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Child Have Everything? Give Him a $12,000 Mini-Car

Associated Press

One has to imagine the conversations in the opulent community of Beverly Hills at bedtime, when the shades are drawn and intimate family matters are discussed:

She: “Just because we’re a Mercedes family doesn’t mean Joseph has to drive a Mercedes too.”

He: “A Mercedes is good enough for me. It ought to be good enough for my son.”

She: “I thought you always said you wanted to give him the things you never had. You always told me that’s what America is all about, Harold. That’s what drew me to you in the first place, the certainty that our children would never be deprived. Your dedication to the American Way.”

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He: “For crying out loud, Mildred, he’s only 10 years old.”

Nevertheless, young Joseph will probably get his $12,000 mini-Lamborghini Countach, or Ferrari 308 GTSI, or his $3,500 Porsche, all powered by a four-cycle, rear-mounted, 11-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine with independent front and rear suspension, disc brakes, automatic transmission and a reverse gear.

Less costly is the mini-Mercedes-Benz 500 SL, which goes for only $2,500 and comes in red, blue, green, yellow or white. The Mercedes, built in Germany, has a Honda or Briggs & Stratton one-cylinder, three-horsepower engine, with a top speed of 15 m.p.h. For younger drivers, the speed can be governed down to 5 m.p.h. The grown-up version has no governor, can exceed the speed limit and goes for $50,000 plus.

They are all for sale at the Beverly Hills Rodeo Coach Co., home of World Class Motor Cars, across the street from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and the corner where the Brown Derby used to be, not far from Giorgio’s, Tiffany’s, Van Cleef and Arpels.

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“It started as a promotion,” says Derek Tracey, whose Ferraris and Excaliburs fairly spill out onto Wilshire Boulevard. “We’d offer the mini-cars at a price with the sale of the real ones. Then we sold 130 of them in four months and decided to take another look. Now they go at the rate of three or four a week.”

Not only in America.

Sixty percent of his customers, says Tracey, a gentle man with a moderate English accent, are from other states or other countries--Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong, England, Sweden, South Africa, Mexico.

Imported from both West Germany and Italy, the mini-cars are classed as toys, not autos, and a notice on the inside points out they are not for street use, even though the most powerful Lamborghinis can do up to 35 m.p.h. and the Porsches rev up to 20 m.p.h.

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Some of the mini-cars are sold to adults who want them outfitted with racks for their golf clubs. One man in Florida uses his to make deliveries from his shop.

There was a day when children rolled around in pedal-powered fire engines. Fords and Chevrolets and Plymouths sold for $400 full-size. Most highways were two-lane and the Pennsylvania Turnpike was a turn-on. People got their kicks on Route 66. Not anymore.

In the crowded car lot, where full-grown Ferraris are the rage at the moment, followed by Mercedeses, the run of the market goes from $50,000 to $200,000. Adult Ferraris sell for $62,000. Some, like the Daytona Spider, are priced at $165,000 but sometimes sell for $145,000 to $160,000, when push comes to shove.


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