My Inner Hot Rod It isn't easy, buying a new car. You must know yourself. And you must find a salesman who actually wants to sell you a car.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I just bought a car. It wasn't easy. Buying a car is about a lot more than buying a car. Of course, it's also about buying a car. Both parts are tough. But I won, all the way around, no thanks to the system, which was against me all the way.

Sometimes I think they don't want you to have a car. Like there are some invisible, mysterious rules that you have to follow, some hurdle you have to get over in order to get a car. I don't really understand it. I just know I had to fight against it every step of the way. And I won. Because I'm a winner. Fast, low to the ground. And--in spite of the pressure to go global--relentlessly domestic. That's what I found out about myself. But like I said: I had to go the long way around to get there.

I've had a lot of cars. This time, I sort of decided that I wanted a cool one. I knew I didn't want a little, underpowered gumdrop with a fat butt and little pointy nose. That meant 98% of all cars were out. But I wasn't going to go all the way to a BMW Z3 Roadster, because I'm not fat with a bald head and tiny little ponytail. Not yet.

I started out at Ford, where we went last time. Now I wasn't looking for an Explorer, though. "I want to see a Mustang coupe," I said. I didn't want a convertible, because my wife has succeeded in placing an image in my head: me in a car that is rolling over and over while my unprotected cranium and brains are smeared onto the tarmac.

"We don't have a coupe," said the sales guy. He looked bored and sad at the same time.

"Not anywhere?" I said.

"Well..." He looked dubious. "I think there may be one in Mahopac ..." Mahopac is approximately an hour north of here.

I wondered if I was missing something. " bring it down here, and I'll test drive it," I offered. "If I like it, I'll buy it."

"We can't bring it down here unless you bought it already," he said with exquisite tenderness.

"You want me to buy a car I've never seen or, like, touched?" I wasn't quite getting this. Didn't they want me to buy a car?

An uncomfortable silence ensued. I asked him if he would call me if one sort of accidentally came in or something. He said he would. I guess one never came in, because he never called.

After that I went to Audi. A salesman stood outside, smoking. I noticed this was common at these locations. At each one, a sentinel was stationed outside, smoking. "Can you help me?" I said to him. "I'm actually not a salesman," he said with great regret. "Can I see a salesman, then?" I asked. "You'll have to wait a few minutes," said the guy, stubbing out his smoke on the pavement and peering inside. "We're a little short-handed today."

After a while, a salesman did become available. "Do you have the A6 with the big engine?" I asked him. They didn't. Nor did they have the awesome S4 with the pickup of a jackrabbit and heart-stopping torque. I asked if I could test drive the A6 with the smaller engine instead. The guy looked a little put out. "It's kinda late," he said, looking at his watch. Finally, they let me take one out. It's a beautiful car, no question. But my heart did not move within my chest.

I decided to go up to Volvo. On the way I stopped in at a Chevrolet dealer I had passed a million times before. I had an idea about something.

"Have you got a...Camaro?" I asked the guy standing out on the street and smoking. They had one. It was a red demo that had more than 3,000 miles on it and the smallest of engines, six cylinders, about 200 horses, the same one that's in both the Impala and the Monte Carlo. Not what I was looking for at all. But it was there, and I drove it. It felt cool. And the price, ladies and gentlemen...

"Can you get me a 1999 with the big engine?" I asked.

"Oh," said the Chevy guy. "I dunno."

"Well, how about a 2000 model?"

"Gee," he said. "Those will come in sometime after the new year."

That's bizarre, I thought. "You mean, like, in January?"

"Yup," said the Chevy guy. I didn't get it. Did he want me to buy a Cavalier? Was he trying to unload something that was already on the lot? I left after getting him to promise that he'd look for what I wanted. As far as I know, he's still looking.

I went up to Volvo. I test drove the S80, which can have as much as 268 horsepower under the hood. But they didn't have that car, just the little one that feels pretty much like your ordinary bourgeois Swedish sedan. It didn't really make my hair stand up and sing "Bolero," and would have cost, like, 45 grand, fully loaded. While I was there, I saw the Volvo C70, which is a stunning vehicle I would have bought immediately, but after a search it was revealed that the one coupe on the eastern seaboard was in Virginia. "So I can't get one even if I really wanted one," I said to the Volvo guy.

"Yeah," he said. "It's pretty messed up."

I called my friend Stu, who used to challenge other arrogant bastards every day behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 and who now drives a Mercedes CLK 230. "A Camaro?" said Stu, kind of chuckling. "You'll have to paint flames on the side and give it a name like The Eradicator." So I called Mercedes-Benz.

"Do you have a CLK 230?"

"No," said the Mercedes guy.

"Well...can you get me one?"

"No," said the Mercedes guy.

"When do you think you'll have one in?" I inquired.

"I have no idea," said the Mercedes guy. "They're very popular." There was a silence during which I believed I heard him lighting a cigarette or perhaps a very small cigar. I hung up.

After maybe 60 phone calls I found a Chevrolet dealer about ten minutes away willing to locate a Camaro for me. Last Friday, I drove it. It was boss. The Z28 has 305 horses under the hood and a top you can remove. Fully loaded, it's easily $20 thousand less than everything else I'd been looking at.

Several people have asked me if I'm having a midlife crisis, but I assure you, I am not. I'm just looking forward to blowing past guys in cars three times more expensive and pretentious than mine. Right now I'm searching for a guy who can paint some flames on the hood and maybe even a name. How does The Consolidator sound to you?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.