Image: Bentley Continental GTC
Bentley Motors
The Bentley Continental GTC's elegant leather interior is the perfect picture of fine luxury, while the 552-horsepower engine proves that this car can do more than just sit pretty. In Houston, you can rent it for $1,999 per day.
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updated 10/31/2008 2:48:56 PM ET 2008-10-31T18:48:56

Flanked by gently swaying carpets of native grasses, you accelerate onto the A48. You’ve just left the historic town of Cardiff, and are ready for some relaxation after a day of exploring the waterfront and the town’s 2,000-year-old castle. It’s early autumn in the picturesque Welsh countryside, and the roof on your Aston Martin DB89 Volante is down, making the howling of the massive 6.0 liter V12 engine even easier to enjoy.

Perhaps more stunning than the bucolic surroundings is the fact that this 450-horsepower, 186-mph handmade brute isn't even yours. It's a rental—yours for just $1,111 per day.

Welcome to the rarefied world of rentable exotica, an infinitesimal portion of the highly competitive $21.5 billion-per-year rental car industry, where virtually any über-upscale car manufactured for sale is also available to rent—for business, leisure or both. But not to everyone, and for a price.

"A general rule of thumb for exotic car rentals is to price the daily rental at one percent of the sticker price of the vehicle," says Chris Brown, managing editor at the trade publication Auto Rental News. "So, a Lamborghini Gallardo can rent from $1,600 to $2,500 a day depending on the area, and a Ferrari 360 Modena can run you about $1,000. Porsches will rent for less, but we don't keep overall statistics on exotics as it is such a specialty market."

In fact, according to the American Car Rental Association, these top-of-the-line and exotic vehicles represent such a tiny fraction of the millions of rentals each year that the ACRA doesn't even keep track of such statistics, saying they are far too minute.

In the U.S. the trend of renting upper-echelon automobiles exploded along with the burgeoning disposable incomes of young dot-commers. But in Europe, it's been happening for years, according to Graziella Zanoletti, president of Geneva-based Elite Rent-a-Car, whose 21-year-old company is among the oldest in the field.

"This is really not new here," she says of her firm, which throughout the years has outfitted vehicles for the likes George Soros, Bill Gates, Richard Gere, the Ruler of Dubai Sheik Mohammed Al Maktoum and the recently deceased Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates.

In the United States, most rental cars exist to get you from point A to point B. Peter Schroeder, a German CEO who on a recent business trip to Los Angeles couldn't secure a car with navigation unless it was dubbed a "luxury" car. "It was crazy," he says.

These cars are different. With an average cost well into six figures, these are the very crème de la crème of the automotive world; they come with virtually every gadget and gizmo and can be had for a price—and with more than a few restrictions and requirements.

In Europe, for example, Sixt, an ever-expanding German-based agency, rents the blistering 12-cylinder Mercedes Benz S600, but not to those under 30 and only if they've had a driver's license for three years. Furthermore, two credit cards are required as part of the security deposit, and you can't take the vehicle to countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and others, for fear that they might end up on the black market—or in a chop shop—somewhere in the Ukraine or Moldova.

Similarly, when you rent an Audi A8 Quattro or Mercedes SL500 from Auto Europe, you may not drive it to "Eastern Europe," according to a spokesperson. For most, however, these limitations are few and who, after all, wants to drive to Bulgaria when you can thrash about along the high-wire blacktop connecting Cinque Terre?

In fact, an informal and decidedly unscientific survey found that most people rent these cars do so for the self-indulgent pursuit of being seen—especially in their local haunts or by people whom they are trying to impress, say business associates. Either that or because they've dreamed up a special weekend getaway for someone they're with or wishing to court.

Other, more-pragmatic types, according to New York City-based Gotham Dream Cars' CEO Noah Lehmann-Haupt, rent before deciding whether to purchase. "A large portion of our customers, in addition to those who rent for fun and those who get gift certificates for a spouse or loved one, are people who are actually considering buying these supercars," he says. "And since most dealerships won't allow extended test drives, our customers prefer spending a few thousand dollars before putting down $200,000."

Their choices? Anything from the fiery Ferrari F430 to the dignified Rolls-Royce Phantom, which comes with a chauffeur. The price for all this indulgence? From $1,750 for a day in the Ferrari. Or the Rolls Royce "Roller," offered through the Madison Chauffer Service, which costs $5,400 for 12 hours.

Image: Lamborghini Gallardo
Lamborghini
Las Vegas is all about living the good life, and nothing says high-roller like cruising down the strip in one of Italy's finest vehicles, the Lamborghini Gallardo. Rent it for $1,450 per day.

For sheer beauty, few if any locales can beat the Côte d'Azur. At Elite Rent-a-Car's Monaco branch, one of more than 12 locations the 21-year-old company has throughout Europe, you can get behind the wheel of the Lamborgini Gallardo Spyder or one of two sharp-suited, full-size SUVs, like the Porsche Cayenne S or the Range Rover HSE, and head for route D2566, a stunning ribbon of asphalt high in the Maritime Alps that stretches from Monte Carlo to the Col de Turini. If that's too far south, ask for the Bentley Continental GTC at Excellence Luxury's Paris office and head to Alsace and the stunning Route du Vin.

But according to Zanoletti, president of Elite Rent-a-Car, a luxury rental is more than the car. "A top rental is more like a personalized service. You could be driving away with anything from a Mini Cooper S or the MG 55 or the Range Rover Sport," she says. "What really makes the difference is the customized service, be it door-to-door delivery, 24-hour on-call reservations or whether the fleet has something that sets it apart."

These four-wheeled beauties aren't limited to those living or traveling to Europe and the U.S. In Melbourne, Australia, Sports Car World Rentals offers a Ferrari 430 Spider and a Lotus Elise, while across town Exotic Car Rentals serves up a roster of Porsche 911s.

Or, perhaps an exotica from yesteryear is more your speed. The Historic & Classic-car Hirers Guild (HCHG), the largest purveyor of classic cars in Britain, offers motoring enthusiasts an Aston Martin DB6 (James Bond's car in Thunderball), a 1972 and 1979 Rolls, a 1972 Alfa Romeo GTV, a 1933 MG J2 convertible and a Jaguar E-type.

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