There is no shortage of the arguments against buying exotic sports cars in India. Impracticality is one. An absence of infrastructure to enjoy machines that are built for speed is the obvious second. The third is having to double up on price because of exorbitant duty structures. But Dinesh Thakkar, chairman, managing director, and founder of stock brokerage and wealth management firm Angel Broking, dismisses all those arguments as he shifts gears in the red 488 Ferrari Pista that we are driving in on an early Sunday morning on Marine Drive in Mumbai. “Why one works and runs a business is a means to an end. So, if people say a car is a depreciating asset, I say passions are always about spending; life is ultimately about fulfilment and having fun,” he says.
Business has been good for Thakkar who says Angel Broking, which now has 3 million clients, saw growth double in 2019; which, of course, makes passions easier to pursue for him. Still, Thakkar takes no chances with the dozen or so fast cars that he owns and drives. “I always go for the full insurance package, and all my performance cars are covered bumper to bumper for anything that could go wrong. A flat tyre because of a pothole or a dent from a passing motorcycle—all of that is covered.” That’s wise given that a small paint job for an exotic car can cost a couple of lakhs and a set of four tyres the same price as a hatchback car.
I always believed that the high perception of the brand had a lot to do with its marketing and the many years of brand-building that gave Ferrari its appeal. But once I bought one, I truly did feel that my portfolio was complete.Dinesh Thakkar
In Italian, Pista means “track” and in layman’s terms that means this is a production car designed and geared to be perfectly at home on a professional Formula 1 track with timings to boot. It’s also the reason my feet hit a steel plate when I stretch them out, the cockpit feels like the interiors of a fighter jet, the rear mid-mounted engine generates 700 BHP and the car jettisons to 100 km/hr in barely two seconds. Even on bad roads, the Ferrari is super fast, its twin-turbo V8 producing power so inexhaustible it seems ungodly.
Peak torque arrives at just 3,000 RPM, pushing power all the way to an 8,000 RPM red line. Its seven-speed automatic gearbox shifts with savage swift ferocity that dissipates any notion one may have that the mystique of the Italian racing car is just legend. I reach for an arm handle to stay stable but there is none. No relief or support in the form of a compartment between seats either.
Down force kicks in and I’m thrown back against the seat as I listen to Thakkar. “I always believed that the high perception of the brand had a lot to do with its marketing and the many years of brand-building that gave Ferrari its appeal. But once I bought one, I truly did feel that my portfolio was complete,” Thakkar says, as we find a straight stretch of road and the sound of 700 horses in full gallop with Ferrari’s trademark exhaust pitch note silences all conversation.
Thakkar also owns a Lamborghini Huracán Performante, a Porsche 911 GT3, a Lamborghini Urus, and a couple of Mercedes-Benz AMGs. He’s also got a Mini Cooper but the common denominator for the most part is that his favourites are all high-performance track cars.
Why these and not others? The answer is simple.
He says that no company can guarantee that the spares needed to repair a car immediately are going to be available at the time one needs them anywhere in India. What an owner does expect is that a dealer will promptly send alternative transportation, have the primary car retrieved simultaneously, and the problem fixed in a timely fashion. “Very few brands get all of that right.”
Thakkar makes it clear that he is not into cars for promoting his business or for keeping up appearances. It’s all about the adrenaline rush from enjoying the machines. Neither is he an aficionado who puts minimal miles on his cars either, he clarifies. “I actually get into my cars and drive all of them regularly. There is magic in all the cars. I like something different about each and every one of them—the Porsche for its deft handling, the Lamborghini for its thrills and ability to drive fast and hard, and so on.”
Some of the best moments he’s spent in his cars are when he’s alone and on long stretches for as many as seven or eight hours at a stretch, he says. Top on the list of drive trips are rides from Bengaluru to Ooty, Mumbai to Udaipur, roads in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur triangle, and stretches in Leh and Ladakh.
His preferences have come a long way since he bought his first car, a Premier Padmini, in the mid-’80s, followed by his first luxury sedan, a Mercedes E-Class. “Although I have loved driving since a young age, my passion took a backseat to business until five years ago, when I was drawn to the race track and state-of-the-art track cars from around the world,” he says. Will he ever sell his cars once he tires of them? “Never!” He still owns the E-240 that he bought 15 years ago.
Thakkar goes to the professional race tracks in Chennai as well as in Noida from time to time to open the cars up on the circuit. “They are entirely different animals on the track, and that’s where you truly get to appreciate the way they have been made.” This is true. For example, most cars have start buttons but the one on the Ferrari I’m sitting in says “launch”.
Is there a similarity to how he manages picking funds and stocks to invest in and the cars he buys? While he admits that he does look at brand, management service levels, and overall quality in both, it’s the approach that differs. “When you’re picking stocks, it’s a quantitative analysis about profits, market share, and so on. With cars, it’s a very subjective and emotional decision in my case. It’s all about having fun and enjoying oneself. My wife, for example, says the exotic sports cars are so hard and not comfy she can’t figure out why I like them. I wish she could understand.”
For wealth appreciation and management the goal is the same for everyone—growth. “It’s cold-blooded decisions with equities. I don’t care if I disagree with the management or dislike the product or the business model. It’s unemotional and all about hard numbers. But with the cars, it’s all passion and emotions. I could say it’s about the gear swap ratios and the sound of V8 versus V10 engines, but I’m not an engineer. The truth is that it’s about the way they look, the way they make me feel, and their drive and performance—especially on the track.”
One would assume that Thakkar is content with the cars in his stable as he rotates them and drives them on the track when he gets the time. I’m told that he just booked a 2021 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT “Black Series” performance car of which only two are coming to India in the next few months.
The car which is expected to cost around $1 million is indeed very special. The Black Series was unveiled in July 2020, and it has since gone on to secure the lap record for production cars at the Nürburgring circuit. It beat the previous best set by the Lamborghini Aventador in 2018. Like Thakkar says, it is all about the track record.