To the eye of the seasoned observer, the conclusion is clear:
There are decidedly more high-end luxury cars in Gloucester this summer than in years past. And no one’s sure why.
As city treasurer Jeffrey Towne put it, slightly tongue in cheek: “They must be visitors because the collection from the auto excise tax sure hasn’t skyrocketed.” The average value of a vehicle garaged in Gloucester is about $4,475, said Towne, cautioning that was not a precise calculation.
Jack Doyle, who has worked for four years as the parking attendant at Good Harbor Beach, said this summer is a record-setter.
“We had a Maserati last Sunday, a couple of Porsches. Lots of Audis and BMW 7 series,” he said. “Plenty of Mercedes SUVs, too.”
To Doyle’s practiced eye, “most of these are from out of town,” meaning they did not have a resident sticker, or had out-of-state plates. “Definitely on the weekends, the nicer cars are not residents’.”
To see if the theory of Gloucester’s Hummer Summer held true, the Times conducted a definitively non-scientific but indicative survey. In an hour’s ride around town, first on a weekday, then on a weekend, we counted the total number of cars we encountered — moving vehicles, not parked. Of those, we counted the number that could be (rather loosely) considered high-end luxury.
Technically, any car costing more than $30,000 is “luxe,” even if “entry-level,” as the car experts put it. We tried to keep the headcount to those appearing to be worth $50,000 or more. We didn’t count trucks or commercial vehicles, and lumped some under the category of Hummer-esque: big, tricked out SUVs like a Toyota Land Cruiser. We noted first the make, then, in some cases, tried to estimate the value of that particular car. For instance, every Benz, Lexus and Rover counted. But only highest end or newest model Caddies made the cut.
It was tough to distinguish a year and model – sometimes all we got was a passing glimpse — but, all things considered, the totals were grand:
On a sunny Wednesday, 120 cars of 762 — 16 percent – were high-end. On a cloudy Sunday, the count went to 112 of 545, or 21 percent. That is, one in every five cars on the city’s main streets was a Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Infiniti, Acura, Jaguar, Lexus, Lincoln, Rover, Hummer, Porsche or miscellaneous sports car/SUV that would list for at least $50,000.
The total sightings included about 15 cars in the Hamptons-like $100,000-plus range, such as Porsche, Mercedes and Rover SUVs. And while it was difficult to affix the exact model of the proliferation of Audis in town (25 in the informal survey), the brand that was once an also-ran in the luxury-car stakes, is now the second most popular luxury car in the world, behind BMW, of which we spotted 30. (Mercedes was top, at 38.)
The eclectic economic barometer held steady from another perspective: On a Saturday, nine of 60 – 15 percent – of the cars in the I4-C2 ersatz parking lot on Rogers Street classified as luxury items.
Eagle-eyed Chris (who didn’t want his last name used) said he spotted not one but two separate Veyron Bugattis on Rocky Neck, where he lives, over the weekend.
“I’d never seen anything like that before,” he said. For the uninitiated, Bugattis can cost a quarter of a million dollars or more.
Why the uptick? Some armchair economists say it’s because the high-enders who already summer here are just doing their thing: upgrading their cars.
Others attribute an increase in upscale daytrippers — perhaps, to the recent airing of an inviting piece about Gloucester on TV’s popular “Chronicle,” or to the popularity of National Geographic TV’s “Wicked Tuna,” about local fishermen.
Bill Searcy, who has eyeballed passing vehicles for 12 years from his perch as proprietor of K&E Auto Repair at Tally’s, where Washington, Commercial and Rogers streets converge, says he definitely is seeing more high-end cars than in the past.
Searcy says he thinks the influx is not necessarily more people, but different people.
“The little guys like me can’t take vacations,” he said. “You used to see the working stiff, somebody in a clunker from New Jersey or the Midwest, come to town for relaxation. Now it’s the CEO in something new and fancy.”
Howard Johnson, who’s manned Raf’s Bait Wagon downtown for six years, said the rolling wealth was more than he’d ever seen here, “and I have no idea why.”
“I’ve seen a Rolls, lots of Mercedes’, Audis, BMWs everywhere. But they’re not spending money,” he said, “at least not on fishing.”
At another intersection, a gas station worker who did not want to be identified agreed there are bigger, better cars in town.
“But just because they’ve got a fancy car doesn’t mean they’re rich,” the attendant said. “Guys like that come in here all the time and say ‘Gimme $10 regular.’”
Nancy Gaines is a regular Times correspondent and a longtime writer and editor of Boston-based and national publications.