How Omaze Assembles — And Gives Away — the Best Car Collection on Earth

An interview with the charity disruptor about Ken Block Raptors, vintage BMWs and one Pope Lamborghini

October 28, 2020 10:21 am
Pope Lamborghini
Pope Francis signing a Lamborghini Huracán that was eventually won by someone who entered an Omaze sweepstakes.

Where is the best car collection in the world? Jay Leno’s garage comes to mind, as does Jerry Seinfeld’s, and their respective car shows certainly bolster their arguments. Then there are various royals and titans of industry. If we’re extending this to institutions, I wouldn’t snub my nose at the Petersen or Porsche Museum. But recently, the scale has tipped in the direction of a younger entry: Omaze. 

You probably know the Omaze team for being the fundraising disruptor you’ve seen on social media, showcasing the chance to win lunch with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, or to play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with the real Tony Hawk, for a donation of $10 or more. That’s how they got their start in 2012: building a new charity model by offering dream experiences with celebrities. But in recent years they’ve branched out into vehicle sweepstakes, and they’ve kept the bar at cloud level. A Kia giveaway under a mall rotunda, this is not. 

We’ve watched as Omaze lists grail car after grail car, not just Ferraris and Lamborghinis (though they did offer a Huracán signed by Pope Francis), but hyper-specific vehicles seemingly curated for well read gearheads: from Gateway Bronco’s impeccably restored Fuelies to an EV-converted 1958 Volkswagen Beetle from Zelectric. To figure out how exactly they’ve managed this, we called up Sarah Lassek, Senior Vice President of Digital Merchandising at Omaze, self-proclaimed lifetime “car nut” and the lead behind the company’s vehicle curation.

Before you ask — yes, people really do win these cars.

Omaze McLaren 720S
This man donated $25 and won a McLaren 720S. Really.

InsideHook: How did Omaze expand from the celebrity experiences to adding the car sweepstakes?

Sarah Lassek: We had a campaign running with Daniel Craig, where you could fly to London — it was around a Bond movie — you could meet Daniel and then you would win an Aston Martin. As we were marketing the campaign, we were noticing that channels that were more directly affiliated with the car were starting to really grow and drive a lot in donations. So we thought, maybe we’ll try a car on its own without a celebrity. And so after the Aston, then we did a McLaren 720S and it was incredibly successful. So that was the catalyst to really thinking this was something that could work.

How did the curation of vehicles at Omaze develop? From a Tesla-powered VW Bus to Gateway Broncos to a 1974 BMW 2002 Turbo, no one else is really giving away cars like these. 

Picking these cars that are not just a regular giveaway, it really is important to the dream element of what Omaze is about. And for us as car people — car people can sniff out inauthenticity real fast. If you’re trying to be a phony or you’re trying to just give away a Lamborghini every time because they’re expensive, I don’t think that feels very authentic. For us to be credible, for people to trust us, it’s very important for us to establish ourselves in the car community and car culture, and that’s why every single one of these cars is something that we know people will love in the car space.

Now, not everyone loves 4x4s. They might love vintage cars or they might love new production cars. But we have something for everyone and we spend a lot of time thinking about who the right partners are: if we’re doing a build, who the most authentic people are to help us tell the story; and in terms of new production, what are the most buzzworthy cars? What are the things that all of us are super interested in, whether it’s electrics, whether it’s the [Audi] RS Q8 that we have, it’s very hard to get your hands on that — it’s the best SUV around the Nürburgring. We think about the cars that all of us would love to get our hands on.

Are there any memorable moments that stick out to you from giving these cars away to winners?

We get really attached to these cars. I have my kind of favorite child every quarter. One that just recently happened was: the [1967 Officially Licensed Ford Mustang] “Eleanor” winner is a huge car guy. He donated twice. He is over the moon about this car. And that’s all we really want — we want people to just be so excited to win this car.

There are other stories where, during early COVID, there were people that won the cars — and we offer a cash alternative, you can choose to take the car or the cash — and there was a woman whose husband lost her job and she decided to take the cash. And for us, that’s also really impactful because we just helped somebody change their life. If that’s what these cars can do, then that’s also amazing. 

With anything like this — sweepstakes, giveaways, lotteries — you hear stories about people winning a prize or money and then squandering it, or at least not knowing what to do with it. At Omaze, I think of someone who has only driven used clunkers suddenly owning a Lamborghini. Do you have some sort of user guide or driving course or anything, or do you just drop it off like, “Here you go!”

We do not have any kind of user guide. I mean, look, at the end of the day, it’s their car. We started to add the $20,000 — cash in the trunk, if you will — on the majority of our cars. In a lot of cases, things like a Lamborghini, a Ferrari, any of these cars that are very expensive to own, once you win it you’re like, “Uh oh, now I pay for gas and insurance.” We pay for taxes. We cover all of their taxes, so that kind of softens the blow. And then the $20,000 just gives them that extra cushion. Some people will ultimately sell the cars. Some people will keep them forever.

There was a guy that won our Lamborghini. This was, I want to say, early 2019. It’s one of my favorite winner videos — he is hugging the car and he loves it. I think he kept it for like eight or nine months, and then I think ultimately he did sell it because they’re just not, for a lot of people, normal-people-life-friendly. Either way, though, it was a win-win for him.

Didn’t you once give away a Lamborghini signed by Pope Francis? Am I remembering that correctly?

That is correct. Yes, we did.

Can you tell me how that came about?

That was before my time, but if I remember this correctly, Lamborghini had gifted a car to Pope Francis. The original plan to auction the car off for charity didn’t pan out, so we teamed up with them to offer it to people around the world to support four different charities. People from around the world donated and entered for the chance to own this insane car. Omaze is one of very few, if not the only, organization that could fulfill something like that.

For you, what do you think is the most noteworthy vehicle that Omaze has offered — in terms of how long it took to get it, if it was a custom build, or what sticks out to you?

All of our builds like our Gateway [Broncos] are amazing and we plan very far out. We’re already planning builds through [2021] because many of them take six, seven months if not longer to do. We are constantly either working ahead with our current partners or we are vetting and looking at new partners. 

I’m a huge BMW enthusiast, so my very favorite car, and I think one of the coolest stories was the ‘74 2002 Turbo that just closed. We knew we wanted to do a Turbo, but we have to find the ones that are really solid, beautifully restored, low miles. We take a lot of pains to find these cars that are in pretty impeccable condition. And so this one was owned by Bobby Rahal. It was actually first bought by Graham Rahal, who then gave it to his dad. His dad worked with a company called The Werk Shop, one of the best BMW restorers in the country near Chicago, and just dialed the car back to its original condition. She’s absolutely flawless. And I got to drive it! I had quite an attachment to that car.

The ones that have a story we love. Working with the DeBertis on a Wrangler was really fun. Just meeting these people that are so talented and so creative. You know, DeBerti is building handmade billet parts for the car. People just don’t have access to that kind of stuff, so I love those kinds of projects.

1974 BMW 2002 Turbo
Who wouldn’t want this 1974 BMW 2002 Turbo in their garage?

Is there a vehicle that far and away had the most entries ever?

Our two biggest car sweepstakes were — the first one was with Ken Block, which we did at the beginning of this year. We did a Ford Raptor and a Can-Am [Maverick]. Ken helped us promote it, and the cars were built exactly like his own Raptor and Can-Am. So that one was really fun. That was our biggest one and then it got knocked off the throne by our Sprinter van. We do Sprinter vans on a regular basis, and this Sprinter van, it was early COVID days. So people were like, get me the hell outta here.

That’s so surprising. I can’t believe it was the Sprinter van that’s number one. I mean, obviously I would love to win it.

Yeah, the timing mattered. But our Porsche Taycan with Patrick Dempsey was pretty massive as far as a standalone car, and our outdoor adventure cars do really well. The Broncos do really well. The DeBerti Wrangler is doing really well right now.

How does the charity aspect come into play? Do the foundations that you’re raising money for get in touch with you and then you pair them with a car?

It comes a few different ways. When we select a car, if there is a builder or a partner or potentially a talent like Ken Block, Patrick Dempsey, that we’re focusing the campaign around, then, more often than not, that person will select a charity. So with Ken he’s very close with Make-A-Wish, with Patrick he founded the Dempsey Center. We also have long-standing relationships with different charity partners like the Petersen Automotive Museum. So we will have a car a quarter, for example, that goes to the Petersen. We have the [1972 BMW 2002 Turbo], the Ford GT currently, our little EV 911.

We also do a lot of amazing travel experiences, we do cash prizes, etc. At the very least, we always try to make sure that the charity is aligned with the prize, if that makes sense. We have our Polestar 2 up right now; so if it’s an EV, we want to make sure the charity is environmentally friendly. With the DeBertis, they picked Warrior Built — that was a foundation that they had worked very closely with. Brad [DeBerti] is very passionate about supporting veterans. And then sometimes we’ll go through a charity and the charity will come up with a different idea or they’ll have a talent as part of their roster. Then that’ll start curating a different idea, an experience, and we go from that angle. 

You talked about having to get these conversations and builds going as early as possible, so is there anything you can preview for us? An exciting one that’s coming up?

I can be somewhat vague. We’ve definitely got some more EV conversions coming up. We are going to be doing a couple of different experiences with some pretty amazing people that are steeped in the Porsche world. You’ll see a little bit more from some of our previous builders. 

Is there a vehicle either that you want to be able to offer in the future?  Or one that you’ve tried and haven’t been able to score yet but that is on your radar?

We have not been stumped yet. We have not ever not been able to get the car we wanted. I would say there are things on our radar that are in the vein of a Singer or a Senna, those types of things that we do intend to do at some point.

This interview was condensed and edited for length and clarity.

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