Illustration by Ryan OlbryshCar and Driver
When a vintage car goes up for sale, it is typical to mention its provenance. This generally consists of number of owners, where it’s been, and how long it’s been there. Unless one of those owners happens to have been notable. Notable is a broad term, and the kind of ownership that many people find notable doesn’t typically impact on the value of the car.
Unless you consider the value in having a story with which to bore one’s passengers, like, “Did you know this supercharged 1988 Riviera was owned by that guy who voiced Crackle, from the Rice Krispies commercials?” Real fame, as it pertains to a car’s price tag, is different. In some ways.
“In most cases, celebrity ownership adds to the value if the celebrity was a car enthusiast,” says Jonathan Klinger, vice president of public relations for automotive insurance and valuation company Hagerty. “For example, a Rolls-Royce owned by Elizabeth Taylor sold for close to market price for its condition. Likewise, the Ella Fitzgerald Mercedes [see below] is listed for sale for a lot, but might not actually sell for much more than any other similar car in the same condition.” He continues, “But people like Clark Gable, Steve McQueen, and Carroll Shelby are at the other extreme,” and will generally bring a notable premium over a similar version of the same model. Considering all of this, we bring you some of our favorite celebrity vehicles that went up for auction in 2020.
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Ella Fitzgerald’s 1959 Mercedes-Benz 300D
The First Lady of Song custom ordered one of the 65 convertible versions of Benz’s post-war range topper. (She received a 10 percent celebrity discount.) While the car is in impeccable original condition, and includes a 1988 Annie Liebowitz photo of Ella standing alongside it, its $465,000 price is probably about twice what it’s worth.
Clark Gable’s 1952 Jaguar XK120
Clark Gable bought the first Jaguar sold in America, an XK120 roadster, so named because it could achieve 120 mph. This was his third XK120, and to enhance it, he had it shaved and painted by famed hot rod shop Barris Kustoms. This, along with an impeccable restoration, explains why the car sold for $276,000 at Bring a Trailer, about 170 percent of top value.
Carroll Shelby’s 1935 Chrysler Airflow
Aside from Carroll Shelby, Steve McQueen also allegedly owned this windswept Chrysler. This straight-eight powered, three-on-the-floor shifted, mohair-upholstered, continental-tired, imperial nugget sold on Bring a Trailer for $68,000, high for an Airflow, but about the price of a mid-range Audi SUV.
Hugh Hefner’s 1973 BMW 3.0 CS
And here’s Playboy founder Hugh Hefner’s four-speed BMW E9. But this one didn’t just spend time parked at the Playboy Mansion (the address listed for delivery in the owner’s manual). It also allegedly did a stint at the Celebrity Car Museum in Branson, Missouri. Putting the kink in Hofmeister kink, Bring a Trailer sold this one for $66,000, placing it about mid-pack in the valuation of these lovely and sporting coupes.
Elvis Presley’s 1969 Mercedes-Benz 600
In 1969, when Elvis returned to the stage, he was backed by the TCB Band. TCB stood for Taking Care of Business. Elvis adopted it as a personal motto and plastered the initials on his belongings, including this Mercedes limousine, one of the greatest and most imperious vehicles ever made, and a favorite of celebrities, CEOs, and murderous dictators. Within hours of its posting on Bring a Trailer, bidding was already in the six figures. It eventually sold for $288,888.
Burt Reynolds’s 1977 Trans Am
George Romney’s 1964 AMC Rambler
Wayne Gretzsky’s 2006 Ford GT
Wayne Gretzsky is one of the greatest hockey players of all time. The first re-do on the Ford GT is widely considered a slavish, terrifying, yet enduringly cool example of early 2000s automotive retroism. With a hackneyed Gulf livery, livened by Gretzsky’s No. 99 jersey number, and under 1000 miles since new, the $511,000 purchase price at RMSotheby’s October auction seems on par.
Zeppo Marx’s 1976 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
Zeppo Marx was probably the least famous Marx brother. He was mechanically inclined, and kept the family’s vehicles running during their vaudeville days. He spent his last decades in Palm Springs, where his wife had an affair with (and eventually married) Frank Sinatra. He died in 1979. But a few years before that, he bought this Rolls. In excellent condition, with only 30,000 miles on the clock, the $22,000 RMSothebys hammer price seems decent.
Bond Movie 1969 Mercury Cougar XR7
This convertible Cougar is arguably one of the best Mercury designs of the 60s, which helps explain why Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Dame Diana Rigg) drove it in the only George Lazenby Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The car sold in Bonhams’s December sale. Estimated to go for as much as $200,000, it sold for $484,000.
Lee Iacocca’s 1992 Dodge Viper
Auto executive extraordinaire Lee Iacocca helped to green-light and introduce the absurd Dodge Viper to the world. Though it was just a snaky jigsaw of a body wrapped around a destroyer anchor of a V-10 engine, Iacocca decided that he needed the very first Viper to run off the production line for his own personal collection. He was its only owner, keeping it until he died in mid-2019. Bonhams sold it for $285,500 in early 2020, about five times what any perfect Viper should be worth.
Steve McQueen’s Meyers Manx Dune Buggy
Will Smith’s 1988 Bentley Continental T
The Fresh Prince’s blown Bentley has been kicking around the secondary market for some time, having been sold at Julien’s in 2015, then consigned at the Russo & Steele auction house at the beginning of 2020, and then appearing near the end of this year in the Hemmings classifieds. Which is where we found it when we were writing this. The ad has since faded from the internet. We love these cars, so the $66,000 price tag Hemmings had on it seems reasonable.
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