Classics&Exotics is AirBnB for cars

Autumn is upon us, and with it, some of the best weather for driving and enjoying classic cars. The scorching days of summer, along with the attendant dangers of overheated engines and sunburns, are behind us. Frozen winter days, when road salt would do little to enhance a classic car's value, are, hopefully, still a distant headache.

From where I stand, there's no better way to soak in a warm fall day than by driving around on the Hudson Valley’s country roads in an old convertible. Since I don't own one, it seems only natural that I should have to wait several years until I've saved up enough money to buy one for myself. But then I found out that the sharing economy – the same market force that brought us AirBnB, which allows us to rent people's homes for short stays in lieu of more costly and sterile hotel room bookings – had bled over into the vintage automotive sector. The service is called Classics&Exotics (and, no, it doesn't have spaces between the words).

Like AirBnB, users can search by area, then pick the most desirable car from the list. Being a GM guy, one droptop in my area jumped off the page at me: a mint condition Buick Skylark convertible. A quick scan through the local Craigslist ads revealed that if I wanted to own such a car in similar condition, I'd have to part with at least $15,000. That's to say nothing of the cost of storing it where the top wouldn't get destroyed by the elements, as well as assuming the added expense of insurance.

Classics&Exotics provided me with a way to get behind the wheel of a glittering beauty for less than $300 a day. My other options were, among others, a couple of '70s Camaros, some '60s Mustangs, a vintage Porsche and, on the newer end, a 2015 Corvette and a 2008 Maserati Granturismo.

The owner of the Skylark, Richard Steinberg, was very accommodating regarding scheduling. When I arrived at his house to pick up the car, he handed me the keys to a well-kept machine and took a few minutes to walk me through the peculiarities of its operation before I took off. The car, with its glittering gold paint and perfect interior, started easily, drove smoothly and accommodated a party of six (my whole family) on its black vinyl bench seats.

The whole experience was idyllic. I drove along wooded lanes to a lake in Dutchess County (N.Y.), listening to its burbling V-8 via dual exhaust. My pleasure centers satiated, the practical side of my brain had a lot of questions about how a service like this actually works. Peter Zawadzki, founder of Classics&Exotics, says it functions like most other services in the sharing economy. In fact, he had drawn his inspiration not from AirBnB itself, but from Boatbound, a similar service for boats.

"I began renting my boat on the site, and after a few months I'd had a handful of rentals and the boat always came back spotless," he said, adding that the rentals helped cover his monthly expenses. "I figured that if I can do this with my house, my boat and almost anything else I own, why not rent out the MGA and Ferrari 308 that just sit in my garage?"

Zawadzki says the website has been up and running since late spring. So far, there are about 100 vehicles on Classics&Exotics and 800 users have signed up, completing nearly 30 rentals over the summer months. To expand the company's offerings, Zawadzki said he and his team spread the word at summer car shows and have been reaching out to classic and exotic car owners online as well. He says that although the number of listings are expanding, he'd like to see more 1960s muscle cars and 1950s cruisers on the site. Someone did, however, list a McLaren 570S on the site recently. That can only be a boon to the business.

It goes without saying that none of this would work without a robust insurance scheme underpinning the whole thing. After all, if you simply borrow a friend's car, and then are unfortunate enough to get into an accident while driving it, sorting out the financial particulars can be tricky. Not so with Classics&Exotics, Zawadzki said.

"Our insurance is extremely important to us, and without it we wouldn’t be where we are," he explained. Every car is insured throughout the entire rental process.

That includes coverage against minor damage as well as full coverage up to the vehicle's agreed-upon value in the event of a major accident. In addition, Classics&Exotics includes $1 million in liability coverage per policy, and – thanks to a partnership with Hagerty – roadside assistance and repair support is also provided. For all of this to be possible, the renter has to be at least 30 years old, and, for the car owner's security, is required to submit to criminal and driving record checks.

Part of what makes the service successful, Zawadzki says, is simple face time between the renter and the customer and a brief tutorial session with the car.

"We strongly recommend a shakedown drive of the vehicle with the renter before they drive away," said. "This allows the owner to go over any unique features the car might have, but it also allows the owner to make sure the renter is qualified to drive the car."

This, he says, helps create a personal connection between the renter and the customer, which he highlights as part of how the sharing economy works. The logic is that if you know the guy you're renting from, you'll be more likely to take care of his car.

Classics&Exotics is still in its infancy, but seems poised to change the way people interact with cars that most folks don't have access to, for one reason for another. For example, I don't own a convertible because I don't have anywhere to park one. Renting Steinberg's Buick was a great way for me to realize my fantasy of driving my family around in a bucolic setting with the top down. Zawadzki has plenty of similar stories.

"We had someone rent his dream car for the day, and a few weeks after driving it, he went out and bought one of his own," he said. "It was great to know that our platform introduced a new person into the hobby and we hope it's just the first of many."