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

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

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


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?


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


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

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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    Like anybody with an unusual or uncommin vehicle, our 62 survivor Studebaker GT Hawk always gets comments. It’s a survivor hot rod that is low, loud, and a bit rough.
    Aggravates my friend with a perfect 69 Mustang fastback when people walk right past his car to look at our Stude.

    Get similar reactions with my 63 Avanti with the stock style glass pack mufflers, and to a lessor extent with our 64 GT Hawk.

    In the early 1990s, I had a black 308 GTSi. It made people look because, while they were then fairly ubiquitous in L.A. and Miami, here in the Midwest it was a novelty. I asked my trusted Italian mechanic about a compromise: something that performed, looked great but had more year-round utility.

    He said I was looking for “something that didn’t exist –a mistress who cooks!”

    I just spent a few days at The Villages in central Florida. My white 1961 Lincoln Continental was an absolute smash. The thumbs up looked like a forest. Talk about a conversation starter (and babe magnet). Everyone loves, and knows, the suicide doors.

    I have a few cool cars, but the one that gets the most attention while driving it around town is a 1982 Datsun 280zx turbo. Everyone between the age of 45 and 60 have a story to tell about a kid they knew in a high school parking lot. They in veritable include a cheerleader, Budweiser and the cops.

    Nothing beats a 246 Dino! In 1982 I showed up on her doorstep driving my 9 year old pristine Dino that I had paid under $15K for and she was quietly impressed. Over the next few years and a lot of Sunday drives she became my wife of 40 years.

    The 1966 Corvette Convertible I sold at auction in March would be a great ride. It had almost every factory option on the car including power windows and factory AC. It was a small block car ideal for cruising and enjoying on warm summer nights. It was Rally red with a red interior and was a winner of several dozen awards at local and regional car shows as well.
    I am currently waiting for a new C8 Convertible in Torch red with a red and black interior. Hoping it will be as much fun.

    “…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.”

    Reminds me of the saying “Buy from a poor salesman and hire a rich lawyer.”

    For some reason these days my 1977 Corvette C3 draws a lot of attention and thumbs up by passerby’s.

    An older car (at 20+ years) that is impeccably maintained is always impressive regardless of the make or model.

    I Believe You Good Buddy!!!, My 1990 560 SEC Mbz Coupe is Simply Stunning!!,! It Blows People AWAY!!,!
    You Just don’t see those OFTEN,!,! Especially if they are in that Good Of Condition!!,! It’s Black on Black, with Chrome Staggered Mono Block Wheels!!,! I get Most Comments from WOMEN!!!, And I say Thank You Very Much, My Gardner Will Be Flattered, As it’s his . He just Loaned it to ME,!!, LOL!!!,!

    When I was a teenager and then an undergraduate in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, ANY car was going to make a big impression because almost no-one that age could afford one — and I lived in the centre of a city with limited parking and short distances. Motorcycles were more common, and I had one from 18 on. The very few people I knew who did own a car either got it from their parents or lucked into it in a weird way — as I did with my first car, in 1983, a massive 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 coupé in pale green: it was given to me. I eventually gave it back as I could not afford to run/maintain it. Did that car make a good first impression? Probably not — our dreams in those yuppy days were all about BMWs and Saabs.

    How about an old BMW 2002? Like a black tuxedo or a Rolex Explorer, classic and timeless, not ostentatious.

    Not one station wagon, Jeep, or pickup truck!! My 1939 Dodge with tons of patina and a home made rack always is talked about everywhere. Add to that a dog carrier in back for my Shepard pal and we are always the main topic of discussion. I think old cars and dogs were meant together!!

    Really? Pretty shallow, but I do have some cars that made an impression, leading to a career in Automotive Journalism, R&D for small volume manufacturers, and Automotive Restoration.

    I was originally in the medical tech business, when it no longer was a viable business as the hospital system was collapsing in the early 90s. So… I needed something to do.

    The cars that I picked really made an impression on me. I was not thinking about anyone else when I purchased them.

    There were 3 cars: A Fox notch body Saleen Mustang, bought new and then rebuilt with all new suspension components, along with my own multi year development program. This car caught the eye of some Ford engineers and an aftermarket company, and got me into the SAE, resulting in some interesting new friendships.
    I already had a Renault R5Turbo2, which was purchased new as well, as a “competition” version, with a full roll cage and some other significant options. This got the attention of some editors at some automotive magazines, giving me a new career as an automotive journalist/photographer for several magazines. Now, I make a living restoring R5turbos for friends. The Mustang was sold off (after 16 years of ownership) and was replaced with a Westfield 11 (A copy of the Lotus 11), which I picked up when looking for a nice Morgan 4/4 (that proved elusive. I never found the 4/4 of my dreams, but read on…). This kit car needed to be completely rebuilt, which I did, leading me to the W11 forum, where I found out that nobody knew anything about these cars, both here and in the UK, where the kits were manufactured. I helped a few owners, then was contacted by the US distributor, which tasked me with prepping a magazine test car. That Westfield 11 I completely rebuilt. It performed flawlessly for several magazines, most notably R&T and C and D. I built 6 of these for friends. While that was going on, my journalism lead me to working with the Noble distributor in the US, prepping their magazine test car, which was extraordinarily reliable, incredibly fast, and beat just about every car it was compared to in side by side testing by all the major magazines. I had that car for 18,000 miles and 24 months, when the Noble was replaced with the Rossion, which I also handled as a tech rep for the manufacturer. There were other small jobs for other small volume manufacturers, but these were the most fun.
    I still own the Westfield, while the R5Turbo was sold a few years ago, and replaced with a ’69 marrow track Morgan +8 (finally!), which is finding me an entire new group of friends as I go through refurbishing the machine, from electrics to drive train. This one is proceeding according to plan, and I am wondering what impression that it will make on me when it is finished. I have been driving it during the refurbishment. It has been a wonderful journey so far.

    I have no significant stories about my cars making any sort of impression on women. My choices really had more to do with the sort of impression that the cars made on me. I purchase from the heart, without considering value, other than “Will this be cool in 20 years?”. I owned the Mustang for 16 years, the Renault for 34 years, and the Westfield for 15 years so far. I still have a couple of cars on my bucket list, but since I have to finish this Morgan, and enjoy the hell out of it before they take away my keys, I am not sure that there will be any older dream machines in my future. I have been fortunate to have been able to buy one dream car, new, and have acquired another, which is coming along nicely. I am of advanced age, but have an 8 year old daughter, who loves riding in the Morgan, and the 11. She loves to watch me work on the cars, and can find any tool in my rather large tool box. I hope to see her master the Morgan’s Moss gearbox, and enjoy touring in it as I do now. IF that works out, it is the most important impression of all.

    My cars are for me, and if others enjoy them, that’s nice, and I’ll share as much info as they want to hear; if their children want to sit in the car, that’s fine and pretty much “paying it forward”. Over the years, different cars of mine have resonated with different people; none of them were exotics, though, unless the ’73 911 I had back in the ’80s-’90s (and miss to this day) could be considered as such. I can’t say I care about the opinions of celebrity-worshippers or status-seekers.

    Great comments! First impressions last forever, I always say. With guys and cars, how many times have we heard that a certain car is a chick magnet? Hah! Know what I drove during my magnetic (broke) years? An ’82 VW Rabbit diesel! Talk about the ultimate people’s car! I had mystique! I’ve had a few lookers along the way, a ’67 Barracuda convertible (with a slant 6!), ’87 & ’99 911s, ’70 240Z, ’55 Chevy PU tricked out, ’98 M3, ’13 FRS, and a ’64 Karmann Ghia that I drove around the US twice! None were Concours but all were good looking solid performers. But my all time favorite daily driver is the one I’m driving now, a 2011 Volvo C-30 R Design T5 Automatic. It runs strong and with the hatchback, is as versatile as any car I’ve owned. It’s cherry inside, normal road rash exterior. My favorite car sitting inside, especially at night, was an ’89 Maxima. Incredibly quiet, but strong. It was impressive.

    But regardless of the way they look, there is no substitute for cars that run right!

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