| Lease consultant Michael Pascale walks you through it:
For your assistant: Toyota Prius. “It’s economical and it looks good. They can tell everybody they bought a Prius. And you get a huge tax break when you buy an environmentally friendly vehicle.”
For your parents: Jaguar. “This is the car they’ve always wanted. It goes well with retirement and it’s an opportunity for them to say, ‘Look – your son made it.’ But I’ve had a lot of clients who surprise their parents with a car and they don’t want it – they tell them take it back.”
For your mistress: BMW 325 4-door. “It shows her you care about her, but it’s got a lease payment of $400-$500 a month. It’s totally affordable for these guys to keep somebody in their life happy.”
In a city where the car is king, in an industry where status symbols are the easiest way to keep score, the high-end auto broker has become one of the quasi-mystical figures of Los Angeles. Like yoga gurus, maitre’ds, personal shoppers and security specialists, he is indispensable here and inexplicable everywhere else.
“Men, particularly southern California men, just have this thing about cars,” says Michael Pascale of Highline Consulting, whose clients include agency partners, movie stars and studio chiefs. “You can screw their woman, but don’t screw with their car.”
Like real estate brokers, car brokers act as a middleman between the car dealers or manufacturers and the high-end client. This can entail everything from securing the latest models — the Mercedes CLS55 AMG, the BMW 750, the Lexus Hybrid, the redesigned Porsche 997 or Volkswagen-built Bentley coupe (not to mention the occasional vintage mid-’60s Barracuda or Chevelle) — often months ahead of the dealer.
Car fetish magazines like Dub or the Robb Report’s Celebrity Car Magazine, TV shows like Learning Channel’s Rides or MTV’s Pimp My Ride and Web sites like AutoSpies.com, which traffic in spy photos of top-secret prototype, mean consumers are better informed than ever before. However, luxury brokers stay ahead of the curve by providing what few dealers can provide.
Since new cars often depreciate as much as 50% in the first three years, they get their clients in and out of leases with barely a speed bump. They rarely advertise, only accept referrals, don’t keep office hours (or sometimes even have an office) — and guard their clients’ privacy like lion cubs.
A survey of industry sources uncovers a handful of top brokers or, as they’re more commonly known, the Car Guys. Louis Bookout’s Celebrity Buying Service simultaneously operates out of L.A., New York, Miami and Nashville; his cars are designated by a winged “B” on the license plate frame. Then there’s Dennis Ratner of IAV, Randi Gordon of RPG and Lois Vegas, who got out after a dozen years and now runs a Curves gym.
and fold-down 17-inch plasma screens are on their way to becoming factory items; the demanding celebrity driver will also need a custom-built back-up camera to tape any paparazzi tailing them for evidence at trial.
The Pink Dot of Cars
And then there’s Michael Pascale, who looks like a younger Paul Sorvino with an undercurrent of menace that has agents scrambling to go off the record for fear of being blackballed.
“Some people can’t deal with the energy and manic-ness, but he’s like Willie Wonka,” says one agent and longtime client. “It’s the Pink Dot of Cars.”
Pascale exploits VIP deals to dodge two-year waiting lists on high-demand models. He can broker prestige clients into prototypes in exchange for the publicity. He crosses the invisible line between commerce and confidence, gaining access to the private domains of extremely public people.
“I can get anybody on the phone,” Pascale says, “because everybody needs a car, and everybody wants to talk to the car guy. There are people who I have their home number, their beach house number, their secret cell number. There are people who I’ll go to their house at three in the morning just to help them get their car started.”
As a consequence, it often falls on him to pull the plug. “It’s like a drug intervention when the wife and the business manager get involved,” he says.
Pascale also has a way of dealing with people who are used to getting what they want in the least amount of time.
“You know right away who’s going to get the gold card out on you,” he says. “They have their assistant call me 10 times. They call and say, “I have so-and-so calling, can you hold?’ And the answer is, ‘No, I can’t. I’m busy.'”
However, for all of his hustle, Pascale sees himself as performing something of a public service.
“I learned how (auto dealers) take advantage of people,” he says. “They don’t expect to see you anytime soon, so they have to extract as much money from you as possible while you’re there, while you’re smoking the dope of the car.
“That’s why,” he says, “I never let a client test-drive a car without me.”