto-body shop in Fountain Hills, Ariz., that repairs damaged exotic cars.

    The people buying these cars are also changing. Unlike previous supercar collectors who often babied their machines, they tend to drive about 4,000 to 6,000 miles per year -- more than double the average from a decade ago. And they're not getting any more mature: the median age for ultra-luxury sports-car buyers dropped to 47 last year from an average of 56 just 10 years ago, according to CNW. And you don't have to be an actuary to know that younger people are more likely to drive aggressively. A spokeswoman for Leland-West Insurance Brokers says most of the supercar claims the company handles each year involve men aged 25 to 40 driving newer high-performance cars too fast and losing control.
  2. 'Controllable' Speed

    Adnan K. Mehmood, a 32-year-old fabric importer and stock trader from Miami, counts himself among those who don't believe a high-performance car should be pampered. He says he has driven his 2006 Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster faster than 191 mph a number of times on freeways. Mr. Mehmood says it's the engineering that gives him the confidence to go that fast. "When you are in the car, it's so stable," he says. "It's such a controllable speed. In a normal car when you are going 80 or 90, it feels like you are going really, really fast. In the Lambo, you are going 120 or 140 and honestly, it feels like it's stopped on the freeway. It feels like it's not moving."

    He is awaiting delivery of Lamborghini's new Murcielago LP640 Roadster, which has an extra 60 horsepower and a new suspension design that will help make it one of the fastest cars the company has ever built -- traveling up to 211 mph and from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds. "I want to go to 200 mph," Mr. Mehmood says.

    Veteran sports-car connoisseur Michael Fux says he has a pretty good idea why all these crashes are happening. The 64-year-old mattress entrepreneur from Miami, whose collection includes a Bugatti Veyron, a Ferrari 599, an Enzo and five Lamborghinis, says younger drivers are constantly challenging him to race. "These kids, they don't use their heads," he says. "They think they're back in the old Wild West."

    Driving experts say most accidents in these cars happen when drivers take turns too fast for the road conditions or start turning prematurely and then snap off the accelerator to compensate. If the car's back end starts to fishtail, many inexperienced drivers will fail to steer in the direction of the sliding tail or will overcorrect by turning too severely in that direction. Both mistakes can cause a spin. "It's a symphony of inputs and adjustments to keep the car under control," says David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Division.

    For Anthony Almada, a 46-year-old nutritional biochemist and entrepreneur from Dana Point, Calif., the catalyst was a deceivingly slick road. While driving his $440,000 Porsche Carrera GT on a bend near his home at 80 miles per hour on a slightly wet road early last year, he says the car snapped into a spin. He followed the procedure he'd been taught in driving class and "put both feet in" -- pressing down on the brake and the clutch at the same time -- and hoped for the best. The car broadsided a brick wall and spun at least six times and caught fire. "It wasn't something I could have corrected," says Mr. Almada, who climbed out unhurt. "I was going too fast for the road conditions. It's that simple."

    Another common mistake: failing to warm up the tires. Standing inside his garage last month at Classic Coach Repair in Elizabeth, N.J., owner Onofrio Triarsi points out two damaged Ferraris -- a red 360 that needs a new quarter panel and bumper and a blue 550 Maranello with similar damage. Both cars had been taken out on racetracks on cold mornings by drivers who had not given the tires enough time to heat up (and thus adhere better to the asphalt). When customers drive off now, Mr. Triarsi leaves them with the same advice: "Don't forget the tires."

    In some cases, drivers say they got into trouble after shutting off the car's traction control system to get a more "authentic" sports-car experience. During a test for Car and Driver last spring in Italy, technical editor Aaron Robinson, 37, flicked off the electronic stability control in a 611-horsepower Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano so he could get the vehicle's rear end to flare out around a curve for a photo. But after giving the car "too much throttle and not enough core steering," he says he wound up sideswiping a wall. "Any car with 600 horsepower is intimidating," Mr. Robinson says.

    Many of these accidents are, of course, just examples of pure recklessness. The Bugatti Veyron owner who crashed in Surrey, England, this year was said to be traveling at least 100 mph on a country lane before colliding with a station wagon. He was cited by police for driving "without due care and attention." The 26-year-old who crashed his 2005 Lamborghini into five parked cars in Santa Monica, Calif., in March was reportedly racing at 75 mph around a 35 mph curve. He was charged with driving under the influence.

    You don't have to buy one of these cars to trash one, either: New York's Gotham Dream Cars, one of a growing number of companies that allow people to rent supercars for the day, says about one in 50 of its rentals comes back damaged.

    High Speed, Low Clearance

    Speed isn't always the culprit. Because of their odd dimensions and miniscule ground clearance, supercars have always been vulnerable to damage from curbs, speed bumps or even objects in the road. While driving his yellow Ferrari Enzo for only the third time, Ali Haas, a 51-year-old plastic surgeon from Florida, ran over a spool of wire on the road. In most cars this would have been a nonevent -- but in this case the low-slung Ferrari was knocked airborne, breaking its grip on the road and sending it skidding into a guardrail. "If I ran over that spool of wire in my Ford Expedition, probably nothing would have happened," Dr. Haas says.

    Regardless of the cause, anyone who wrecks one of these cars has a more immediate problem than finding a mechanic: the possibility of public humiliation. After smashing his silver Ferrari 360 into a light pole in November in Palm Beach, Fla., David Riggs says none of the 50 or so onlookers who stopped to gawk asked him if he was OK. Instead, the 42-year-old says he heard comments like "wow, you are really having a bad day," "that is really a bummer," and "your toy is broke." "Nobody is really concerned if you are hurt," Mr. Riggs says.

    Car companies say they do what they can to make sure their most powerful vehicles get into the hands of experienced drivers. Buyers of Ferrari limited-production cars like the Enzo "were chosen by the factory based on their history and loyalty to Ferrari," says the spokesman, Mr. Bennett.

    Driving Academies

    Manufacturers are also rolling out driver-education programs. Later this year, Bugatti plans to start offering buyers a "security driving course" at a test track near its factory in France. Ferrari has offered driver training in Italy since the early 1990s and just opened the first authorized school outside Italy last year in Mt. Tremblant, Canada. Lamborghini started offering winter and summer-driving academies last year, formalizing classes long offered by dealers.

    Bentley offered its first driving class in the U.S. last year and Lotus is launching a driving school in the U.S. this month called the Lotus Performance Driving Experience outside Las Vegas that will include instruction in "the dynamics of skid control."

    One recent driving-school graduate: Mr. Aboubakare, the private-equity company president who spun out his Ford GT. He hopes to be better equipped to drive the new Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Roadster he is getting later this summer. "I think with training, I'm a little more equipped to drive the car," he says.

    For auto makers, the horsepower binge is continuing to accelerate. Even in an era of high gas prices, some like Audi and Lexus are building or testing new supercar designs. The 2007 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 packs 505 horsepower and Ford recently introduced a $41,000 Mustang with 500 horsepower.

    There's no sign people are less interested in speeding, either. Movies like "The Fast and the Furious" and "Redline" have glamourized the notion of driving fast on public roads while drivers have been using sites like YouTube to post videos of themselves making flamboyant maneuvers. Mix in the growing number of supercars, their soaring horsepower and the increasing number of states raising speed limits and "we have almost the perfect storm going on here," says Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

    Standing in his garage on a Sunday morning last month, Mr. Almada pulls out what's left of his beloved Porsche Carrera GT: one severed headlight and one rear-wheel tire and brake assembly. Finally, from a shelf he built to hold surfboards, he pulls down his last keepsake, the car's badly scraped carbon-fiber wing. He stares at it for a few moments, then gently lays it down. "It's like the memento of a family member who passed away," he says.
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    David Riggs smashed his silver Ferrari 360 into a lightpole last November in Palm Beach, Fla. Passersby made comments like "wow, you are really having a bad day."

    Adnan K. Mehmood, a 32-year-old from Miami, likes to test the limits of his super cars. He has taken his 2006 Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster model faster than 191 mph a number of times on freeways.

    One participant in last year's Gumball rally crashed his purple Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster in Thailand. As it was going down an incline at more than 100 mph, it went over a "massive" bump that sent it flying. When it landed, the right front wheel buckled and the vehicle spun off into the trees, taking down a few. It conveniently landed perfectly parked in a bar parking lot.

    One night last December, voiceover artist Kris Erik Stevens, 53, was driving his 1996 red 355 Spyder down a hill in Calabasas, Calif., when he hit a patch of water on the road, lost control and collided with a tree. "It was like being superman without his cape," says Mr. Stevens, who needed 15 staples to close a gash in his head.
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    Anthony Almada, 46, lost control of his Porsche Carrera GT last year on a wet uphill bend. The $440,000 vehicle ended up totaled after spinning at least six times.

    Martin Gegenfurtner, a 21-year-old online entrepreneur in Sankt Gallen, Switzerland, was driving his Lamborghini Murcielago at about 137 mph on a sunny Sunday afternoon nearly three years ago in Germany. He says the car suddenly made a 90-degree turn on a dry and straight road, broke through the guardrail and landed upside down in the woods. "No driver error could result in such a crash," says Mr. Gegenfurtner, who has started a Web site about his experience called "Lamborghini Murcielago -- Or: A dream becomes a nightmare."

    Not long after Ali Haas bought his Ferrari Enzo, a spool of wire sent it skidding into a guardrail in Florida. The vehicle ended up crushed under the rail, its front hood and bumper ruined and the carbon fiber "split into a million pieces." "Bummer," Dr. Haas remembers thinking. He got it back fixed last summer and now rarely drives it at night.
  5. YIKES.....:smash:
  6. Too much car for people with too little brains, in my opinion.

    Going 137 mph and you're shocked that you lost control of the car? I don't care how expensive your car is, 191 mph on a freeway is so freakin' stupid and dangerous, he should be thrown in jail. The ones that were speeding are damn luck they didn't injure or kill anyone else.
  7. ^Ita. Take your car to a track.
  8. I'm definitely with you on that statement!
  9. maxter, can you please post a link to this article? I would like to send it to someone.

    IF you read the whole article, you would see speed is not always a factor in a crash. Majority of the people that own these exotic cars, including myself, are very capable drivers and not on the road to show off. The car companies offer classes so you can learn how to drive their particular cars.

    The same exact thing happened to a friend of mine while I was in his Carerra GT. It wasn't speed, it was a slick road. The car I was in was on a residential street going about 20 mph.
  10. That's so scary! People drive pretty fast here in Germany, and it's hard to keep up sometimes on the Autobahn. Nothing like a Ferarri behind you, flashing it's lights when you're trying to move your little diesel Golf along at over 100mph. How fast do they want to go?! Jeez.

    It really does make it dangerous for the drivers who don't feel the need to go that fast. Granted, I do drive at around 150 or 160 kmh when I'm on the autobahn, and it seems like I'm one of the slower ones.
  11. That's pretty scary! And ITA with too much car for people with too little brains.
  12. My husband and I attended the Porsche Driving School last year in Alabama and it was one of the best vacations I've been on. High end car manufacturers should include it with a vehicle purchase to help increase customer education.
  13. Crazy, My husband and I are trying to decide on our car now, but we will be taking perfromance classes here in the spring and then driving it at the track!! A man here in town has his Viper confiscated a couple weeks ago for trying to evade the police at 128 mph. They use have turned it into a police car and were showing it at our town car show last night. The man who lost the car was there looking at it and looking very sad. He should have pulled over they said he would have had his car back the next day!!!
  14. Driver instruction which includes car control makes a big difference for any driver, it allows people to become familiar with their cars and with their driving in general.
    In the last few years, the new generation of exotics come with race like systems (i.e. suspension, big brakes, no traction control, no ABS) which can get you in a lot of trouble very quickly...sometimes these cars are too much for SOME people. I shake my head when I see these types of accidents, exotic or not, at least race car drivers have many safety systems that keep them safer in case of a crash.
    Also in many isntances these crashes involve other vehicles or pedestrians that have to pay for some person's bad judgement while driving.

    Take it to the track if you want to go fast...it's a great experience!
  15. The small brain comment is quite accurate!