Most people with a drop of petrol running through their veins will admit that they would like to own a supercar – even though the received wisdom is that it’s usually an extremely bad idea.
First off, and most obviously, they are expensive to buy. But that isn’t a problem for the “high net worths” who snap them up by the dozen, while the merely wealthy can take advantage of any number of specialist finance packages that enable the pain-free purchase of the Lamborghini/Ferrari/Bugatti/Pagani they have always promised themselves for a relative monthly pittance, allowing their cash to be more sensibly invested elsewhere.
No, it’s once you’ve taken possession of your dream wheels that the trouble starts. Depreciation is depressingly instant and invariably eye-watering; opportunities to drive such cars as they were intended to be driven are rare on public roads; and, of course, supercars really only come into their own when being speared across a continent or screamed around a race track. The rest of the time, they just sit there, hating the fact that they’re not moving and slowly but surely seizing up, bit by bit – in other words, going nowhere and costing money when those bits have to be replaced just to get the car back on the road for another, perhaps bittersweet trip. A pair of brake discs for a Ferrari 599 GTB, for example, will set you back more than £12,000, a clutch costs about £2,000, and a couple of exhaust pipes £4,300 (not including catalytic converters at £3,500 a side).
But perhaps the most irritating problem supercar owners often face is that, once they have bought and experienced the one they believed they always wanted, they begin to hanker after another – laying themselves open to a new set of problems and a new pile of bills.
All of the above was first realised during the late-1990s, not long after the initial rash of modern-day supercars with immense performance and commensurate running costs started to become available. It was then that former Formula One driver and 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill and his manager Michael Breen recognised that there might be potential in a high-end rental business – one that, instead of hiring out bland hatchbacks and saloons, would create a club through which a controlled membership could experience a broad range of top-end supercars. Called P1, it became the model for a number of clubs that were spawned during the financial boom of the early 2000s, most of which operated on a system whereby members were provided with an allocation of points entitling them to use cars from the P1 fleet for a number of days per year, depending on the value of the vehicle and when in the season it was being driven.
While P1 has thrived (although Hill sold his stake in it in 2006), many similar clubs fell by the wayside post the 2008 financial crash. One of the few others to weather the storm was UK-based Ecurie 25, which was founded in 2005 and later became an international franchise.
In 2010, Welshman Richard Thomas was setting up a similar venture in Vancouver, Canada, when he was asked to relocate to the UK with his wife and daughter to oversee and grow Ecurie 25’s London operation. He subsequently managed the business until February 2014, when the opportunity arose to buy it out of the franchise network and rebrand it. The result is Auto Vivendi, which, under Thomas’s guidance, is becoming established as the first supercar club to provide its members with access to a supercar lifestyle as well as to the cars themselves.
Unlike many people who make a living in the world of motoring, 38-year-old Thomas cannot claim to have had a lifelong love affair with the automobile – in fact, he freely admits he is not a car “geek” and, while he enjoys driving, he is not interested in the nuts and bolts. As a driver, his interest was sparked in his early 20s when, as a trainee chartered accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, the opportunity to own a better company vehicle with every set of exams he passed served as an incentive to study.
But what Thomas does seem to have is an intimate understanding of the culture of the supercar, which, he believes, has evolved considerably since the early 2000s. “It was not the cars that encouraged me to set up this business so much as the lifestyle that surrounds them,” he explains. “Nowadays, if you really want to drive a supercar you can quite easily scratch that itch – plenty of people can afford to buy them and, for those who don’t want to own one or can’t afford to, there are all manner of ways of getting behind the wheel, from simply renting to taking part in a track day or other organised event.
“So the idea of another club through which people can just drive cars no longer strikes me as having the potential to be a sustainable business – what is needed is a club in which the cars are a key element, but which also offers lots of other reasons for people to keep coming back to it,” says Thomas who, as a 17-year-old entrepreneur, was part of the team that became the Welsh, British and European Young Enterprise champions of 1993.
As a result, Auto Vivendi (loosely, “car – a way of life”) has 17 supercars in its current £2.5m collection, although it actually owns just two of them, a Lamborghini Aventador and a Ferrari FF. The other 15 – which include two Ferrari 458s, two McLaren 12Cs, an Aston Martin Vanquish and an Audi R8 – belong to members who supply them to the club for other members to use.
“It is the perfect way to own a supercar,” says Thomas. “The members make them available for other people to use and we pay for the insurance and the maintenance, meaning the only cost to the owner is in depreciation. They can, of course, use them whenever they wish – although, in reality, most people who own supercars rarely drive them for more than 30 days a year.”
But what also sets Auto Vivendi apart is the fact that it places a strong emphasis on organising events around the world that are bound together by the purpose of driving. This year, for example, members have taken part in an off-road adventure in Iceland, travelled to the Geneva Motor Show by private jet and spent weekends aboard the club’s Fairline Squadron 42 motor yacht. In addition, there have been tours of Italy and the Scottish Highlands, a drive along California’s Big Sur in American muscle cars, trips to champagne houses, and opportunities to watch events at London’s O2 Arena from the Auto Vivendi private suite.
And, just so the die-hard speed freaks don’t feel left out, Auto Vivendi also acquired Vmax200, a high-octane driving club through which members can exploit the full performance of the world’s fastest cars at off-road proving grounds such as Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire.
For 2015, Auto Vivendi events organiser Craig Williams – a former oil broker and founder of Vmax200 – has arranged an ice-driving trip to Norway, a Vmax200 speed-driving day on Pendine Sands (the legendary Welsh land-speed-record site), a desert safari in Namibia and a supercar tour around Oman and Abu Dhabi.
“It just seems that the type of people who are interested in getting behind the wheels of cars like these want to do a bit more than just pick them up and spend the day driving about in them,” says Thomas. “They want to get together with similar-minded people and enjoy experiences related to the supercar lifestyle.”
There are currently 160 members of the club, each of whom has paid a one-off joining charge of £1,950, plus an annual fee of between £12,950 for the basic Silver membership (allowing around 25 days of car use) and £30,000 for the ultimate Carbon Black package, which includes about 60 days’ use, car delivery and collection, an airport chauffeur and concierge service, a supercar-driving awareness course and access to a car for two bookings in the Mediterranean. And if you think that sounds a trifle dear, bear in mind that a set of tyres for a Bugatti Veyron costs £45,000 and a first service £14,000. After which, maintenance starts to get really pricey…
For a preposterously powerful, extras-packed, 190mph model, see the Bentley Mulsanne Speed.