Guiding my little fuel efficient Prius up to the stoplight, I ease behind the vanity plate smugly announcing “ICYUNV.” Transfixed, my eyes glide over the low, sleek lines of the glistening black Lamborghini. The driver encapsulated in this statement of personal arrival has wrung the respect — grudging or otherwise — from all of us waiting for the green.
By our cars, ye shall know us. In these United States, that first indelible impression is implanted in the parking lot before the driver ever climbs out of his Subaru, Ford pickup, Caddy, Element, or Bentley. We know, or fervently believe we know, the owner’s relative income, political leanings, personal sense of daring, his last choice for president, and most important, whether we would like to jump into the passenger seat beside him.
Those who seek to make the ultimate personal auto statement, and those craving as much possible exhilaration as gas pedal and steering wheel can provide, call on Steve Waldie. Arabian sheiks, pro athletes, Fortune 100 CEOs, and those who want to feel like them make the pilgrimage to Waldie’s Interstate Motorsport showroom newly opened on Titus Mill Road in Hopewell.
Visitors (appointment only, thank you) lean over the balcony and yearn over the exotic automotive magnificence of Lamborghinis (Countach, Diablo SE30, Jalpa, and Murcielago LP640); Ferraris (575M Maranello, 512 Berlinetta Boxer). A Bentley Arnage enticingly stands here; a Dodge Viper SRT and some Mercedes there. Even a Hummer stolidly offers its own kind of image and four-seater capacity. Special guests may be taken down onto the floor and even invited to form-fit their frames into the caress of the leather interiors.
A lifelong, cannon-shot entrepreneur, Waldie purchased the 25,000-square-foot former racquetball club last August. With what seemed frightening abandon, he began tearing out walls and refitting the entire building to better entice the exotic auto purchasers. Instead of some faux marble elegance with potted palms, Waldie hired an artful-eyed decorator to paint over the 20-foot-plus high showroom walls a combination of deep black and battleship-artistically-rust-stained gray. Eleven coats later, Interstate Motorsport presents a backdrop that focuses on the stunning beauty of each individual auto placed powerfully on the hardwood floor.
Two weeks ago, with offices and show rooms amply, but by no means finally intact, Waldie moved in and opened his doors for business. About 30 gleaming, exotic autos currently fill the shop. A hundred will fill the various chambers as the building continues its ceaseless makeover.
Local real estate mavens are abuzz with the seeming ease of Waldie’s purchase. Yet like all his deals, his acquiring the old building with its four acres adjacent to the Hopewell Swim and Tennis Club was a matter of long serpentine patience followed by an explosion of ludicrous speed. “I was looking for a plant, but everything even adequate was at least $3 million,” says Waldie.
When Gloria Nilson agent Winn Thompson tried to sell the fiscally failing Rocket Fitness (formerly the Hopewell Valley Racquetball Center), he had resorted to placing it on LoopNet. Waldie discovered it and his eyes lit. “I contacted Winn and went to the property literally every day for a month, scoping it out, waiting for the price to drop,” he says. At last, as the bank began moving in, the asking price fell to under a million. Waldie bid three fourths of that and a deal was struck.
There were still the township regulations to be hurdled, however. Erupting with plans and energy to make over this leaky-roofed structure, Waldie burst before the town council and laid out all his proposals. Calmly, one auto aficionado asked where Waldie purchased his various automobiles. With a nod, the supplicant mentioned a few magic sources. Instantly, the councilman smiled, awed and aware of the level of business entrepreneur before him. All variances were granted — all within 30 days. Winn Thompson still can’t believe it.
For that corporate CEO who comes deal shopping, the hooded sweatshirt and casual demeanor matter not. The enigmatic Waldie knows his stuff. He boasts the same level of expertise that the CEO would expect from a top hedge fund manager when discussing a corporate investment.
At age 15, Steve’s father, William Waldie, slipped a blindfold over his son’s eyes and instructed him to feel and define each of the headlight bulbs in the bag before him. As owner of Quakerbridge Auto Parts, he required each of his three sons who would work behind the counter to memorize and distinguish every part in the shop. William was an old construction veteran who knew the advantage of on-the-nail service. Having son Steve able to quickly reel off every part required in a customer’s car and instantly produce it from the back room kept Quakerbridge Auto Parts competing handsomely against the increasing invasion of major chains.
For Steve Waldie, those days behind the counter sparked his romance with ultimate automobiles and provided a competitive discipline for success. After high school Waldie became a state trooper in 1986, where his fellow officers soon titled him “The Book,” referring to his encyclopedic knowledge. “I memorized every statute we had to enforce,” he recalls. Ironically, Trooper Waldie, while stationed at the Hopewell barracks was sent out on patrols that included checking the doors and grounds of the very Titus Mill Road property that would one day house his dream.
Always a car collector, Waldie actually took the auto-entrepreneurial step with his first dealership, “Waldie Autos — Cheap Cars” in 2005 in Atlanta. Driving around in a Turbo Look Porsche, he presented that standard of elegance and envy to all who saw him enter the lot. Regardless of what he sold, Waldie always retained his love of the automotive elite. He loves all cars but is smitten by those that are the most exotic and best performing.
Yes, the Ferrari’s smooth, sleek metallic lines elicit a most sensuous response, but all that metal embraces quintessential craftsmanship. The engine tolerances — the minuscule distance between each piston and the cylinder through which it thrusts — are among the main reasons for those piles of horsepower. You’ve got to respect that kind of engineering. And those who do will find a true compatriot in Waldie.
The people who share such a high-end auto obsession are typically more akin to art collectors than the folks who kick tires in the local Ford or Toyota dealerships. They are seeking more than mere transportation, they crave a specific piece of automotive art. Most have selected the exact model and year of the collectible for which they yearn before contacting Interstate Motorsport. It is unusual for the glittering offerings on the showroom floor to sway their opinions, but such changes of heart do occur.
A while back, Waldie picked up a buyer who had just flown in from overseas in his personal jet. The two men joked and the customer jibed that because his hat had three “R”s on it, he was in the mood to buy three cars. After signing for the original car that had brought him to the shop, Waldie convinced the buyer that he had to get a Lamborghini Countach truck as purchase number two. (Yes, Lamborghini actually does make a truck.)
Still in a buying vein, the customer surveyed two more models that Waldie displayed. With an “eenie-meenie-miny-moe” the buyer chose car number three, running up a tab of more than $400,000. Then again, if you are a sheik from Dubai with more than $4 billion in personal worth to play with, even Interstate Motorsport will allow certain purchasing eccentricities.
While the ranks of those driving out in one of Interstate’s exotics are filled with professional athletes, Wall Street sharks, and corporate owners, not all are wealthy. “I’ve sold to a lot of guys whose car costs more than their house,” says Waldie. (Even though he now lives quite comfortably in Columbus with wife, Danielle, and son Steve Jr., Waldie himself has been among those self-impoverishing collectors.)
Each model of car holds its own type of buyers, says Waldie. “Ferrari folks have a bit of the silver spoon in their mouths. They are used to purchasing the best. They pick their model and want nothing else.” Often this is not their only collectible car. “Lamborghinis on the other hand,” Waldie says, “well, they’ve hit the lottery. It’s newer money and they want to show it around a bit.”
Waldie points to a lime green 2007 Lamborghini Murcielago lighting up the floor center. “Look at that,” he says. “You would never see a Ferrari that color — no Ferrari owner would be seen in that color.”
Porsche owners represent a different, and in Waldie’s mind, a more troublesome breed. “They want to be waited on,” he says. “They’re the ones with a thousand questions that other owners have already looked up. They also are more likely to haggle.” Waldie hates to haggle over objects he holds so dear.
Are there women coming to call? By the score. Waldie tells a tale of a lady Bentley owner whom he rescued from the roadside stranded and turned into a customer. Interstate Motorsport specializes not in muscle cars, but exotics that make a personal statement. There are no Corvettes on the showroom floor.
The schizophrenic world of the businessman collector is never an easy one. Currently Interstate Motorsport is fleetingly flush — a condition no doubt enhanced by the recent $335,000 sale of something very red, very stylish, very powerful, and exquisitely collectible. But Waldie admits this state will not last long. In the truest sense of the word, Waldie is a venture capitalist — always venturing forth into some exotic or odd part of the globe to pick up the rarest and the newest available.
The exotic auto market is small and very personal. Waldie estimates there are only about 250 active sellers who deal in his kind of product. Often there exist fewer than a dozen models of a specifically desired auto — and only five people in the globe who may obtain it. Waldie, antennae ever out, strives to be one of the five. He haunts trade shows, visits the tracks, pays a small fortune to very private websites, and always, always is asking around. To survive, he must be an opportunist, ever on the hunt. And Waldie not only survives, he thrives.
Most of his sales come through this kind of brokering. Someone like collector and corporate owner Paul Davis must have a certain kind of yellow Lamborghini. Waldie finds and delivers. Prices may rise as high as the $4.6 million, 740 horsepower Lamborghini Veneno, which Waldie helped sell. (Rumor has it that only three were made. But you never know.)
Although Interstate offers several new cars, most are classic vintages which, like fine wine, have justifiably attracted appreciation. Constantly tracking, Waldie follows ownerships of individual autos and then hops a plane and grabs them when the occasion arises. Of late he has purchased several autos from the estate of famed O.J. Simpson defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. Some are purchased for quick sale, others for investment. Most all the cars within the walls of his showroom are appreciating as they sit. Twenty percent a year is not uncommon.
This overall fiscal appreciation provides leverage for Waldie to deal with only the most appreciative buyers. More than once he has turned down a potentially profitable sale because the buyer wasn’t the right kind of person. All business is personal, and Waldie will nix negotiations in a moment if he doesn’t feel a fit. Often as not, the problem buyers will return with a better attitude rather than lose their dream car.
Exotic auto dealers are hard to come by. For a small village like Hopewell to have two is hens-teeth rare, indeed. Rob Burt’s Sport & Specialist Cars (U.S. 1, June 22, 2005), which has operated on Broad Street in downtown Hopewell since 1974, retains a cordial symbiosis with its new cohort. For years Sport & Specialist has dealt more in restorations, as well as being an official Lotus dealer, a model conspicuously absent from Interstate Motorsport’s showroom.
Waldie has no intention of achieving a dealership stasis in his new firm. A mere two weeks in his building, and he is exploding with an array of new visions. Right now, the fulltime staff consists of himself, wife Danielle, who sits diligently in her office climbing the mountain of logistical woes and paperwork, and his nephew, Alex. At age 20, Alex is the blessed recipient of the same kind of training Steve received from his father. Yet more personnel will soon be brought aboard.
Trailing behind Waldie as he leads me through the maze of Interstate Motorsport’s headquarters-in-progress, I am joined by two marketing veterans: Heidi Dittloff, marketing director for Gloria Nilson real estate, and Shep Morrow, founder of Location Traffic. We wander through the upstairs lounge with fireplace, couches, and pool table. Waldie rapid fires forth his plans to transform this business into an elite club that would keep the lounge area and make full use of the weight room, sauna, and locker rooms downstairs. Further augmentations could include a theater room, library, videos, added floors, conference rooms inside, and party areas in the outdoor gazebo. The fountain keeps coming.
The marketing pros vainly strain to give shape and detailed confines to all this entrepreneurial exuberance. But it is like trying to herd a hurricane. Waldie will not be stopped — nothing can hamper his imagination or his business.
In these days of strangling stress great billows of advice have saturated the business media on how to bring serenity — a sense of Zen into one’s operations. The executive who can find that inner peace, the gurus assure us, can focus better from this soothed center, make better decisions, and garner greater satisfaction. Doubtless, for some, this eastern style of emotional purging holds merit.
A somewhat more western pathway to wrestling with the onslaughts of the business day — far more suited to the handler of powerful, 600-plus horsepower engines — may be found from the ancient Greeks. Their god Zeus rained down storms and chaos upon humankind. For those individuals able to endure also came the blessings of immense energy.
Waldie is one of those energized entrepreneurs who does not need to seek a center. He has already found his joy and meaning in collecting and selling the autos he adores. He is living dream so many boys sought and eventually abandoned. For many reasons Steve Waldie might (although he does not) justifiably sport the license plate ICYUNV.
Interstate Motorsport, 109 Titus Mill Road, Hopewell. 609-239-7800. Fax: 609-239-7805. www.interstatemotorsport.com