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Star Insurance Marketplace: Celebrity adds shine to classics

13 October, 2019



This month for Star Insurance Marketplace Ben Selby examines the financial premium attached to vehicles with a star-studded connection.


Celebrity and classic cars go hand in hand. Since the dawn of 20th century popular culture, cool cars have been brand boosters for the rich and famous and the ultimate accessory. They are much more convenient for paparazzi than private jets. 

Back in the day, stars such as Clark Gable and Gary Cooper would only be seen in the very best cars of the era. Today, celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno are well known for their automotive obsessions. 

There are plenty of well-to-do famous folk out there, past and present, who tend to change their cars significantly more quickly than most of us — much like their couture on the red carpets they frequent, where it would be a scandal to turn up in the same outfit two times in a row. This means the second-hand market, and world auction sites for that matter, see their fair share of motors that were once, however briefly, owned by someone famous. You may just find a classic car that will give you the opportunity to drop into conversation that your car was once owned by — insert famous Big Shot name here. 


Steve McQueen

However, that extra layer of posh patina can come at a hefty price. The Mustang Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt — a 1968 GT fastback — is headed for auction in January and could fetch more than US$4 million. After filming, the car, which had heavy-duty suspension, engine upgrades, and mounting points for cameras, was sold and then later onsold to the Kiernan family. In 1977, the family turned down an offer from Steve McQueen to buy the car but, given the success of Ford’s latest tribute model, the current Kiernan has finally decided to sell. 

There’s no doubt celebrity will aid the value of cars but the extra X factor in that Mustang’s case is that McQueen was a car — and motorcycle — guy. 

There’s an even more famous movie car: In August, Sotheby’s sold a verified 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Bond car, complete with Q’s gadgets — bulletproof shield, tyre slashers, ejector seat, revolving number plate, and machine guns. It fetched US$6.38 million.


Paul Walker

That makes the 1993 Toyota Supra that the late Paul Walker drove in the original The Fast and the Furious movie quite a snip at US$199,000. Supra prices are still rising but it’s worth noting that celebrity, like all other things, must pass. 

Elvis Presley owned a 1971 De Tomaso Pantera, which he drove enthusiastically around Memphis. Apparently he got frustrated with the tuning of the Ford engine and shot the car. It’s now in a museum and the steering wheel still bears the scars. His 1967 Lincoln Continental — a wedding gift from Colonel Tom Parker — sold recently  for US$165,000; not a vast sum, but then younger folks don’t know who Elvis is.   

Hollywood comedian Richard Pryor’s 1981 Mercedes 280CE coupe might go for a steal at the upcoming Barrett Jackson Las Vegas 2019 Classic Car Auction. A big fan of Richard Pryor could very well end up owning this great piece of early ’80s Hollywood glam, which is being sold in original condition at no reserve.

You can score star-linked cars even here in New Zealand. A plethora of famously owned cars have resided here over the years — Buddy Holly’s 1958 Chevrolet Impala was reputedly up for grabs at one stage.


Jerry Bruckheimer

One car currently for sale is a certain left-hand drive 1986 Ferrari 328 GTS. Available through Waimak Classic Cars in North Canterbury, this stunning black Fezza was owned by none other than famous Hollywood movie producer, Jerry Bruckheimer. Responsible for hits like The Rock, Con Air, Pirates of the Caribbean, and of course Top Gun, Bruckheimer bought the Ferrari new in 1986 and Top Gun star Tom Cruise has sat in the driver’s seat. At $165,000, this black 328 GTS on its own is probably one of the best in the country, but its celebrity heritage adds an undeniable gloss. A signed publicity photo from Bruckheimer is included in the price.


The Queen

When the Sutherlands’ collection went under the hammer in Auckland a few months back, we saw some seriously collectible metal changing hands for top dollar. This included a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith used by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on her royal tour of New Zealand — well, even though she never actually owned the Roller, it has carried her royal personage, and that no doubt contributed to its sale price of  $193,775.

However, there have been a number of cases over the years — and not just in New Zealand — of sellers playing a little fast and loose with the truth in order to add a premium. Apparently in Cuba, the classifieds are littered with Cadillacs that once belonged to Frank Sinatra or Che Guevara. It’s always prudent to check the provenance of classic cars; when it comes to claims of celebrity cachet, it would pay to check the facts just as thoroughly.

Becoming fond of Fords part two – happy times with Escorts

In part one of this Ford-flavoured trip down memory lane I recalled a sad and instructive episode when I learned my shortcomings as a car tuner, something that tainted my appreciation of Mk2 Ford Escort vans in particular. Prior to that I had a couple of other Ford entanglements of slightly more redeeming merit. There were two Mk1 Escorts I had got my hands on: a 1972 1300 XL belonging to my father and a later, end-of-line, English-assembled 1974 1100, which my partner and I bought from Panmure Motors Ford in Auckland in 1980. Both those cars were the high water mark of my relationship with the Ford Motor Co. I liked the Mk1 Escorts. They were nice, nippy, small cars, particularly the 1300, which handled really well, and had a very precise gearbox for the time.
Images of Jim Richards in the Carney Racing Williment-built Twin Cam Escort and Paul Fahey in the Alan Mann–built Escort FVA often loomed in my imagination when I was driving these Mk1 Escorts — not that I was under any illusion of comparable driving skills, but they had to be having just as much fun as I was steering the basic versions of these projectiles.

Fear and loathing the blue oval – part one

The slogan went something like ‘There’s a Ford in your future’. ‘Bugger off!’ were always the words that sprung to my mind. Ford and I have never really got on in the manner of many of my friends, so I’d say my relationship to the brand was distant. The accelerating blur of passing time has helpfully blanketed memories of a few Ford encounters which I probably wanted to forget but I have to admit, now I look at them, they are re-appearing through the mists of time. What comes to mind more readily, to quote some uncharitable wit, is that the letters Ford could stand for ‘fix or repair daily’. Still, I have to ’fess up, there were several Fords in my past.