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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    In high school and college my 1959 Porsche Convertible D Super worked for me. I would love to own one now, but they are too expensive.

    My 2007 black Aston Martin DB9. Gorgeous lines, great sound and smooth english leather. Its elegant and understated, something which is in short supply in my hometown of Miami where day-glo orange Lamborghinis are a dime a dozen. The Aston says “shaken, not stirred” with what the Brits call a posh accent.

    Driving my 1937 MGTA was always like driving in a parade…everyone waved at you! Quite fun.

    What most surprised me was my 2007 white Shelby GT… I figured it would just be a white Mustang to 99% of the people. Yet, it seemed every time I stopped for gas someone would come over to talk about Shelby and to get pictures… I did not expect that!

    The best car to take to a reunion is the car that represents the real you. So, first, it needs to not be a rental car, but a car you own. Second, ideally it’s a car the speaks to the kind of person you are, not someone you want to pretend to be for a day. For some, that could be a classic they’ve always wanted since they were in high school. For others, it could be that ultimate car for which they’ve been aspiring. And for some, it may be the beige 17 year-old Toyota Camry with 200,000 miles on it.

    For me it has to be my 62 mini Cooper, it just makes people of all ages smile, and it makes me smile when driving it on a twisty road.

    69 Torino Cobras never get any love. Not sure why, mine was a mopar and Chevy killer. Didn’t attract many chicks, however. Probably me. Thanks for posting.

    Ideal car to make a first impression on? A Mk4 Toyota Supra Turbo (relatively stock).

    Just kidding.

    A clean original or mostly original or tastefully modded car all works for me. I like the car because I like the car. The first impression comes from your personality. If you are rude, then your car sucks and I’m not interested. Cool attitude? I can be into your car regardless of what it is or my tastes.

    So I had at least a few minutes between posts and got a “You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.”

    OK. Also I see “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” Should I even bother? This does not encourage one to post a comment.

    There are some great cars listed. For me it’s an Alfa Romeo Spider. I have driven them for years and meet the nicest people who are either fellow car enthusiasts or people thinking It’s an expensive exotic. It won’t win a Drag Race but in Austin it’s perfect.

    When the question was asked smoke was coming out my ears trying to place “Just One”, so I gave up…..upon the release of this article…I was in agreement with the E-Type and reasoning behind both owners! Then the Drive-In photo perked me up seeing the 65 Belvedere in the crowd. But I have to say…..A 69 Charger with its front wheels three foot off the ground has to be the hands down winner in my book…To Make A Lasting First Impression!!! HANDS DOWN ! Thanks for the article !

    My experience has been a driver condition, or better, old British sports car is always well received. I’ve had lot’s of mustangs, early Trans Am’s, 69 vette, BMW’s, etc., but hands down the ones that have the most universal appeal have been the MGB’s and my TR 6. In the TR6 I get thumbs up from little kids to old guys like me. I’m deaf in one ear, and don’t wear my hearing aids while driving with the top down, and it never fails that stopped at a light people are making comments or asking questions about it, I usually just smile and hope the light changes soon.

    For me, I’ve loved cars since I was a little kid and am now 65 and have owned over 60 cars/trucks. I like the driving experience and performance and this whole topic of the impression you make in a particular car, to me, sucks. A car I would like to own is a new musting GT convertible with a manual transmission, for the performance, sound and handling and performance that all my previous mustangs never had. But when you see an old guy in a new car like that, it looks like he’s having some sort of crisis or something. Too expensive or flashy, and they think your compensating for something. It’s kind of frustrating because there’s a lot of nice cars I like to own, but don’t want the stigma attached. Back to the older British stuff that’s sub $50K, people usually seem to just think “cool car”. Someone already mentioned and original Mini, and I don’t think you can go wrong with one of those. I had a 2004 Mini Cooper S, and even that got a lot of attention, I guess due to the cute factor.

    Working in a collector car store for a couple of years I was fortunate to drive an eclectic bunch of cars to various events and for business. A stock red ’66 Corvette roadster with powerglide probably got the most attention on the road. Mercedes SL’s of any era are perfect for social events. The white Continental MkII was perfect for a retro costume party at a Yacht Club. A high mile Aston V8 Vantage coupe was the most personally gratifying ride of the many cars I experienced.

    My 1970 Rover P5b coupé in two tone silver birch over Zircon blue is the best combo of a four door/coupe, has a great burbling (ex Buick) V8 motor, and never fails to attract compliments. Best of all, few folks know what it really is….Also has room for dogs and friends:}

    My 86 Jaguar XJ-6. It was very modified under the skin with a 330 CI stroker and a 700-R4 as well as the 3.43 final drive limited slip. No one every knew. It exuded class. Ride whatever coat tail you can, I say.

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