According to You: The ideal car for the best first impression

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RADwood. Jeff Peek

Last week I asked everyone which car would help you put your best foot forward when meeting someone for the first time. While this discussion usually occurs in the context of first dates, the reality is that cars determine the first impression you make on people regardless of romantic interest. The Hagerty Community didn’t disappoint, giving a nice balance of ideal vehicles for multiple situations across multiple generations.

Let’s get right to it, and see what “you” picked!

Less breathless, more accessible?

Bugeye Sprite front three-quarter graffiti background
Courtesy Bring a Trailer/Josh Bryan

Hagerty Community member Tom Dailey sums things up well by including the element of reachability to the equation: “That’s what appeals in large part. My MkII Factory Five Cobra gets attention, makes people breathless, and moves like a scalded dog, but the ’60 Austin-Healey is “touchable” and the viewer realizes that they might actually be able to have one.”

It’s all about the condition

radwood detroit 2019 fox body
Grace Houghton

Another member, James, suggested that it’s less about which car and more about how you keep it. He’s underwhelmed “if someone pulls up in a late model Porsche covered in road grime and brake dust embedded on the wheels.” However, “if someone pulls up with a 20-year-old (average any car) that’s all original, [with] perfect mechanics and bodywork, I’m impressed.”

Jaguar E-Type

Jaguar-E-type rear three-quarter
Jaguar

I never considered the iconic E-Type for this list, but we had two such submissions. In hindsight, the Jag absolutely makes sense: It’s a special interest vehicle (i.e. an antique) with universally stunning styling and fantastic performance. Hagerty Community member Paul states:

“At my age (75) driving my concours [condition], manual-transmission 1969 Jaguar E-Type convertible implies to adults a semblance of financial stability, sportingness, and youthful energy. They see the design, recognize the make and model, and know that it is very, very fast.”

I wager that even the youngest Gen Z enthusiast will feel the same way, if they ever get seat time in one!

Then we have Michael Bauer, who has a “less than perfect ’69 Jaguar XKE Series 2 roadster” that runs great but has a dash of patina. He states that the Brit is “more approachable than a perfect example and makes a great first impression.” He continues: “I think I get recognized as someone who would rather drive a very interesting car with accumulated character than someone with an overvalued garage queen.” Which leads us to our next recommendation.

Something with character

mitsubishi_eclipse_gs_turbo
Mitsubishi

Dare to be different? Well, perhaps to some extent. Hagerty Community member Sal reminds us all that a car “doesn’t have to be pricey: No cookie cutter German luxo barges or UTEs. Maybe an Alfa Romeo Montreal, Opel GT, Mitsubishi Starion, etc. Basically, a coupe with some charisma.” This is a relative measurement, of course, and Douglas reminds us to strike a balance by remembering “the crowd you’re playing to” but encouraging us to “enjoy the fruits of your labour with a passion, because life isn’t a dress rehearsal.”

Classic Americana

Drive In Theater Lot Filled with Classic Cars at Dusk
Gabe Augustine

Let’s face it, America made some amazing cars that became classics in what feels like a matter of minutes. Our own Adrian Clarke profiled the exceptionalism of General Motors design of yesteryear, and it’s a big part of why American cars are held in such high regard. Or, as Hagerty Community member Larry D puts it:

“In my area of western North Carolina, you wouldn’t get much crowd reaction with a Ferrari of any kind. Just not our cup of tea here. But drive in with a 1967 427 Corvette coupe or convertible and they will migrate to you in a hurry. Second best would be a tie between a 1969 Z/28 Camaro and a 1966 Chevelle SS with a four-speed, a BIG camshaft, and 3-inch exhaust with Flow Master mufflers!”

We had several other recommendations to this effect, including a ’57 Thunderbird, a ’70 Corvette LT-1, and Joe with his 1969 Torino Cobra Jet:

“In September 1968, age 21, I acquired a Competition Orange 1969 Torino Cobra 428 Super Cobra Jet. At a party the first Saturday night after taking delivery, I noticed a cute redhead looking at my car. I walked over and she said “nice car.” I asked her if she came to the party with someone. She said, “Kind of.” I took that as a weak commitment and said, “Get in, let’s go for a ride.” She jumped in and we spent the next year at the drag races, movies, and parties. I would say the Torino Cobra made a strong first impression.”

Acura NSX

Sajeev Mehta

A solid counterpoint comes in the form of the stunningly engineered and tragically underrated Acura NSX, as Hagerty Community member Tinge of Ginge suggested it has a stunning design, great reliability, and fantastic resale value: “The nostalgia hounds will love it, the unwashed masses won’t notice much beyond “it looks fast.” It’s noticeable, but not flashy like a Lamborghini.” And the super car from Acura “whows that the owner either a) cares about driving an interesting car, or b) is at least somewhat sensible about their money. Or both.”

Just make it fast; origin and age is irrelevant

Fast Furious Charger rear action
Universal Pictures

Our very own Tetons puts this query into a great perspective, saying: “My life has changed with age, just not my love of cars. In college, I owned a 1968 Charger that was my pride and joy. My father convinced me to sell it when I got engaged to be married because I now had to be a responsible adult. I now own a 2021 Supra, a 1973 240Z, and a 1983 Honda 650T (still the need for speed).”

While Tetons is still a responsible adult, he states that:

“I never really forgave my father for the Charger. If I win Powerball, my first purchase is a 1968 Charger followed closely by a 1963 split-window Corvette. Some things never change.”

A luxury car that still looks new?

Mercedes-Benz

I feel this notion is very important in certain parts of America where cars are needed both for transportation and as a fashion statement or ego boost (looking at you, suburbs). Hagerty Community member James S McGrath says it well:

“I had that same discussion with a friend that was an insurance agent. He was driving a nice Mercedes and I mentioned to him that people may infer that he was making a lot of money off of them and not choose him for their insurance. He then said, ‘What if I told you it’s five years old and has 75K [miles] on it?’

“I told him that he had a nice car, and as long as people thought it was new, that they may still have the same perception. About 10 years [later], he was still driving that car, and it still looked good!”

This impression is both a good and bad thing, he continues: “Sometimes people want to know that they are dealing with someone that is successful at what they do. If they dress nice and drive a nice car and speak intelligently about what they are selling, that impression is left as well. I guess it depends on the individual and what they are looking for.”

Les Fender puts his best foot forward with a similar statement, choosing, “with the possible exception of certain Volkswagens, almost any German car of any model year. With the possible exception of certain Fiats, almost any Italian car of any model year.”

Anything but a luxury car that still looks new

Volkswagen

Community member Luke pondered hard on our question and gave a fantastic response, saying: “I’ve been fairly lucky in that I was able to achieve a great deal by the time I was 30 (I’m 36 now), and, as a car enthusiast, I’ve had a wide range of cars. My current pride and joy is an AMG GT R Roadster, and it is magical. But I still have my Mk5 GTI that I bought just out of college, and I drive it almost everywhere.”

He also added a bit of data from the younger generation who love those short-form videos: “It’s become a trend on TikTok where supercar owners show what they would pick up a girl in for their first date, and it’s almost always some sort of affordable but fun hatchback. I do the same. Make sure she likes me for me, then she gets to see the real toys.”

Turns out Luke was the perfect reader for my initial query, since it focused on college students in business school. Apparently his mentor is a wise person, and would likely fit in real well with other members of our community:

“My mentor on the trading floor advised us to always drive an affordable but well-maintained car whenever we went to meet with a client. He rightly said that one surefire way to make sure a deal falls through is to drive a better car or wear a better watch than the person you want something from.

“In almost any scenario, my Mk5 GTI is my car for first impressions, and I think when meeting people, anything like that, be it a Veloster, Corolla, Civic, or Jetta, will always make a good impression to those people who matter. And for those who look down on you driving an economy car, their opinion of you probably shouldn’t matter to begin with.”

A dress for every occasion?

Audi e tron family vehicles
Audi

Here’s the wonderful thing about our distinctly North American slant: Unlike other places in the world where one vehicle has to accomplish multiple tasks, so many of us have the luxury of space, capital/financing, and availability of new and gently used automobiles with impressive rates of depreciation. The third benefit has changed a fair bit in pandemic times, but Hagerty Community user Burt Harwood reminds us all it was possible before: “My go-to office car was a ’66 Mustang GT. My go-skiing cars were a ’73 Ford Country Squire and a Lincoln Town Car.”

Perhaps Hagerty Community user TG wraps it all up for us when he says:

“It really depends on who you are trying to impress. My ’74 big-block Vette does a fairly good job just because it is loud, red, and eye-catching. It doesn’t matter if people know anything about cars at all—it will get noticed. I think if you are trying to impress the folks in the board room at Dewey, Cheatum & Howe, brand and MSRP are generally the winners—and you either want to be right down the middle (metallic grey BMW 7 Series) or completely out of the box (McLaren). If you are hanging outdoors, it needs to be four-wheel-drive, tall enough you have to climb into it, and make a lot of black smoke … I could go on and on!”

Didn’t like what you saw here? No problem! Our next installment is next week, and we will ask a new question looking for fresh insight from the Hagerty Community … that means you!

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Comments

    What has caught me off guard is my Fiero.

    I have owned a number of great cars and classics over the years but often they were just another muscle car and they appeal to some but no major reactions even in prime condition with two carbs through the hood.

    I bought my Fiero new in 1985. It is a V6 and I have a number of modified parts on it today dating from the 80’s. Things like the rear Indy scoop and original prototype Pontiac parts. I even added a TTop. The first thing I removed was the Fiero 2m6 name from the rear.

    When I first bought the car I was the local celebrity. Everyone wanted a ride etc.

    Then the dark years after the bad press I was the idiot who bought one.

    I started to show the car and many were not even sure it was a Pontiac vs even a Fiero.
    The car itself began to become popular on its own.

    Today I get two groups of people that it makes a great impression on. One is older folks who either had one, wish they had one or knew someone who had one. They fuss over how clean and different it is.

    The second group is the kids today 5-25 years old. Many never even heard of a Fiero and many act as if it were some exotic because of the engine in back and still dressed in perfect factory red powder coat. They love the looks the sound of the exhaust and even with the modest V6 power are blown away that it is only 2600 pounds. They get the fact it is not a drag car but one that turns left and right.

    Many women also with have great memories of the car or see it and would love to have one. I am not sure they understand there is no power steering.

    I was just at a show recently that had a number of classics and exotic cars. There was over 50 Ferrari’s alone. But yet I had a crowd around my car that has a value of what a brake job on a Ferrari cost.

    To be honest I have had more fun with this car than any I have owned, it is different and it is built to my design. It makes a bigger impression than how much it is worth or what the name is. Few cars do that and I owe it I believe to being different and a car that attracts different generations and sexes for different reasons.

    I have won many awards and been invited to many events due to this car that would my other cars would never have been invited to. I was even asked by GM and Summit Racing to display my car at their events and retail store.

    I will buy other cars and enjoy them but the Fiero will stay with me from here on. I just enjoy the people it has introduced me too and I have a number of life long trusted friend that we met because of this car. To me that is something special.

    So I present proof that being different, unique and unconventional can make a big impression even at a low price.

    The Fiero is the car that never gets the credit it deserves. For those that say it was underpowered, I say underpowered for what, it was a 2,600 pound committer car at even 85 HP it had plenty of power to get you to and from where you were going and the payments were affordable. It was designed for a person, young and single normally, that needed to get back and fourth to work and fun stuff while looking good doing it, it ticked all those boxes. A Fiero was plenty of fun on a backroad and when you parked it you didn’t really have to worry.

    Finding a three or more owner Fiero even today is rare, even the one that was shown being restored on YouTube was a second owner car and with 108,000 miles on it. I had a second owner Fiero that I but 140,000 of the 238,000 miles on before it was totaled by a kid in a Festiva creating an electrical problem by rear-ending it.

    It was a far better looking and driving car than the Cavalier or the Citation that were your other choices from GM in the same price range.

    Still, you might want to replace the FIERO 2M6 sticker on the back.

    Your statement is so correct hyperv6! I own a clean 1991 Red Buick Reatta with dark tinted windows (that I have added additional white pin stripping, a red roof shark fin and a red 2003 Cavalier reap spoiler to). A get lot of people who have never heard of or seen a Reatta attracted to it like bees to honey. Owning my old well-maintained, interesting looking car is like owning an expensive Rolls Royce to others!

    I had to press a 85 Fiero into quick transportation when my truck was totaled back around 97. It was a $500 car I bought from the guy next door after it came home one day on the hook with a dropped tie rod. Spent a day throwing parts at it that I stocked for when time came to get it going. 2M6/4 speed manual. Had to drive it through the Michigan winter. it was GREAT in the snow! Even when snow was deep, it just rolled on ahead. Front tires acted more like snowmobile skis at times in the deep stuff but it just kept going. Closest thing to driving a go kart everyday. 160k and tight as a drum through slush and car washes! Would love to have a 88 GT with the 5 speed!

    I was involved with fabrication of the base of the mill and drill machine for the Fiero frame. Got a chance to see a prototype in early developmental stages. Interestingly the manufacturing and branding was fought over by the various GM divisions. Some wanted to kill the car all together so it wouldn’t affect possible Corvette sales. I had the pleasure of owning a 1984 four cylinder and a V6 1988 Formula. The 2.8 V6 made a world of difference and tweeks to handling further improved the car. We have some in the Denver area that have V8 conversions that are incredibly fast cars. Don’t understand why GM always seems to kill a car just as it starts to reach greatness……. That is except Corvette.

    It was the distinction of the GM culture. Pontiac and Chevy went at each other like Ford and GM.

    They could and should have worked together and the Fiero could have complimented the Corvette.

    But the C4 sales were in decline and the Fiero had a 230 HP model coming that could have done more damage to Corvette sales.

    As designer John Schinella once said Chevy sells more cars so Chevy got more say and killed the Fiero.

    Many don’t realize the C5 really was canceled so there was some real concern. The manager ignore the cancellation and Jim Perkins funneled money to finish the car and they celebrate 70 years today.

    Even if the Fiero had lived they had maybe 5 more years. Few sports cars make 5 to 10 years. It is a limited segment and lower cost models are limited profits.

    I call it the red headed step child syndrome….I had a red Chevrolet H HR S S A A 5 half panel that l would show….it would be the only H H R in the show .I won many a trophy with it. People would call it a P T CRUSER…they had no idea what they were looking at.

    Play to the audience you are trying to reach.

    A Kardashian-type girl (purposely stated, not a woman)….something flashy. It can be ancient as long as it has the right badge.

    A down-to -earth type…F-150

    Outdoor tyoe…restored stock CJ-5

    All around regular type…Classic American…whether it be a Stutz Bearcat, 30’s Classic, 50s cruiser, 60s muscle or 70s Lincoln.

    Someone who thinks they are special….better go European for a faux-Bond vibe

    I agree – it depends on the love interest. I have one, I think for most types. My E-Type is for wanting to make the statement that I like fast, beautiful things, and have enough money that she won’t have to support me.
    I have a Sunbeam Harrington to show I love the ‘cute’ but rare and unusually in all things.
    I have an Opel GT for showing that I can be efficient but still classy and fun.
    Finally, my Nissan Frontier to prove I live camping and hiking, if its an outdoorsy type of lady.
    Are there other types? I guess a hippie would want me to drive an EV or a Toyota hybrid, but that is too big a sacrifice to make for love.
    All of which is beside the point, since I have decided I am far better off with my dog.

    One of the cars I owned was a new 1974 Porsche 911. A beauty in pale sea foam green. Only trouble was the ones that seemed to admire it and look for it all wore badges and liked to stop it to get a closer look! Dang so many tickets.

    I always knock them dead when I arrive in my 1982 DeLorean DMC-12. I have other cool cars (vintage Corvettes, etc.), but the DeLorean is most “take your breath away car” I have ever owned. It continues to be the only car I have ever owned that people will stick their cell phone camera out the window to get a picture while driving down the road. When you arrive in a DeLorean, you always get a smile from everyone.

    Any car you built yourself…While buying a nice car may be impressive to some, there’s nothing like the impression made when you’re able to tell someone you built it. “Built not bought”.

    Hell yes. ‘My son the engineer’ has a modest early Miata, initial cost not that high, with *every*single*part* breathed-on. When somebody who knows about cars sees the suspension links or the hybrid supercharger, he has a new friend to talk with for several hours. Of course, you know, engineers…

    Sajeev, thank you and well done.
    The Healy and the Jaguar would be for me making an impression, but for overall attraction (don’t laugh, everybody) was my 1993 Lincoln Continental Signature, Burgundy with White Leather Interior and all kinds
    of electrical toys. An obese Taurus (You know about this car Sajeev) it was wonderful and eye catching everywhere it went. It spent a lot of time in Wine Country in California, and impressed everybody when it made its entrance into the parking lots. And frequently it was invited to park in front of the Winery. The Left Coast is crazy for image. And yes, I committed the unforgivable sin of selling it. For a reasonable profit.
    Now I’m looking for another one and having a cushy adventure in a 2001 Buick Century Custom Sedan, a recent inheritance. I’m bringing it back from the dead at the moment and may keep it. The girls in the family really like it. And I’m not discussing my running costs so I don’t have another heart attack. I have to get to Hagerty eventually and see if I can do business. When I get new space.

    Oh I know about the car, and I know about yours. Was not expecting it to fare that well in the wine country! A fellow Hagerty reader is offering his 1994 to me (but I don’t need another, and I am not that great at fixing electrical issues). My 1989 is a terrible first date car, but in hindsight, it helped me dodge a bullet (as it were) at least once!

    My JDM Subaru Sambar Kei Van dressed up in Hello Kitty accessories always draws a happy crowd. I’m not allowed to park it next to the La Ferrari at Cars & Coffee anymore because the owner got annoyed that his car was being ignored.

    For grabbing attention, you couldn’t beat my white convertible 1974 Eldorado with the top down. People all turn around to look. Not only do no cars look like that any more, none ride that way any more either.

    I am fortunate to own seven collector cars, ranging from a ’21 Chevy roadster-pickup to a ’99 Jeep Sahara. The one that attracts people the most is my ’78 GMC Caballero with cap that I bought new. It’s two tone “camel” tan paint sets it apart in a crowd.

    There is *nothing* like an ElCo. It makes a statement, and not a quiet one, about the owner. I have one.
    The One That Got Away, for me, was when a nearby mortuary had its Superior Coach-built coffin car for sale. A Cadillac El Camino. Literally, to die for.

    My ’55 Citroën Traction Avante usually ‘stops pedestrian traffic’. Trying to explain to an interested individual how a car designed in 1934 was so advanced that It broke the company takes about 5 minutes! Then trying to explain the pronunciation takes a minute or so! No, it’s not ‘lemon’, it’s the French builder’s name! Always interesting…

    70’s through 90’s BMWs are my passion (maybe my weakness) – they never fail to impress without being over the top. Such as my 95 840Ci (in white, of course) – who doesn’t love that look and say “wow, you have one of those?”

    I prefer to drive a car that impresses me which would be an imperfect older muscle car. If you are driving a four-door car less than 30 years old, I will think you aren’t really into cars except for a few rare exceptions. Driving some expensive new exotic, I might think it is more about flashing money than being a car person

    I’m 76 and figure I’ve owned more than 50 cars in my lifetime. Last year I purchased a mint condition red Mercedes SLK 230 for my wife for our 56th Anniversary. We hadn’t owned it a week until we entered the car in a local car show in her name. It won a first place trophy the first time out. But the most important thing is that she LOVES her car. She picked it out of all the possibilities. Simply put, it’s her. Choose your car based on what pleases you and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

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