Now he has decided to sell the Maserati, opting instead for a more economical option: Otto Club, a North Andover company that started doing business in May. As a member, Levin can book a high performance car whenever the urge strikes. He does not have to insure, maintain, or even clean the vehicle, whether it be a Lamborghini, Ferrari, or Porsche. All he does is pay an annual fee of $18,000 -- only a few thousand more than he spent on storage alone for his own car, and far less than the cost of maintaining and insuring it.
Car clubs like Otto Club operate on the time-share model associated with corporate and private aircraft, members-only golf resorts, and private race tracks where people pay to drive fast cars. And they are becoming more popular nationwide. John Caron, Otto Club president, estimates that as many as a dozen such clubs have been formed in recent years.
Because many owners of expensive exotics often drive the vehicles sparingly, it makes sense for them to join a club that allows them to get their hands on high-end toys without the high-end expenses.
Levin, president of Boston-based Perfect Curve Inc., which develops sporting goods and kitchen wares for major retailers, is happy to be switching from owner to club member without giving up the cachet and exclusivity of an exotic car. ``I like the idea of driving a car that's unusual; driving something that other people don't have," he said.
That's what he plans to do during a Cape Cod vacation this summer and at his upcoming Wayland High School class reunion. Levin said that after checking the economics and convenience of the Otto Club program, ``I was sold."
For other drivers, the club answers a curiosity. In some cases, ``You're driving a $200,000 super car," Caron said. ``That's something that doesn't happen every day."
There are three membership levels in Otto Club -- silver, red, and black -- along with corresponding annual fees of $9,500, $18,000, and $28,000. More money buys more points, which are used to determine vehicle usage. Cars are ranked in three tiers, with the first being reserved for the most expensive and exotic vehicles, like a $195,000 Lamborghini Gallardo , and the third featuring more moderately priced cars like a $49,000 Lotus Elise. Members can use their points to maximize the number of days they have a car, determine which car they will drive, or a combination of the two.
Caron said a silver membership typically yields 10 to 20 driving days; red translates to 20 to 30 days; and members at the black level have access to a car 40 to 60 days a year. ``We have one silver member who's achieved 15 days in all Tier I cars," he said. ``That's the best part of the point system. The value is determined by the member. For one member, it's two straight weeks in a Lamborghini Gallardo. For another, it's getting a different car every other weekend for two months."
Besides individual memberships, corporations can join to give employees the opportunity to impress people by driving a fancy car around town.
For instance, Andrew Gelina, chief executive of Syrinx Consulting, a Waltham software advisory company, joined the club so he could reward outstanding workers by granting them use of a Ferrari. He also holds a company drawing to give others a chance to try out an Otto Club vehicle.
Gelina said his employees ``build and tune high performance software all year long," and the chance to drive a ``high performance car on the streets really appealed to them."
Caron, who bought the cars with his wife, said he uses two independent mechanics to keep them fine-tuned. When not in use, they are kept under tight security in a hangar at Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Andover.
But not just anyone can join Otto Club. The driving records of potential members are scrutinized, and background checks are conducted to weed out those with criminal records, Caron said. When a car is delivered, its operation and quirks are carefully explained before a member is allowed to shift gears. ``You can tell if somebody's comfortable with the car. That's the biggest thing we watch for," he said.
Once they become familiar with the car, he added, ``We like to say, `Just drive. You are the man, you are the woman.' "
Except that so far Otto Club is a man's world. All 15 members are men, but Caron hopes the roster will hit 50 and include women.
Similar clubs around the country include Exotic Car Share of Chicago, which was founded in 2000. In addition to high performance exotics, its subsidiary, Classic Car Share, offers cars as old as a 1964 Corvette, a 1968 GTO, and a 1971 Camaro Z-28.
Caron said he has plans to add vintage American muscle to his collection as well.
The trend parallels the development of private race tracks, including the Autobahn Country Club, in Joliet, Ill., and the MotorSport Ranch in Texas, which offers two courses for sports cars, race cars, and motorcycles. A private track is planned in the White Mountains region of New Hampshire. In such clubs, members typically pay a fee to drive a high-performance car at high speeds in a controlled setting. Otto Club members are not allowed to drive its cars on race tracks.
But just operating an exotic vehicle on public roads can be an exhilarating, attention-grabbing experience. Many passing motorists offer thumbs up, while others snap photos with camera phones.
But the experience isn't necessarily just for the extremely wealthy, Caron said. ``It's perfect for someone who doesn't quite dare to write the check" for a car that can cost $200,000 or more, ``or for the person who can't write that check," he said.
Besides, said Levin, ``Even rich people like to save money."
For more information on the Otto Club, please visit their website - www.theottoclub.com