Hyper Drive

Dream cars are increasingly common in the Commonwealth.

Virginia’s car culture is on the rise, but that culture may not be one you’d expect. As the home of legendary tracks, teams, and drivers, the Old Dominion is a longstanding bastion of stock car racing and classic muscle cars. Weekend car shows around the state will reliably bring out shiny Camaros, Monte Carlos, Mustangs, Torinos, Chargers, and Challengers.

Lately, though, a new wave of car enthusiasm has brought new names and fresh styles to Virginia. Posh brands like Bentley and Rolls-Royce, which used to appear mainly on movie and television screens, are periodically visible in real life instead of reel life. Sightings of once-mythical car brands like Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Bugatti, and Maserati are increasingly common, and we’re seeing previously unknown brands like Pagani and Koenigsegg, too. These so-called “hypercars” have leaped from magazine pages and posters to prowl the byways of the Old Dominion.

There’s no formal definition for a hypercar or its slightly more sedate cousin, the “supercar.” Supercars probably cost six figures, have 500 horsepower or more, and likely have a race-ready design that puts the engine behind the driver. The V12-powered Ferrari 812 GTS, at $365,000, and Lamborghini Aventador, at $420,000, are supercars. The V10-powered Audi R8 and the V8-powered Corvette Stingray might also qualify, despite having a bit less power and relatively reasonable price tags; the Stingray starts at $61,000, while the Audi runs $150,000 to $210,000.

Hypercars are on another plane—the superhero version of a supercar. These cars, like the Bugatti Chiron, Koenigsegg Jesko, and Aston Martin Valkyrie, cost at least $1 million—the Valkyrie starts at $3 million—and boast more than 1,000 horsepower. They are built to race specifications in extremely limited editions. Some models aren’t even street legal. And yet they sell out within days of being announced.

Exotic car makers have expanded their presence in Virginia to fulfill the growing demand for their wares in the area. The trend began in 2008, when Volkswagen of America moved its U.S. headquarters to Herndon, bringing with it incredible brands like Lamborghini, Bentley, and Bugatti. This helped put some of these cars on our streets, as company-owned cars are driven to and from the headquarters offices.

If you’ve noticed the trend, Bentley vice-president of sales operations Mike Rocco can confirm that it is not your imagination. Indeed, Northern Virginia is adding new exotic cars every year. “When you take a look at exotic car registrations here in Northern Virginia, there are roughly 150 exotics represented each year,” reports Rocco. “I mean the true luxury brands,” he adds. How long ago might 150 have been the total population of such cars in the area?

Just last year, Koenigsegg, a Swedish builder of incredibly fast, intensely sought-after cars, added a dealer in Tyson’s Corner “in part because of the expanding car culture and increasing interest in hypercars,” notes company founder and president Christian von Koenigsegg. “We chose Exclusive Automotive Group to represent us in that market because they have had a reputation as car enthusiasts and as a destination where people can congregate to share their passion for cars.”

James Lipman

Rolls-Royce Ghost II Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

For example, last summer, Exclusive Automotive hosted by-appointment, socially distant viewings of the Aston Martin Speedster V12, a concept car that Aston had planned to debut at the canceled 2020 Geneva Motor Show. As an alternative, Aston sent its sexy concept car on tour. This year, Exclusive Automotive will exhibit a Koenigsegg Jesko, which most fans would never get a chance to see—production was limited to only 125 cars, all of which were spoken for within days of the Jesko’s debut at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show.

This despite the fact that Koenigsegg’s cars are ludicrously expensive. Prices start at about $1 million and climb to $2.8 million. That’s due in part to the unusual technology the company applies to its cars, like the innovative seven-clutch Light Speed Transmission in Koenigsegg’s 1,280-horsepower Jesko flagship model.

Both technology and craftsmanship drive the pricing of hypercars. The Bugatti Chiron features a quad-turbocharged 16-cylinder engine driving through all four wheels. (Your usual muscle cars, like a Mustang or Camaro—or a Ford F-150 truck—have V8 engines.) If you prefer luxury to speed, check out the Rolls-Royce Starlight Headliner, available on models like the Phantom and Ghost. Where your car has fabric stretched inside the concave surface of the roof, Rolls-Royce customers can get a virtual planetarium. The leather Starlight Headliner is pierced and lighted with 800 to 1,600 fiber optic light pipes, creating an apparent star field of constellations.

Dominic Fraser

Seeing the cars and sharing enthusiasm has definitely helped cultivate the Old Dominion’s dream car boom. Team Corvette racing driver Tommy Milner is a Virginia native who has experienced fans’ enthusiasm and appreciation first-hand. His father, Tom Milner Sr., ran the BMW-backed sports car racing team for the United States from a shop near the Winchester airport. The facility was well-known to car enthusiasts as the former home of Group 44, a storied sports car team that raced for Triumph, Jaguar, and Audi over the years using cars built and prepared in Virginia.

Tommy Milner remembers fans coming to visit his dad’s shop, Team PTG. “There’d be a group drive from the local BMW club, and they’d come to my dad’s shop in Winchester,” he says. “They would do a tour of the shop and see what’s coming for the next season. It was a time for those guys to get together, and as time goes on, the number of enthusiast car shops grows.” And, Milner says, even people who aren’t totally enthralled by cars are susceptible, given the chance to experience great cars up close. “They get the car bug, the racing bug a little bit, and the passion starts to grow,” he asserts.

The beauty of Virginia … is you don’t have to go far and you don’t have to be going 100 mph to have a lot of fun.

—Cedric Davy, Bugatti North America’s chief operating officer

This is the approach of dealers like Ferrari of Washington, in Dulles. Racing has been integral to the dealer’s business, along with hosting visits from enthusiasts who want to see the Prancing Horse cars up close. Love the cars, but not in the market at the moment? Don’t let that stop you from visiting to ogle the inventory and maybe pick up a Ferrari keyring, coffee mug, or ball cap from the dealer’s shop. Think about buying a Ferrari book and flip through it while videos of Ferrari racing glory play on the dealer’s big-screen TV. Visiting clubs might get a tour of the shop area where the Ferrari of Washington race cars are built and maintained between events. In fact, many dealers host visits from car clubs, showing them their latest and greatest.

Virginia offers another lure to both car dealers and enthusiasts: great roads. Make no mistake, the state’s speed limits are more aggressively enforced than most, so you can’t drive fast, but it is a great place to enjoy scenic, twisty roads.

“The beauty of Virginia … is you don’t have to go far and you don’t have to be going 100 mph to have a lot of fun,” says Cedric Davy, Bugatti North America’s chief operating officer. “You can enjoy the car on the Blue Ridge Parkway without breaking the law or endangering anybody.” In fact, Davy confirms that a Bugatti Veyron owner lives in Middleburg, no doubt enjoying the proximity to the parkway.

According to Davy, though, Bugatti’s Pur Sport “is really the car for the roads we have here.” A new version of Bugatti’s Chiron, the Pur Sport is geared for lower speeds and quicker response, making it perfect for driving the backroads and byways of the Old Dominion. The Pur Sport might not be built for speed like the Chiron Super Sport 300+, which has a top speed of 304.773 mph, but it is still a 1,500-horsepower, 16-cylinder, four-turbo- charger monster with a $3.64 million price tag and a production run of only 60 cars.

The best opportunity for exotic car spotting in Virginia is the weekly Cars & Coffee gathering hosted on Saturday mornings by Katie’s Coffee House at the Old Brogue pub in Great Falls. Cars and Coffee events are informal gatherings of cool cars that have become popular nationwide in recent years. There is no registration, no admission fee, no winner, and no corporate sponsor. Owners bring out their fun cars so others can appreciate them. Because there are no rules, the gathering is a pastiche of every kind of potentially interesting cars and motorcycles.

Katie’s Cars & Coffee attracts some incredible machines, including the very latest ultra-high-performance sports cars, race replica sports cars, and pedigreed antiques. The gatherings began in 2010 with just a few dozen interesting cars, but attendance ballooned to ten times that by 2013, says proprietor Mike Kearney. By 2017, more than 600 cars showed up on some summer mornings, spilling over into nearby parking lots and streets.

The freewheeling nature of cars and coffee events means there are no reserved spots, giving the owner of a classic MG sports car or Chevelle Super Sport the same chance of a prime location as a Lamborghini owner. Technically, the event runs from 7:00-9:00 a.m., so the cars are gone when nearby businesses open for the day, but many cars arrive earlier, in search of a good spot; the lot right in front of the Old Brogue usually fills up before sunrise. When a Saudi prince wanted to display his Bugatti Veyron, he dispatched a security detail in two black Porsche Cayenne SUVs to stake out a prime spot for him at 4:15 a.m., says Kearney.

“It is all for car purists,” he continues. “There is no charge for admission. There are no cars roped off. If you bring your cars here, people are going to get up close and see them. We’ve had an Auburn Boattail Speedster [valued at $1 million] parked here along with the Bugattis. It makes everybody feel like their car is special.”

The world has noticed, with acclaim coming from the likes of YouTube car review superstar Doug DeMuro, who has nearly 4 million subscribers to his channel. “Katie’s Cars &Coffee is still the very best cars and coffee event I’ve been to—and I twice went to the ‘original’ cars and coffee back in Crystal Cove/Irvine years ago,” he enthuses.

They get the car bug, the racing bug a little bit, and the passion starts to grow.”

—Tomy Milner

“Katies is a fantastic mix of supercars and older stuff and weird stuff, reflecting the wonderful mix of people in the [D.C., Maryland, Northern Virginia area],” says DeMuro. “With regards to its influential status, it’s certainly known throughout the mid-Atlantic as an extra-special gathering place for car enthusiasts—not as large as some events, but often with more unique and exciting cars.”

Maserati brand manager Karl DeBoer agrees. During the two years he worked at the company’s Virginia headquarters, he saw a “steady increase in interest for exotic cars,” he says, “evidenced through the growth of car events where owners show their cars. Specifically, I attended the weekly Cars & Coffee in Great Falls and each time saw a collection of very rare exotics.”

Gatherings at Katie’s are on hiatus during the pandemic, but everyone is anxious for the return of the weekly celebrations of Virginia’s incredible population of exciting cars. “Some things have really been missed during the pandemic,” Kearney observes. “In the car culture, you haven’t been able to get out and socialize with their car friends.” it would be cool if we could get the Wood Brothers to tail one of their stock cars to the event from Stuart. Maybe they can park it next to a Bugatti or a Roll-Royce. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue.

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