Bob Biagi, general manager of Virginia's largest Rolls-Royce dealership, sat poised behind a dark wood desk, an oriental rug on the floor, and gazed out into the showroom at a gleaming 1985 Silver Spur, priced at $109,000.
Like other British-made Rolls-Royces, this one didn't have a "dashboard"; it had a "control centre" of burled walnut. It had a stainless front grille; only 13 men in the world know how to build it. The air-conditioning system had the cooling capacity of 30 household refrigerators.
As an increasing number of high-dollar corporations settle in Northern Virginia, bringing big salaries and pin-striped executives with a taste for the finer things in life, Biagi is looking forward to an expanding Rolls-Royce market.
"And, there's a lot of money with the diplomats," he said. "That's an area we want to get into, that we're going to hit hard."
But for now, even in big, wealthy Fairfax County, which had the highest median household income in the continental United States, according to the 1980 Census, the life of a Brown's Rolls-Royce Ltd. salesman isn't all polish and chrome. "It's not as easy as you think it would be," Biagi said.
Michael Iacovacci, 44, a Northern Virginia builder whose company, Monument Construction, is expected to sell between $16 million and $18 million worth of houses this year, bought a Rolls-Royce convertible for his wife's birthday last January (suggested manufacturer's retail, $156,000).
"I walked out the front door and there was this white Rolls-Royce Corniche sitting in the driveway, with a big red bow," said Nancy Iacovacci, 43. "What a surprise. I thought, 'Oh, my God.' Actually, there were two of them there. He bought one for himself, one for me. He bought the Silver Spur. Tan and Brown."
Pamela Deaner, 38, a real estate agent with Mount Vernon Realty in Fairfax, is considering a Rolls.
"I spend a lot of time in my car," she said, "and I like to be comfortable. I like a car that I can depend on and I like a car that gives me a good feeling. I drive a Mercedes now, and I've always liked it, but I just thought that maybe a Rolls-Royce would offer me a little more comfort."
Although Iacovacci and Deaner are converts, finding others willing and able to buy cars that cost as much as houses isn't always easy in a suburban county like Fairfax, where the wealthy shun the kind of glitz that's found in Palm Beach or Beverly Hills.
Biagi is competing, too, against Euro Motorcars of Bethesda, the only other Rolls dealer in the Washington metropolitan area, according to spokesman Nicholas Scanniello.
Euro sold 21 cars last year, compared with Biagi's six.
The dealership opened in 1977 at Tysons Corner, but moved in March to Lee Highway in Fairfax City, a location Biagi considers less congested and more centrally located for potential customers in such far-flung places as Alexandria, McLean or Middleburg.
(The second Virginia dealership is located in Virginia Beach.)
Biagi, 24, a former motor home salesman, relies mostly on references to find his customers. "Everyone knows someone that can afford a Rolls-Royce. Do you? Okay. Then, we have letters that we send out. I've sent out probably 2,500 letters so far. I've got a Dun & Bradstreet million-dollar directory. The letters say 'We're here.' "
Then, he makes the follow-up phone calls. "A lot of people that can afford a Rolls-Royce don't realize how nice they are, don't realize how much fun they are," Biagi sighed. "I have to prove to them that they deserve one. 'Don't you deserve the best?' "
Proving it often means driving one of the showroom Rollses to the home of a potential customer, or chauffeuring them to lunch in the car. "I do a lot of lunches -- a LOT of lunches," Biagi said. "I pick them up in the car. You know, 'I'm going to be in the area. Why don't I take you out to lunch?' "
Biagi says decisions often come slowly. Even those impressed with Rolls-Royces' 10 coats of exterior paint, or the ride that Nancy Iacovacci described as "being on a marshmallow, or a cloud," sometimes toss in bed at night, wondering if they should fork out up to $156,000 for wheels.
They wonder if they are, in fact, what one Rolls-Royce brochure describes as "one of those uncommon individuals who possess the inner drive to achieve life's higher ambitions" -- whether they want a car that "whispers 'success.' "
Do they need windshield wipers that sweep a large rectangular area, instead of the usual meager half-moon? Or car seats made of leather taken from the hides of animals raised in Scandinavia, where there are no bugs to bite and mar the skin, no barbed wire to slice it?
And, if they do want the car, what color they should choose? That's an important consideration because a Rolls-Royce odometer is built to register a million miles.
There are 21 Rolls-Royce exterior colors. Georgian Silver. Magnolia. And, Biagi's favorite -- a deep and rich Exeter Blue.
Those who make the big decision to buy, such as the Iacovaccis, suddenly find themselves the object of great attention. "We send all our previous buyers a fruit basket at Thanksgiving," Biagi said, "and a poinsettia at Christmas. If there's a spouse involved, we will usually send out roses the day they pick up the car -- a dozen red roses, congratulating them."
After all, says Paul Parsell, 23, Biachi's master technician, "A Rolls-Royce is not just another automobile; it's a motor car."
Or, as one glossy advertisement says, "A unique sense of elegance and refinement, the substance of true nobility."