Back in my teens, I dreamed of the day when I would write a cheque for a brand-new sports car and tick off the all-important option sheet, choosing the perfect specifications and making it truly my own.
So far, adult reality has fallen well short of teen fantasy: the only new-car option lists I've filled out have been for a minivan and a Honda Civic. It's hard to feel like a player when your big extravagance is a block heater.
My used cars were even more limited. When I bought a 1963 Pontiac Laurentian from an alcoholic construction worker, my only choice was whether to keep the gas that was already in the tank. (The car was $240 empty, or $250 full.) And when I picked up a worn-out VW Beetle at a used-car lot, my customization options were limited to removing the jungle-print seat covers installed by the previous owner.
So when Lexus asked me if I'd like to see what it was like to pick out a brand-new LFA supercar, how could I say no? As car-optioning exercises go, this is a true fantasy ride.
Lexus would show me what it was like to option out a limited-edition LFA, a high-performance dream car designed to take on the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren.
Since I don't actually have $370,000 in my chequing account, my experience would be a virtual one - I would experience everything a real buyer does, except getting the actual car. "We think you'll find it interesting," said company spokesman Sandy DiFelice.
Now the day was here. A chauffeured Lexus 600 sedan pulled up in front of my house. A few minutes later, I was being whisked into a private theatre at Toronto's elegant new Thompson Hotel, where there was only one person in the audience: me.
I was witnessing what the purchasing process will be like for the lucky few who can plunk down the price of a suburban house to buy an LFA. According to Lexus, most of the buyers are extremely wealthy. But not all - at least one is a middle-class car buff who has been saving for years to buy an LFA.
Now I was sampling the treatment that will come with the car. Wine and champagne were chilling in silver ice buckets, and a giant image of the LFA appeared on the screen at the front of the theatre. Glenn Alkema, a product specialist from Lexus headquarters, prepared to guide me through the process of choosing the options.
"This is not your typical car," Alkema told me. "And when we're finished, yours will be the only one like it."
Alkema ran me through a slideshow that detailed the LFA's features. There was a V-10 engine, a digital dashboard that morphed into different configurations at the touch of a button, and an aerodynamic body that gave it the look of a road-going space ship. Beautiful.
But 500 LFAs will be produced, and mine had to be different than all the rest. It was time to get to work. Alkema pulled out an aluminum briefcase that looked like the one used to carry nuclear launch codes for the U.S. president.
Inside the case was a collection of miniature LFA wheels, brake calipers and body components in a galaxy of different colours and finishes. Then Alkema pulled out stacks of leather swatches and a case filled with different coloured threads.
Now this was car optioning. The choices were almost overwhelming - according to Alkema, the various options could yield more than a million unique combinations. He advised me that there were two general approaches to optioning an LFA - from the inside out, or the outside in.
I decided to start with the outside. What colour should my LFA be? Although I usually choose white because it's easy to repair and doesn't show dirt, I decided to throw practicality to the wind and choose whatever colour the car looked best in, even if it was black (the most demanding of all colours since it highlights every last mote of dust.) Whatever. Since the LFA would cost close to half a million with freight and tax, I figured I could spring for a little detailing if necessary.
But before I chose the colour, I had to decide whether I wanted to spring for the LFA Nurburgring edition. Only 50 LFAs will get this treatment, which bumps up horsepower from 552 to 562 and adds an aerodynamics package, including a rear wing big enough for a Cessna. The Nurburgring package would add $70,000 to the price. I gave it a pass - the rear wing looked like something a teenager would go for, and 552 horsepower was enough for me.
Back to the colour. White looked good, but a lot of other owners would probably choose it, since the prototype cars were white. Yellow, acid green and magenta were out - they wouldn't age well. I finally settled on Pearl Grey, a dark, dramatic colour that gave the LFA the look of a mako shark. I finished off the outside with black wheels and yellow brake calipers.
Now it was time for the inside, where I could choose everything from the steering wheel to the metal trim to the colour of the console and seatbacks. I decided to make everything black, then added saddle brown leather seat surfaces with black stitching. It looked perfect.
I could add optional polished metal or carbon fibre accents to the interior, but I passed. (Too much bling for me.) The steering wheel could be metal or carbon, with any colour of leather I wanted. Or there could be no leather at all.
I also had to decide about the stereo. The standard one looked brilliant, but for a few thousand more, I could have a specially tuned one with 12 speakers and a 12-channel amplifier. There was also the option of deleting the stereo altogether, so I could focus on the sound of the Yamaha-developed V-10 engine, which has intake and exhaust systems designed to create a perfect, Formula-One style howl.
I liked the idea, but it would probably kill the LFA's resale value. I asked Alkema how many buyers he expected to delete the stereo. "Probably none," he said.
Was I nuts to think about buying such an expensive car without getting a stereo? Probably. But who cared? It was my dream, and I'd have it my way.
I'd always wondered what it would be like to really make a car my own. Now I knew - it was a lot harder than buying a used 1963 Pontiac. I was feeling the kind of option exhaustion that had overwhelmed my wife and I when we renovated our house - if we ever see another bathroom fixture or lighting showroom, we'll die.
But this was a lot more fun, and my LFA was looking fantastic. All I needed was $370,000, plus freight, taxes and licensing fees. Maybe next year.