Stealth Wealth

The C8 Laviolette from Spyker Cars N.V. in the Netherlands has a howling 400hp engine, a gaping front grille and a glass canopy reminiscent of a fighter jet. It goes 187mph. Price: $210,000.

Who’d have the guts to drive a car like that in this economy? William Gacioch.

A 59-year-old residential real estate investor, Gacioch divides his time–and his 100-car portfolio–between Winter Park, Fla. and Derby, N.Y. These days this collector of trophy cars drives his Laviolette more often than his 1999 Lamborghini Diablo or 2005 Aston Martin Vanquish. He says the Laviolette turns heads but isn’t a cliché like, say, a $220,000 neon-green Gallardo.

Sure about that, Mr. Moneybags?

At a time when many people are unemployed and legislators are cooking up surtaxes on bonuses, most makers of luxury autos (i.e., the $50,000 to $200,000 segment) are producing so-called prudent 2010 models, which have big price tags but no marks of conspicuous consumption. Then there is the superluxury segment ($200,000 and up). Spyker of Zeewolde has been turning out autos for ten years–50 a year–and has no shame in producing what you might call a loud sports car. Its C8 Aileron Spyder goes from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds. Turbine-inspired air vents, an aluminum-trimmed cockpit and butterfly doors–not to mention quilted Hulshof leather-lined dual seats–make the car an attention-grabber. Production starts in the spring. The base model costs $235,000.

The $245,000 Ghost from Rolls-Royce , a division of BMW, is headed to the U.S. in April. This is Rolls’ most driver-friendly coach and more affordable than the $380,000 Phantom. Ghost is billed as a smaller sedan that will appeal to younger drivers, but it may still cause a scene. Hand-built to order, it offers a soundproof cocoon of lounge seating, night-vision cameras, cosseted coach doors, inch-thick lamb’s wool carpeting and a cashmere roof lining.

Bentley’s new flagship, the $285,000 Mulsanne, also starts production this spring. In keeping with the ethos of understatement for this private marque, the car has a subdued, craftsmanlike appearance. Bentley offers 114 paint and 21 carpet color choices, nine wood veneers and 24 hides tanned in such a way that the leather never loses its scent. The company aims to sell 700 Mulsannes worldwide each year, 150 of them in the U.S. It is taking preorders and says it has close to 100 in hand.

For the first 11 months of 2009 the superluxury segment had U.S. sales of 1,189 units, down 49% from 2008. Daimler’s Maybach, with no new models planned for 2010, sold only 57 vehicles in the U.S. through November. Rolls is the exception in the superluxe category, according to AutoData, with sales of 309 cars, down only 18% from 2008.

Robert Deutsch, a cognitive anthropologist who runs Brain Sells, a Boston consultancy, explains the appeal: “The motivation is ‘Look at me, I’ve got the goodies.’” Smart vendors don’t overdo understatement, even in a recession.

-Hannah Elliot, Forbes Staff

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