There is no question that the collector car market has had a huge boom. Cars that could have been bought for a song in the 90s or even early 2000s are now skyrocketing in price. Car speculation, investing, televised auctions, and a general increase in the interest of classic cars has caused prices to increase across the board. There was a time that you'd have to be a Camaro loyalist to know what COPO or Yenko meant, now it's more common.
It's hard to pin down exactly what will make a car go for more at an auction. Sometimes it's the originality of the vehicle. Sometimes it's the cars prominence. In some cases, the car marks a touchstone for the buyers, something they can connect to. One of the best ways for that to happen is for that car to be owned by a celebrity.
Whether it's a car that was featured in a movie that's dear to car fans or it's owned by someone who is a notable car fan themselves that association with a famous figure can elevate the value of a car and cause a bidding war at auction that can pump up the price of a collector car. The reality of these cars is that they are bought to show off, and what's a better way to impress on that garage tour than to point out this one was once owned by you'll never guess who.
Here are some celebrity cars that snatched a sweet price at auction and some that went for surprisingly little.
20 Steve McQueen’s Porsche 917 from Le Mans $14mil
There are a few things that can make a car go for a lot of money at auction. Quality of the car is one thing, rarity is another. Of course, celebrity ownership adds value. The Porsche 917 is considered by some to be the best race car ever made. With the 917 Porsche finally moved to the top of the Le Mans overall podium, something they would do for a record 18 times since. In 1970 Steve McQueen made the impressionistic racing epic about the race named simply Le Mans. While maybe not a huge box office hit for racing fans it is iconic. The Gulf livery race dominating 917 is iconic. Steve McQueen is iconic.
All of that combined to make this 1970 Porsche 917k the most expensive Porsche ever sold in 2017 at $14 million, and it never actually raced.
It was a test car before it became a movie star. Steve McQueen's magic also worked on his old 911 Turbo which sold for $1.95 million.
19 James Coburn’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder for $11 Million
To be sure, the Ferrari 250 GT California is a rare and valuable car. You might know it as the car Cameron and Ferris stole from Cameron's dad for a joy ride in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. That car was a replica. Like its owner, this Ferrari was the real deal. Famous for the Bond parodies Our Man Flint and for being one of the scariest tough guy actors of the 60s, James Coburn owned this cool rare car for 25 years.
Ferraris go for a lot, to begin with, especially rare ones from the sixties. But when it's owned by an icon of cool, that's a recipe for a record-setting result. In 2008 the iconic car from the iconic actor went to auction. The result was a record-breaking $11 million. The buyer was Chris Evans who would go on to take the blame for the lackluster relaunch of Top Gear who owns the car still today.
18 Carol Shelby's Twin Supercharged Super Snake Cobra $5.5 Million
Cobras are legendary. They are the embodiment of American automotive enthusiasm. Shelby took a small British roadster and shoved a big American V8 in it. Twice. With the Cobra he had found the formula. Eventually, he upped the V8 from a 289 to the legendary 427.
Still not satisfied, he attached two, that's two superchargers for a total of 800hp and a 0-60 time just north of three seconds.
Shelby wanted to make the meanest thing on the road and he succeeded. Only two were made, one Shelby kept for himself and he gave the other to a popular comedian at the time to convince him that it was better than the Ferraris the comedian preferred. The result was the comedy album 200mph by Bill Cosby. He returned the car as too scary and it would eventually go off a cliff like Cosby's recent reputation. This last survivor sold for $5.5 million at auction in 2008 with Shelby himself present.
17 Goldfinger 1964 Aston Martin DB5 $4.6 Million
This is the car. This is the gadget car. Every spy movie since Goldfinger has had some sort of nod to the car loaded down with gadgets. With a calm demeanor and a cool flip of the switch, the knockoff wheel hubs extend to tear up the tires of your pursuers. Another flip of a switch and a bulletproof shield raises up to protect your rear window.
The person in the passenger seat gets a little chatty, hit the ejector seat. It has every fantasy any driver stuck in traffic has had. There were two DB5s used in the movie and one of them was stolen in 1997 never to be seen again. In 2014 the already valuable Aston Martin without the gadgets sold for $4.6 million at auction to a private collector. One would assume that he spent that money so he could sit in the garage flipping switches in his tuxedo and dreaming of car chases through the Riviera.
16 George Barris 1966 Batmobile $4.6 Million
If the Goldfinger Aston Martin is a refined gadget car, the 1966 Batmobile is an exercise in excess. In the comics, the Batmobile started life as a relatively subtle Cord 812. Over time it got more and more outlandish, with the batcowl front end and whatever gadgets were needed for the story. When Batman was adapted for television in 1966 they turned to legendary custom car maker George Barris to make what would become the defining Batmobile. It started life as a Ford Futura and turned into a bat-themed jet powered atomic battery powered (whatever that means) legend. Just looking at the car it's hard to resist singing the na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na from the theme.
In 2013 one of the original Batmobiles sold for $4.6 million, tying the Goldfinger record.
You can see another copy (when it's home) at Barris' shop in North Hollywood along with the Monkees car.
15 John Lennon's Phantom V Rolls Royce $2.3 Million
At one point John Lennon had quipped that he was bigger than Jesus. When he decided to get a new ride to shuttle himself between his new estate and the recording studio he needed something equally big, a British icon He got a Rolls Royce Phantom V. He was a Beatle, though, and he was changing the culture. So he coached it up in yellow and psychedelic paint that, by Lennon's account, offended one Londoner so much she attacked the car with her umbrella.
The car became almost as iconic as the owner. That kind of prominence and uniqueness is sure to make a car more valuable. It worked, Sotheby's sold the car for $2.3 million. What makes this so much more impressive is this sale happened in 1985. At the time it was the most expensive car ever sold at auction.
14 Clark Gable’s 1955 300SL Gullwing $2 Million
The 300SL Gullwing is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cars ever made. It was a combination of form and function that was near perfection. Consider how the gullwings came to be. Far from an odd affectation, it was the result of need. The structural reinforcement ran along the side of the car where a traditional door would go, so the engineers at Mercedes moved the door hinges instead of compromising the car.
Clark Gable was one of the most beautiful men in Hollywood. Gable had stared in the movie To Please the Lady, an early racing movie and himself was a fan of going fast.
He even had a front row seat to the birth of the Southern California racing scene, which we'll get to next. When one of the best looking cars of all time that was also owned by one of the best looking and car-obsessed men of all time, the price goes up. This time to the tune of $2 million at Barrett-Jackson in 2015.
13 Phil Berg's 1931 Duesenberg Model J Dual-Windshield "Barrelside" Phaeton by LeBaron $1.3 Million
You can be forgiven for not knowing who Phil Berg is. He was a talent agent in the 1930s, which doesn't necessarily make him a celebrity. The car, however, is. Not to mention that it did actually beat a celebrity's car. Like a lot of awesome things, this Duesenberg was involved in a bet. The legendary Marx brothers had a big brand new supercharged Mercedes and got to bragging. Berg thought his big bad American Duesie was so much better.
Talking led to betting which almost led to a race right there on Santa Monica beach. Someone convinced them that the Mojave desert might be better. By then the wagers had increased and Berg got a little nervous so he went to his neighbor, one E.L. Cord who would later take over Duesenberg, to prep his car. The race was attended by Hollywood celebrities including Clark Gable. The Duesie won the race and the $25,000 bet, equivalent to $1.3 million, which happens to be what the car sold for in 2012.
12 David Spade Buys a 1970 Charger Daytona for $900,000
In 2001 David Spade starred in the mullet mocking film Joe Dirt. The movie in part revolved around Dirt's prized Plymouth Roadrunner that was impounded. Joe Dirt takes the $450 Daytona replica instead which is played for laughs. In reality, the Charger Daytona is a homologation special Chrysler made to win NASCAR races.
The pointy nose and tall wing allowed the Daytona to be the first stock car to reach 200mph during a race.
David Spade decided to make it official in 2015 buying a real and low mileage Daytona at Mecum auction for $900,000. He's not likely to take it on a road trip like in the movie, however. He remarked that the car is too nice to drive.
11 Burt Reynolds 1978 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit $550,000
Burt Reynolds made two and a half classic car guy movies in the 70s. One is the Brock Yates written iconic Cannonball Run, one was the less well received Stoker Ace, and the other was Smokey and the Bandit. That movie is a favorite for lovers of fast cars and truckers alike. Every car loving kid dreamed of becoming some trucker's 'blocker' running speed traps and dodging cops so their trucker buddy could make good time. The movies made the second generation Trans Am an icon as well.
Four of the beasts involved in the movie or promoting it have been sold with Burt Reynolds overseeing all of them. The one that grabbed the highest price was a promo sold at a charity auction for $550,000. The car was titled to Reynold's Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater. One owned by him personally went for $450,000 the previous year. That's a lot of money for a Trans Am, but a dream for every kid who watched that movie and dreamed of going fast.
10 Paul Newman's Riley & Scott 2002 Chevrolet Corvette $275,000
Paul Newman was the real deal. During the filming of the racing movie Winning the racing consultants discovered that Newman was turning in competitive times. So competitive in fact that he began racing. He rose up from SCCA club racing to eventually driving Nissans in professional races and winning for real. He began his racing career at 46 when most people start retiring. His final race and win was in a Riley & Scott prepared Corvette GT1 in an SCCA national event. He died a month later from lung cancer.
In 2012 RM Auctions passed it under the hammer for $275,000.
The car carries the iconic red, white, and blue that made his racing Nissans so distinctive.
9 Ferris Bueller's Day Off 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder $235,000
The Mathew Broderick movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off brought a lot of iconic moments, but none more than the scenes that featured the gorgeous red Ferrari California Spyder. We sympathize even with the valets who take the car for a crazy joy ride. Of course, it wasn't the real thing.
Real ones go for millions of dollars and are extraordinarily rare. Plus Broedrick couldn't drive stick. Regardless, the Ferrari even fake is iconic. So iconic that when the car when builder Modena put the replica up for sale in 2013 the once treed car went for $235,000.
8 Tom Selleck's Magnum PI Ferrari 308 GTS QV
It's not all fake Ferraris on television. For eight years in the 80s, Tom Selleck starred as a private investigator who was somehow tied to an absent millionaire in Hawaii that gave him access to a targa top Ferrari 308 GTS. The mid engine V8 Ferrari was arguably the biggest star of the show. Viewers tuned in to see the tall Selleck's head sticking out of the top of the red Ferrari ripping around various Hawaiian locations.
The show didn't quite use a Dukes of Hazzard level of Ferraris, but several were used every season and upgraded models as Ferrari upgraded them.
Last year the 84-85 season car went on the block for $181,000, more than twice what a normal 308 would go for.
7 Don Johnson's Miami Vice 1986 Ferrari Testarossa $151,800
It wasn't all Tom Selleck and Hawaii with Ferraris in the 80s. There was also the groundbreaking show Miami Vice. While the show doesn't particularly age well now it was ahead of its time in the 80s. The first three seasons featured a jet black Ferrari Daytona Spyder. The problem was, it wasn't real. This also bothered Enzo Ferrari who was so upset that he donated a current Ferrari Testarossa to the show if they would just use a real one. So in the show they shot the fake Ferrari with a rocket launcher (seriously) and Crockett began the next season driving the white Testarossa.
In 2017 one of the cars sold at auction for $151,800.
This was a long road for the Testarossa, it had gone up for auction five times prior and even on eBay for an unsuccessful million dollar bid.
6 Don Johnson's 1970 Hemi Cuda from Nash Bridges $151,250
Television investigators need a cool car. It's a rule written down somewhere. It almost certainly is in a rider for Don Johnson. After becoming synonymous with driving a Ferrari without socks in Miami Vice Johnson later when on to star as a San Francisco special investigations detective with his partner Cheech Marin and an iconic 1970 yellow Cuda.
In the show, the car was supposed to be a gift from his brother before going to Vietnam and going missing in action. The show ran for five years and the most memorable thing about it is the 'curious yellow' 'Cuda. In 2015 the car went for $151,250, actually not that far from traditional values for maybe the last of the muscle cars.
5 David Hasselhoff's 1986 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am K.I.T.T. $150,000
It wasn't always handsome smiling mustaches and brooding men without socks driving Ferraris in the 80s. The decade also featured a show where a cop who faked his own death joined a secret private law enforcement organization that utilized a bullet proof gadget laden super car with a fully aware artificial intelligence named KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand...if you wanted to sound futuristic in the 80s you called something 2000).
It was the lead series in a rash of shows where somehow a unique super vehicle somehow makes the difference in solving crime.
Hasselhoff was given his own AIless KITT in 2012 which he later sold for charity fetching $150,000.
That's quite a premium over the otherwise unloved 80s Trans Am.
4 Frank Sinatra's 1970 Lamborghini Muira SV $150,500
Here's actually an example of how out of hand things have gotten. The Muira is undoubtedly a beautiful car. The low and sleek mid-engine V12 is often considered to have launched the modern super car. Frank Sinatra is an icon. In 2003 this iconic car owned by an icon sold at Christies for $150,000.
That sounds like a lot, but consider this. Last year Sotheby's estimated the sale of a car without the celebrity prominence to go for around $2,500,000. The car increased in value almost 20 times in fourteen years. As crazy as the celebrity premium is on certain cars, the rapid increase in value of collector cars is that much crazier.
3 Herbie the Love Bug $126,500
Herbie the Love Bug is probably the best known VW Beetle in the world. There are a number of Herbie movies over the decades that featured different Herbies, this one is from Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas. It even has the gag oil pump still installed to squirt oil on a traffic marshal. In true Herbie fashion it was found abandoned and painted blue on a Disney backlot.
After a series of restorations and a rather remarkable period of vintage racing the restored several times over car finally sold in 2015 for $126,500, setting a record for sale price of the humble VW Beetle.
Not to be smug, but earlier a non-famous VW Bus (one of which I drive) sold for $215,000.
2 ECTO-1 $88,000
Some celebrity car sales end up being head scratchers for a different reason. Despite how one feels about the recent movie, the original Ghostbusters was a huge movie. It is the answer to 'who you gonna call.' It made a generation want to drive their own Cadillac ambulance out of an old fire station. The ECTO-1 was the coolest emergency vehicle of a lot of people's childhoods.
One of three authorized copies, complete with Universal Studios papers and autographs, sold at auction for a mind boggling low $88,000, almost what a regular Cadillac of that vintage would go for. This one was road legal and had working sirens as well.
1 James Gandolfini's 1972 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 "Bada Bing" $61,000
The Sopranos was maybe the start of what's considered the 'new golden age of television.' What might be mild in a post Breaking Bad world, the show about a mob boss in therapy was revolutionary for its time. In 2015 a 2003 Cadillac Escalade driven by Tony Soprano in the show The Sopranos sold for $120,000, but actor James Gandolfini had an even better ride between shots.
Shipped from California and back during filming, the actor drove the convertible muscle machine he nicknamed 'Bada Bing.' Gandolfini died in 2013 and his prized show car and driver went up for auction in 2017 selling for $61,600.
Sources: Barrett Jackson, Mecum, Jalopnik