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High rollers in a buying mood

Matt Hlavin, an entrepreneur in Cleveland who owns seven businesses, mostly in manufacturing, bought three Mercedes last year: a $237,000 SLS AMG and a $165,000 S63 AMG for himself, and a $97,000 GL550 sport utility vehicle for his wife.

"I look at it as, I don't have a boat," Mr. Hlavin said. "I feel confident about the economy and about my business."

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A legion of buyers like Mr. Hlavin, buoyed by a growing economy and a soaring stock market, are shedding whatever reluctance, or self-imposed restraint, they had during the recession by entering showrooms and leaving with trophy cars.

"Luxury is not a dirty word anymore," said Robert Ross, an automotive consultant with Robb Report, a lifestyle magazine for wealthy readers. "In 2008, luxury was a dirty word."

Bryan Mitchell | Getty Images

Maserati is opening dealerships around the United States, Rolls-Royce just finished its most profitable year ever and even mainstream luxury automakers like Mercedes and Jaguar are finding an eager market for their most expensive models, which push past $100,000.

The sales gains at the highest end of the market are far outstripping those in the auto industry as a whole, which, because of easier credit and pent-up demand, have risen 8.4 percent from January through November.

Maserati has led the way, with a 55 percent sales increase this year, followed by double-digit gains from Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Porsche and Bentley, according to figures from the Autodata Corporation. Many of the brands sold more cars in the first 11 months of 2013 than they did in 2007 before the recession.

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Among the hungriest consumers for luxury automobiles are entrepreneurs amassing new wealth in industries like technology and energy, and executives in Fortune 500 companies whose stocks have soared along with the broader market, analysts and industry executives say.

"People were pulling back when they had to let people go," said Ken Gorin, chief executive and president of the Collection in Coral Gables, Fla. "They'd come in and buy, but it would be the same color and the same model so no one knew they got a new car."

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