by elle eichinger and meg mathis | February 10, 2014 | People
As car connoisseurs gather for the 106th Annual Chicago Auto Show, five windy city power couples share their love for the driven life—and each other.
Mark Basso has always been a car guy—he’s owned 10 automobiles since his first 1974 Firebird and has also dabbled in amateur racing—so when he met Camaro-driving Penny Morgan at Galway’s (a dive bar in Elmhurst) in 1984, he knew she was the one. “Her smile lit up the whole room,” Mark recalls. The two bonded over a shared sense of adventure and were married in 1987.
In the late 1990s, it was that same adventurous spirit that Mark depended on when he proposed to his wife that he leave his career as an insurance salesman and follow his dream of opening a club for car enthusiasts, The Autobahn Country Club. Despite her shared love of cars and supportive personality, Penny couldn’t help but be apprehensive. “It was a lot of work,” she says about making the move with Mark and their four kids from West Chicago to Shorewood to build the Autobahn, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. “We had to start our life over again—[but it] was fun in the end, and now [this] is our life.” Penny has since gone back to school to finish her business degree (she graduates this year) and moved on to work as the sales and marketing director of the Patrick C. Haley Mansion, but make no mistake that the Autobahn has always been a partnership. “When you start a new company, it’s a family affair,” Mark says. Adds Penny, “I wanted to make sure that Mark lived his dream. If you feel that passionately about something, you’ve got to do it.” And though Penny is no longer involved in day-to-day operations, she’s still as much a car lover as her husband. “I’m partial to the BMWs,” she says with a connoisseur’s familiarity, “but I wouldn’t turn away any of them.”
“It’s really good to have a mate who shares not just your interests, but the knowledge of the business you’re in,” says Mike McGrath, who met his wife, Kristina, nearly 21 years ago when she and twin sister Korinna visited Chicago from their native Lake of the Ozarks for a Doublemint modeling audition (“We didn’t get it,” laughs Kristina). Following a long-distance courtship, Mike convinced Kristina to move to Chicago and work at his newly opened Acura dealership, where she educated herself on cars to become McGrath’s top saleswoman. “It was the easiest job I ever had because if I’m passionate about something, I can sell it,” recalls Kristina, who once dreamed of owning a Chevrolet Z24 (“I’ve come a long way,” she jokes).
In her current role as director of customer relations for all six of the McGrath luxury dealerships, Kristina has been crucial in helping McGrath Lexus earn a number one customer service index ranking, and Mike couldn’t be happier to work alongside her. “We’re both Type A people, and one of my axioms is, ‘Opposites might attract, but it doesn’t lend itself to long-term,’” he says. “Kristina’s been a great companion along the way—she and I share a common outlook not only about business, but about life.”
“I can build project after project and have no desire to keep them,” says Randy Fifield, “but with cars I tend to hold on.” Randy and her husband, Steve, are avid car collectors and co-owners of Fifield Companies, where they’ve overseen the construction of some of the city’s high-profile projects, including the CTA Headquarters, the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, and the renovation of the Civic Opera House, as well as the building of the K Station high-rises and Evanston’s forthcoming E2 Apartments. “We bring out the best in each other,” says Randy of her husband. “Steve is a visionary—a very ‘big picture’ thinker—and I’m a very grounded girl, so when you see the evolution of our relationship, he’s really taken a leap of faith to come into my vision.”
Together for 24 years, the Fifields—who split their time between Chicago and California—currently own seven vehicles, from Steve’s convertible 2007 Bentley Azure (“I’ve thought about selling it,” he says, laughing, “but I always think I have great placement when I go to restaurants because wherever I drive up is where they keep it”) to Randy’s red 2011 Ferrari California (license plate: RANDY 44). But perhaps the crown jewel of the couple’s collection is Randy’s beloved 11-year-old gold Range Rover, which she had retrofitted to accommodate their five children, ages 14 to 20. “I had young children in there,” reflects Randy. “I’ve become sentimental.”
Seven years ago, real estate broker Kim Jones had a condo listing at Lake Point Tower, and Jerry Riccioni liked what he saw. Not only did Jerry purchase the condo, but he also began courting Kim, who has contracted more than $200 million in sales throughout her nine-year tenure at Baird & Warner. “Within the first 90 days that we were dating, we were going to races together and meeting drivers,” says Kim, who cites having the opportunity to know the late IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon as a fringe benefit of her relationship with Jerry. He has spent the past 25 years working his way up the corporate ladder from salesman to senior vice president of retail sales at Old World Industries, a leading supplier of antifreeze, oil, and wiper blades and parent company of PEAK brand (he describes brand spokeswoman Danica Patrick as “a trip” while flipping through cell phone photos of them together in Las Vegas).
Married for nearly four years, the couple recently purchased a champagne-colored Ferrari California, but these days find the duo collecting condos; over the past five years, they’ve invested in eight different units throughout the city. “Jerry had faith to buy in a horrible real estate market. He had the vision to go in and pick up a few condos when things were tough, knowing that rents were going to be fine, and that we’d wait it out,” Kim says. “Well, I sure believed in Kim,” says Jerry tenderly. “She’s taught me a lot.”
“Cars are in my blood,” says Alexandra Milos, and she’s not kidding. The daughter of Metropolitan Limousine founder Ted Milos, she’s been riding in style since the day Ted and wife Veronica brought newborn Alexandra home from the hospital in a Lincoln stretch limo from Milos’s fleet. Now 25, she joined the company as an account executive specializing in group sales and high-profile clients in January of last year. Says proud father Ted, “She’s helped energize the business—and added a little enthusiasm on my part.”
In reality, Alexandra has been a part of the company since that first ride home. “When I was little, I thought of the people at [Dad’s] office as family,” she says. “So it’s funny now, to be on the other side working with them.” His daughter’s enthusiasm has reminded Ted of the importance of treating everyone like family, too. “I’ve learned since Alexandra has come on that I need to stay more in touch with employees,” he says.
Ted was inspired to establish the business with partner Tom Mulligan after chauffeuring for a summer before law school (he recalls that the company they worked for did things “so poorly, we decided to buy new cars and do it right”). In the ensuing 42 years Metropolitan has seen much success. It’s the official driving partner of every five-star hotel in Chicago and has carried celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Paul McCartney, so for Alexandra, who earned a degree in psychology from DePaul University, getting involved was a given. “My dad means everything to me, so what is important to him is important to me,” she says. “That was my main drive for getting involved with the company. I just also happen to love cars.”
photography by saverio truglia; retouching by stick digital