Editorial: Cars, cars, cars

Mar 28, 2013

This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310) Issue # 1001 Originally published 4/1/2013 The long love affair between design firm leaders and cars continues, Mark Zweig writes. We were doing an in-house seminar a couple weeks ago for a really great planning and architecture firm on the East Coast. One of the things we talked about was company cars. I made a statement that architects either hate cars and view them strictly as a means of conveyance, in which case they drive Toyota Prius or ancient, creaking Honda Civics, or they love cars and drive Bentleys and Porsche 911s. It was hysterical. In one small group of about 12 people, three immediately identified themselves as having a Prius and one had a Porsche 911 and a high-end Mercedes. An interest in cars and motorcycles has always been one of those things that I had in common with many of our clients – principals and managers of architecture and engineering firms. Back in the good old days, we used to have CEO gatherings at various racing schools. We raced Formula cars and Vipers at Skip Barber Racing School at the Moroso Motorsports Park in Palm Beach. We did Richard Petty Driving Experience (80 laps on a banked tri-oval) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And we did the Spencer Riding School at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We had a fleet of BMW, Porsche, Mercedes, Rover, Saab, and Audi company cars, as well as a little red Dodge hot rod van our employees could use any time they needed to move. We also used to have a rotating display of vintage motorcycles in our lobby at the ZweigWhite office in Natick, Mass. Today, things are a little different, with only 38 percent of firm principals getting company vehicles (according to ZweigWhite’s upcoming 2013 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey), down from 57 percent in 1998. That said, 20 years ago the most common company car was a black or dark green Ford Explorer. My guess is that today it’s a BMW 5 series or something similar. Earlier this week we were at an engineering firm in Miami. Their two primary owners had a 7 series BMW and big Range Rover as company vehicles. Fewer but nicer company cars seems to be the norm these days. Fifteen or more years ago I was out in Portland visiting David Evans – founder of the 800-plus person David Evans & Associates (DEA). At that time he decided to dump their fleet of Honda Accords and Tauruses and replace them with cool old cars. He drove an Avanti. There were ancient T-birds on ramps in the company parking deck. While it was a cool idea that made a statement I don’t think David would tell you it was a good idea. His people needed reliable transportation! Those of you who subscribe to either of The Zweig Letter’s sister publications, CE News or Structural Engineer, may have seen the photo with my publisher’s message, where I’m standing by my ’35 Ford pickup. Many people write in to ask me about it. It was a drivable but half-finished project when I bought it from a friend. It had a Buick V6 in it at the time – barely any interior and no heater. I dropped in a 383 stroker crate engine with well over 400 dyno-tested horsepower, along with a new B&M Turbo-hydramatic high stall speed torque converter. It already had a Ford 9-inch rear end and front disc brakes. We added a new “hot rod heater,” satellite radio, new radiator and electric fan, new window glass all around, and a “King Ranch” distressed brown leather interior with black piping. It also had new ceramic coated headers hooked up to four functional 3-in. diameter exhaust pipes and electric exhaust cutouts going to dumps. We painted it in hotrod matte black, put some Dodge police car wheels on it, new tires, new shocks, and new wood bed stake sides. What a wild little “trucklet” we created for my design/construct/development firm, Mark Zweig, Inc.! But like most good things, this one had to end. My fun with the ’35 was over and the need to replace it with a “real” F-150 materialized, so I sold it. It ended up going to Tokyo, where I hear the new owner is terrorizing the local citizenry with his new fire-breathing, all-American hot rod toy. So what are you doing about company vehicles these days? Are they “in” or “out?” If you have them, what are they? Drop me a line and let us know! Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of ZweigWhite. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweigwhite.com.

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