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What is an exotic car?

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    If someone asks “What is an exotic car?”, chances are you’re likely to start listing off some of the popular cars plastered on posters across countless childhood bedrooms. While you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking of these exciting supercars, the world of exotic cars is technically quite a bit broader. Let’s buckle up and get into it.

    Exotic car definition

    Truth be told, there’s no singular, set-in-stone definition for what makes an exotic car. While they typically share common characteristics like flashy designs, high torque and high-performance engines, exotic vehicles may be better defined as cars that are generally quite rare and in high demand — maybe even one-of-a-kind.

    What makes a car exotic

    People might often think of exotic cars as the fastest, priciest vehicles, filled to the brim with the latest modern technology available. That’s not necessarily untrue, but an exotic car could also be a concept vehicle from 1960, with performance that may have been superior for its time but couldn’t compare to a modern car. If this concept car is in-demand and hard to find, it could very well be considered an exotic car.

    Without a firm definition, the exotic car category may fluctuate. There are several factors that might contribute to a car’s exotic status:

    • Unique customizations: A vehicle that was built by hand, made with unusual materials or drastically altered from its original appearance may be considered an exotic car depending on the nature of these customizations.
    • Cultural significance: A car might become exotic after it becomes highly popularized or culturally significant. For example, if a popular movie were to feature a particular model of car, it may be labeled as an exotic car due to this cultural turning point.
    • Limited volume: Vehicles made in a limited supply often become exotic cars, especially if demand for the vehicle remains high.
    • Milestones vehicles: Older vehicles may be considered exotic due to their historic relevancy or connection to touchstone achievements in the automobile industry. Chances are, this older vehicle will now be harder to find, cost more and is likely considered an exotic car.

    What's considered an exotic car may boil down to vehicles with high demand and limited accessibility, but they often share other similar characteristics that could make them easier to spot.

    High performance engine

    While it's true that relatively standard cars can go on to become exotics, exotic cars typically include powerful engines that provide superior horsepower and maximized performance compared to most other vehicles.

    Potentially higher maintenance costs

    Exotic cars may often cost more in vehicle maintenance and repairs than common cars. This can be due to several factors, like if an exotic car was made with rare materials that are in scarce supply or just generally more expensive to produce. Maintenance could also be higher if a car was highly customized or modified with uncommon parts, like having scissor doors or an adjustable steering wheel. These special additions could end up requiring you to find a mechanic with the particular know-how needed to work on your vehicle — the kind of know-how that’ll likely cost you specialty prices to hire.


    The unique design of a vehicle may be one of the easier ways to identify a car that could be exotic. While this isn’t always the case, exotic cars are often curvaceous and colorful head turners that are designed to catch the eye with their sporty profiles. This could be an easier way to identify an exotic car — if you’ve never seen a particular model on the road and it’s especially visually unique, it may very well be an exotic car.

    High sticker price

    Another factor that might make a car exotic is that they almost always carry a much higher price tag than other vehicles on the market. This could be for several reasons, such as the use of high-performance (and usually high cost) materials. The law of supply and demand may also contribute to the higher sticker prices of exotic cars, as their relative rarity lets sellers charge a higher asking price if people are willing to pay top-dollar prices to own the vehicle.

    Exotic cars through the last century

    The exotic car category isn’t new, but perhaps more recently spotlighted as more consumers demand high-performance luxury items. While perhaps more visible today, exotic cars as we know them come from a long history of technological and manufacturing milestones. Some notable moments include:

    • 1950s: European race cars intended to be road cars are first introduced in the United States, showcasing never-before-seen vehicles designed with a tubular frame chassis and accompanying gull doors.
    • 1960s: American auto manufacturers begin creating their own race cars intended for everyday driving. These initial vehicles were made in a drastically limited supply and may have contributed significantly to the idea of owning exclusive vehicles that were more powerful. Concurrent technological advances also introduce mid-level V12 engines with superior performance capabilities.
    • 1970s: High-end vehicles with wide wheels and wings for added traction are first showcased — this unique aesthetic is still widely seen in modern exotic vehicles.
    • 1980s: Turbocharged engines emerge, along with all-wheel drive systems and lightweight carbon fiber materials.
    • 1990s: High-performance vehicles made for everyday transport are manufactured in greater numbers, allowing more people to potentially own a high-end vehicle.

    Nowadays, exotic cars continue to be popular, especially as manufacturers further push the limits of how lightweight, powerful and technologically advanced a car can be. Just remember, what makes a car exotic isn’t only its high-performance capabilities — vehicles will still need to showcase their exclusive luster to be truly exotic.

    In summary

    So, what is an exotic car? As you see, it’s hard to pin down definitively, since a car might be considered exotic for many reasons. Unlike your typical SUV or sedan, exotic cars stand out in a crowd. They’re the kind of vehicles that you might only see once in a blue moon — the car that stops you in your tracks to stare, take a picture or two and maybe even inspire a dream of one day owning it yourself.

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