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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    For much of my life, I have owned cars that weren’t popular or that attracted much attention. I was fairly poor in my younger years, but always loved cars & motorcycles. When first out of college, I owned a 1966 slant 6 Dodge Dart. In the 1970’s, $100 in tools and a Chilton manual was all you needed to perform much of the service that the car needed. The car was dependable and easy to repair. I loved being able to take it apart and put it back together. Although I had been car crazy since my earliest recollections, that old Dart helped me become a competent home mechanic. I owned it for many years. But it wasn’t very impressive on first dates. Most people wouldn’t notice it.

    In 2009, I purchased a guards red 1987 Porsche 911. It was a great car in many ways. I love the body style and the general quality was attractive. But out in the rural area where I live, it generated a lot of negative attention. People frowned at the car. High school boys in rusty Saturns challenged me to race. Big pick up trucks drafted me as if we were running in NASCAR. So, when some head bolts broke, I flipped it out of my fleet in favor of a bronze E30 325is. My ’87 BMW is a great driving car that slides under the radar. Most people don’t pay much attention. I can do almost all of the work myself, although ’80’s German cars are more challenging to repair than old Darts.

    Finally, I need to mention my 1992 Taurus LX 3.8. Back in the early ’90’s, the first two generations of Taurus/Sables were considered ground breaking cars. At the time, their quality was superior to many other cars of the day. My wife and I have owned seven of them over the years and have put over 700 thousand trouble free miles on them. There was a time when a ’92 Taurus LX would have impressed a first date, but not today.

    I am the only person I know who loves my old Taurus. I’ve put more miles on the car than any of my old German cars. It’s easy to service and rarely needs repair. I’m the second owner. The first owner clearly loved and cared for it. Because it’s so comfortable to drive, I use of for long distance traveling. Just stick a CD in the premium sound system, adjust the air conditioner, set the cruise control and tell me when we get there. The noteworthy thing is that with the premium paint, it still looks new. These cars were popular 25 years ago, but rarely seen today. But if you bring it on a first date, you better be prepared to rely on your personality.

    +1 on the first two generations of the Taurus. The 3rd generation coulda been a contender, but the styling was too odd for most. To this day my favorite old Ford to drive for long distances is my ’89 Continental, because its an old car that is (almost) as stress free to drive as a new one.

    right now I have two “collector ” cars that both get a lot of attention at cruise nights–Niether would have been my First choice (if I had lots of money) – I’m thinking because one doesn’t have to be Rich to have either one, unlike mustangs/Cameros /thunderbirds ect ect–Regular Working folks who didn’t have Family money handed down can actually see themselves owning them- One is a 83 ford Futura (currently for sale) the other my 63 Dodge 330–both Different enough to stand out but not unattainable-

    My 92 Dodge Stealth R/T (non turbo) gets more attention than any of my other classic cars. Fun to drive as well

    The Bugeye, hands down! The Jag as well. The former, a friend’s, I drove a bunch. The XK-E – my brother had one…
    From my own stable of ownership, the cars with which I would choose are: ’29 Model A station wagon, a Mazda RX-7 (original), and a Citroen DS-21.

    I don’t think actual car has anything to do with it. It just neeeds to be old enough to sport white walls, have the correct white walls for the age/era of the car, and the white walls need to be w-h-i-t-e.

    MGA! Very pretty to most people, reachable for most, massive fun to drive. Can’t go anywhere without someone waiting in the parking lot needing to tell me about the one they knew (Owned, family member had one, college friend had one). Women tell me it is so pretty. It also tells people that the owner can fix things!

    Bravo Keith,

    My wife and I have the same experiences with her 1961 MGA (which she got in High School in 1967)..
    And yes, being able to “fix things” although this car has been one of the most reliable of all the cars we have owned..

    I enjoyed 3.5 years with my triple black NSX, owned most of everything [used of course] save for Italian stock, but of all my 65 Karman Ghia ‘vert in lipstick red was one that drew everyone in.. dropped spindles, Porsche chromes, belied its 36 hp.. approachable.. folks would snap photos of my 06 triple black, with chrome wheels, SC430 where ever I went… it was old but timeless and oozed class [ when I wasn’t beside it lol ] … now I am trying to figure out the best true spoke rims, 17’s, for my 22 GR 86, perhaps the most all around fun daily driver I have owned… its grey in a Bondesque kind of shape… and garners a lot of looks & questions ~ another car that belies its humble origins… cars~ such a expensive addiction………

    A nice driver quality 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Rampside pickup. It always starts an interesting conversation.

    sad that people judge one on the car they have. at one point i had a 96 roadmaster wagon that had seen better days but wasn’t a rust bucket or anything and a beautiful 2003 xj8 in azure blue… it was night and day how other drivers treated me based on which car i was in. The wagon seemed to surprise many drivers by it’s agility and speed (massive torque) but treated it foolishly like cutting me off and slowing down thinking i somehow had super braking power… if not being cut off, i was not being let in…. on the other hand, while in the jag, it was like a bunch of simps tripping over themselves to fawn over the hot blonde that walked into the room…. wide birth, ALWAYS treated courteously letting me in/over etc…. Don’t have either car now. Do have another roadmaster wagon, but this one is in nice shape and i get lots of thumbs up and comments and offers to buy it… strange.

    First choice for making a best impression would be a ’56-’57 Continental Mark II. 2nd choice would be a ’55-’57 Thunderbird, preferably the ’56 year model with the Continental kit & portholes. 3rd choice, there’s not one even close to choice #1 or #2…

    Over the last 40+ years I have owned a number of interesting cars.
    I have loved working on them but getting on in years and time to let others do the work.
    A close friend has always been a Mercedes guy. I retired at the end of 2021 and was looking for a nice convertible for retirement.
    Problem is I am not a tiny guy, fairly tall and 220 lbs.
    Tried all manners of convertibles, MX-5, SLK, etc.
    He said ‘lets find you an SL’. He has a 2013 but I wanted to keep the budget under control.

    We find a 2006 SL500 with AMG package and low mileage that is in near perfect condition. Never seen winter, very little rain. Dealer had it in his indoor showroom this past February and no one was buying a convertible then. He wanted to make room for other cars coming in and he gave me a very good price.
    Lo and behold I sit very comfortably in the car. Has amazing performance, quiet and perfect Grand Touring.

    Does it get looks? Absolutely but I just wanted a great drivers car.
    Found it. Puts a smile on my face every time I drive it.

    Drive what you like, enjoy life!

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