SO YOU WANT TO DRIVE A LAMBORGHINI HURACAN... before you win the lottery?
Mike Prichinello--co-founder of Classic Car Club Manhattan--on restoring Corvettes, racing Miatas, and creating a business out of being unapologetic.
All gearheads remember the moment they became car mad. For Mike Prichinello, it was a family road trip more than three decades ago when he was only eight years old. The family’s rented Buick — in maroon — wandered into an open square in Carmel, CA where red Ferraris, green Lamborghinis, and a sea of colorful exotic cars gathered.
It was the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and it was less than 5 miles away. The image of shiny, colorful cars proved to be too much for the young Mr. Prichinello. It was well before the age of Facebook and the internet, mind you. “The scene just melted my juvenile brain,” he remembered.
Fast forward to 2016, Mr. Prichinello is now one of the co-founders of Classic Car Club Manhattan, a private car club with 500 die-hard members. In his spare time, Mr. Prichinello races Miatas at the Wakins Glenn race track — spiritual home of the Car Club.
With his trademark salt and pepper stubble, Mr. Prichinello has the ultimate menswear commercial cool guy look. In fact, in 2014, he starred in an ad campaign for Bergdorf Goodman, Manhattan’s landmark retailer. Being cool does have its rewards.
The Classic Car Club Manhattan co-founders, Mike Prichinello (left) and Zac Mosley (right) PHOTO: CLASSIC CAR CLUB MANHATTAN
For an annual fee starting at a few thousand dollars, Club members can access a fleet of classic and modern supercars. Driving time is based on a points system. Unlike the typical Vegas exotic car rentals, the Car Club is selective in choosing who gets in. The Car Club does not cater to bachelor parties. What you will see at the Car Club is genuine car enthusiasts sitting down for classes on the physics of motor racing. What you will see is Club members flying to the Nurburgring Mecca for a week-long trip.
The idea of Classic Car Club started in the UK. Its London Chapter was founded in 1995. Mr. Prichinello’s first met Phil Kavanagh of the London Chapter in the early 2000’s and kickstarted the idea of bringing the Car Club to the US. Mr. Kavanagh eventually connected Mr. Prichinello with their future co-founder Zac Mosley. Everyone hit it off immediately. In 2004, the New York chapter of the Car Club opened its door with 17 cars (and zero members).
With the perfect view of the Hudson River and an armada of more than 40 beautiful automobiles, the Car Club’s spacious location at Pier 76 doubles as the perfect premier event space. “Think Soho House but replace fashion with automobiles,” described Mr. Prichinello. Just a week ago, the Car Club hosted a press event for the hosts of The Grand Tour and founders of DriveTribe, Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond.
As any fan of Shark Tank can attest, startups devoted to the founder’s passion (e.g. music, movies) do not always succeed. The idea of running a business where most of your capital is tied to high maintenance vintage cars seems even more counterintuitive. The Car Club, however, manages to execute the concept flawlessly and has quickly become an icon establishment in Manhattan. The waiting list for membership is typically three months long. But despite the Car Club’s financial success, it has resisted the pressure to expand to other cities beyond London and New York. Why?
MBA textbooks often celebrate growth (in revenue, employees, etc.) as a sign of great company. But is bigger necessarily better? Surely McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in the world. But if you have the time, wouldn’t you rather wait in line for a burger at Shake Shack? I have often been asked whether I prefer Shake Shack or In-and-Out. Whereas comparing the Quarter Pounder to anything on the Shake Shack menu isn’t entirely fair, is it?
So what makes Classic Car Club and Shake Shack great startups despite taking the road less traveled? What is the secret sauce? During the Financial Crisis in 2008, the Car Club became a much more fulfilling way to experience awesome cars. Flaunting an exuberant amount of cash all the sudden became uncool. “Everybody thinks of us as this luxury business. I’d say we are luxury in terms of the high level of experience people get,” said Mr. Prichinello, “it’s a Car Club run by people who love cars more than anything in the world. Of course, we’re authentic.
He added, “and we’re unapologetic about it. So it’s a bit like rock and roll. It’s implied.”
Implied indeed. When carmaker like McLaren needs help on brand positioning, Mr. Prichinello is who they turn to.
PHOTO: CLASSIC CAR CLUB MANHATTAN
When new members join the Car Club, they are scheduled for an “induction” session where to learn about the basics of vintage driving. New cars may not have a temperature gauge, but when you are driving the ’69 5-speed Porsche around Manhattan, you better keep your eye on it.
“Before you take an old car out, treat it like a princess,” Mr. Prichinello added, “start it up and let it run for 4–5 minutes. Let the oil get through it.”
New members will get to learn the mechanics and maintenance of automobiles. If your heart desires, you can also find classes on anything from motor racing to classics restoration.
Other businesses try to copy the Car Club’s idea by buying up new Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Whereas at the Car Club, the focus is on authenticity. As a result, there is no shortage of rare, quirky rides like the Lancia Delta Integrale and the Datsun 240Z.
And as opposed the collector’s approach of keeping all original parts, cars at the Car Club would be restored and rebuilt for a driving experience that resembles the soul of the car.
“People have this idea in their heads of old muscle cars ‘Oh, my uncle had one and it was so fast,'” explained Mr. Prichinello, “it was slow and it’s a piece of garbage. It’s a 60-year-old American car.”
The Car Club’s ’63 Corvette Stingray, for instance, was rebuilt entirely by their in-house mechanics. The car was entirely redone as if the GM engineers back then had today’s technology.
The original carbureted engine was replaced with a fuel injection LS1 small-block engine; race cam and hooker headers were added for better engine noise; the heavy leaf springs were replaced with light carbon fiber suspension; new disk brakes were installed for additional stopping power. “We use modern day technology to enhance the spirit of the car,” said Mr. Prichinello.
PHOTO: CLASSIC CAR CLUB MANHATTAN
At the end of the day, an automobile museum is a more fitting description of the Car Club. A museum where you can experience the exhibits. If you want retro, you can get your hands on the ’56 Porsche 550 Spyder made famous by James Dean. Or the ’66 Ford GT that beat Ferrari in Le Mans. Or the Dodge Charger that chased Steve McQueen through the streets of San Francisco. If you are the kind of car enthusiasts who always preferred how Hurst shifter feels, you will fit right into the Car Club.
Ferraris and Lambos are popular with first timers so that members can get supercars out of their systems. And members have plenty of choices indeed. There is the Aston Martin Vantage, the Ferrari 458 Spider, the Lamborghini Huracan, the Porsche 911 GT3 (991), and the list goes on and on. The GT3 may have more horsepowers, but Mr. Prichinello personally much more prefers the more agile Alfa Romeo 4C. “200 mph is not the equation for fun,” he explained, “G-force is the equation for fun.”
The latest supercar acquisition by the Car Club? The futuristic BMW i8.
In some ways, the Classic Car Club is like the i8. Expensive, not always practical, and certainly not for everyone. But if you find yourself on DriveTribe reading this, my bet is that you too dream of driving the Classic Car Club's i8 one day. Don't you?