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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    I’ll nominate our 2 cars:
    My 1955 red Thunderbird.
    I drive it quite a lot in good weather. Always draws thumbs up and honks, not to mention folks of all ages taking photos, telling their car stories, and asking questions ( especially women).

    My wifes pristine white 1961 MGA gets similar reactions, especially from the under 40 crowd…

    Tarpon Larry

    Depends on where you are. At shows I like oddball and original. If I never see another Camaro with chrome everything under the hood or a street rod with the average 350 Chevy in it, that would be OK with me. Same goes for LS swapped everything. I don’t care if it is a four door Biscayne with 6 cylinder and three on the tree. THAT interests me. Out in the real world, if a person judges you on what you drive, they aren’t worth knowing. Sometimes you can’t afford to drive a nice car every day so you deal with what you can afford. I hate the posers with the flashy cars who are trying to impress. The only thing that says to me is they are shallow, they are in debt up to their eyeballs, one payment from repossession and have a small winky.

    Out of the 80+ cars I’ve owned in the 71 years on this planet nothing, absolutely nothing draws people out of the weeds like a 06 white/blue Ford GT. It spans every age group, demographic, and gender. Plus it’s simply the best driver I’ve ever owned and I’ve been so fortunate to owned some of the best of the best.

    CTSv long roof has been a surprise on its notability but only by those who know what it is which is typically only us car freaks. I discovered so at the Road America Historics. A lot of folks were going ape over it. Especially when I opened up the headers on the front straight.

    A 1967 Springtime Yellow Mustang Convertible..289 cu in ..automatic…..Need I say any more…?????

    I wish I had it today…

    I agree with those who consider the mix of their audience when making a first impression. My daily ride is a 2019 AUDI Q8 “Luxo-Bargewagen” which hauls anything and drives very well. Little notice is taken of it in a parking lot filled with various and sundry SUVs. However, when I take my 1955 Jaguar MKVIIM to the same lot, I often find myself in the midst of a one-vehicle car show. Questions abound-“Bentley ?” No. “Rolls ?” No. “V-12?” No. But when I attend a car show the questions change to “How long have you owned it?” 22 years. “How much is original?” About 75%. Numbers match. And occasionally an observation: “My Uncle had one.” Choosing the correct audience for a first impression clearly makes a difference.

    Lots of great cars and stories. If you want to make a good impression drive a clean well maintained car and present yourself the same way.

    I forgot to mention in my earlier post that when I drove to the Toronto bus station in April of 1988 to pick up the woman who would become my wife, I had borrowed my best friend’s 1982 (?) diesel Malibu in beige-gold, possibly the least impressive newer car possible, given its cement-mixer soundtrack. It was our first meeting IRL after corresponding for a few months by snail mail (yup). To the extent that she was impressed, it was that I had access to a car, period. We drove all over Toronto that weekend, which made for a lot of fun. I took the bus to visit her the next weekend — and the rest unfolded over the 34+ years since that day.

    I think you are all over-rating the effect of the vehicle. I courted my wife of fifty years on a clapped out Honda 50 step through scooter. ( Or maybe that proves your point -who knows?)

    From expereience the 69 Charger will get you attention from blokes with beards. None from the ladies I would like to impress

    When I met my wife of now 47 years I was driving a 1964 International Harvester half ton. No radio, a heater with a partially clogged heater core (we I’ve in Canada) the truck was in rough shape and is long gone but she’s still with me, I don’t believe vehicle really matters.

    My wife and I went on our first date (and all the subsequent ones up to our wedding day) in my mid 70s $400 Malibu sedan. Why? ‘Cuz I’m odd like that.

    Impressions? Meh. The experience, that’s what matters.

    My 1975 Jaguar XJ6 with a SB chevy 350 V8 was the “it” car for me and helped get the girl’s attention who I had otherwise been invisible. When the valet at the hotel pulled up and asked what kind of engine it had, I opened the hood and a crowd of the curious encircled the engine bay. She loved the style, comfort and class of the gorgeous car but was equally impressed by the attraction of its hot rod custom appeal. We’ve been married 31 years. Long since sold the Jag but she still enjoys a ride in a cool sedan – currently a Maserati Quatroporte.

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