Photo by Peter Mumford
Don't even read the EPA mileage stickers at Park Place Ltd. in Bellevue. If you have to look, you're at the wrong car lot. A new Aston Martin Vantage Roadster, for instance, priced at $148,000, gets about 13 mpg in city driving. For about the same price, a 2001 LamborghiniGallardo with V-10 engine averages around 17 mpg on the highway. On a budget? That 2006 Porsche Cayman S is only $47,000 and gets close to 30 on I-5, provided there's no stop-and-go traffic. (All fuel is premium, of course.) But the cruel paradox of owning one of these irresistible speed wagons—most with rooflines lower than the door handle on an SUV—is that the heavier your foot, the oftener you return to the pump. Prius drivers, shop elsewhere.
And yet business is booming at the car dealer co-founded by David Bingham back in 1987 as a retirement project after his management career at KOMO. "It was really sort of a hobby," he says. At first, when the business was located in Kirkland (hence the name), his customers were "a lot of my friends. I just knew a lot of high-profile people." As he recalls, however, his clientele soon shifted from yacht-club buddies to a younger set: "Obviously, Microsoft was going in. The new customers are a lot of the technie guys."
Sure, Phil Smart has more Benzes, and the restaurants are better near Ferrari of Seattle, but no local dealer of vehicular porn has more, ahem, models (new and used) on his lot. The high-octane buffet stretches from American pony cars to concours gems suited for show at Pebble Beach to scissor-winged, orange "what the hell izzat?" models with unpronounceable European names and glass engine cowlings that allow motorists to admire your 12 cylinders at the red light before you go 0-60 in 4.5 seconds in your Audi R8 (before lawfully stopping at the next traffic signal, of course.)
Trailing the very tanned, cheerful Bingham around the lot, it's hard not to share his enthusiasm. Not only is he knowledgeable about every set of wheels, but he gets to drive them—many with special dealer plates that essentially permit race cars on the road. Park Place is something of an automotive museum, a father-son bonding locale to admire—but please don't touch—the exotic merchandise. Many former racers from Bingham's private stable are simply on display and not for sale. (That blue and yellow 1997 Porsche Turbo S he points out, the one with red wheels? The speedometer was once pegged in Nevada at 205 mph. "This is the total shit," he purrs.)
Bingham is at that enviable stage in life where he gets to drive what he wants, say what he wants. Also, he comes to work in tennis togs, greeting his roughly 70 employees by name as he races around the compound on two artificial knees. That's one downside to luxury exotics: they're so low-slung that older drivers can have difficulty getting in and out. In addition to the many sports cars he owns, admits Bingham, "I have a four-door—which I never thought I'd do in my life." (Meanwhile his wife continues to use a Porsche as her daily driver. )
Park Place now actually comprises several related businesses: new cars, used models, consignments, service, a car wash/coffee bar to open this month, and the Car Nutz customization shop run by one of Bingham's twin sons, Scooter. "That's all bling-bling," says Bingham happily. Pointing to a Benz CL class coupe stripped down to body metal, he adds, "[Scooter] is selling it to some guy in Dubai for $400,000."
You can also find American iron among the Germans, Brits, and Italians—refurbished Detroit muscle cars and new Shelby reproductions. These are for the boomers, says the 65-year-old Bingham, "guys like me." His customers, whose tastes were imprinted in the cheap-gas era of the '50s and '60s, come to shop with an attitude of "What I always wanted and couldn't afford."
And the best part? Those kids who grew up coveting cars of the '80s are now coming on line as customers. No matter the price of gas today, four-wheeled memories are even more precious.—Brian Miller
David Bingham's Picks
BEST CAR FOR THE ERA OF $4 GAS: The Lotus Elise, at 27 mpg on the highway. "They're small and fuel-efficient. The European scale is so different. Go over there and you see why—the fuel is so expensive. And over here we're running the big metal." (Yes, he's a Lotus dealer.)
BEST HYBRID OF NOSTALGIA AND ECONOMY: An officially Porsche-badged replica Speedster, priced at $45,000. "They're a huge bargain. They're a very green car with a flat-4 engine." (Better still, you can add an iPod jack to the retro dash.)