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High price for the pixie dust of fame

Date

Stephen Lacey

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A 33-year-old pearlescent blue Porsche 911 turbo once owned by Bill Gates. Click for more photos

Cars for stars

Channelling star power though a used car can be big business on the auto auction circuit. 

How much would you pay for 1999 VW Golf with 75,000 kilometres on the clock and a five-speed manual transmission?

The Drive valuation is around $6000, but that didn't stop an eager buyer paying more than $US250,000 for the same model in 2005.

This is for a stock standard Golf remember. What made it so special was that it was once owned by a certain Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now better known as Pope Benedict XVI. So it's a sort of a pre-Popemobile.

It seems the whiff of celebrity means big dollars, especially when it comes to cars. How else can you explain somebody paying $2.5 million for a 1977 Peugeot 504 with vinyl upholstery, just last year?

If the Pug hadn't been owned by the popular Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the old clanger would be worth about $2000. Actually, you'd expect change from that much money. And a free set of mats thrown in. Thankfully the cash went towards a charity for low-income housing.

With prices like this being achieved, one can hardly blame some celebrity car vendors for overestimating their worth. Such as the bloke who is still trying to flog a well-worn 1967 Corvette reputedly belonging to the late NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong - the first man to stand on the moon. The Chevy was passed in at auction this year for the astronomical sum of $US250,000.

Ditto, a 2005 Chrysler 300C that once belonged to US President Barack Obama was offered on eBay for $1 million. Not surprisingly, it failed to sell. No doubt the eco-sensitive Obama supporters were put off by the rather thirsty 5.6 litre Hemi V8 beneath the bonnet. Or maybe they just realised they could pick up a non-presidential version for around $18,000 and use the change to buy fuel.

Professor Adrian North, head of Psychology at Curtin University, is an expert when it comes to celebrity worship. He says people who would spend vast sums on an object such as a car because of its association with somebody famous have a case of "intense personal celebrity worship".

“This is where you feel you have a very, very strong connection to a given individual,” North says. “It's a more extreme version of going to a rock concert and buying the band T-shirt. The car becomes the physical manifestation of your relationship with that celebrity.”

Which might go a way to explaining why a 33-year-old pearlescent blue Porsche 911 turbo once owned by uber-geek Bill Gates sold for $80,000 at auction, about $30,000 above market value.

Or why one of the three Porsche 928's Tom Cruise drove in the 1983 film Risky Business pulled more than $40,000 when it hit the floor at a Los Angeles auction house last month. This is the car that didn't roll into Lake Michigan, but was used in the famous chase scene. It's rumoured that Cruise learnt to drive a manual in the actual car being auctioned. The Porsche was originally a shade of green when it left the factory, but was painted gold for the film. It has 102,000 miles (165,000 kilometres ) on the clock. The same unloved model, without the L Ron Hubbard tapes in the cassette deck, can be had for as little as $10,000.

Similarly, Elton John's star power helped a 1965 Jaguar E-Type he once owned go for $130,000 in March. The red, 4.2 litre phalic symbol had been sold by the rocket man in 200l, along with a collection of 20 exotic sports cars. And while a model in pristine condition might fetch a similar amount, Elton's hadn't been restored since way back in 1979, so the price paid can only be explained by the vehicle's celebrity provenance. “The provenance and value that is added to a car simply because of who might have owned it is quite extraordinary,” says Paul Mathers, event director of RACV Motorclassica, a three day event held in Melbourne for classic, vintage and veteran enthusiasts.

“At the Monterey auctions [in California] last August a Porsche 911S with a market value of around $140,000 sold for $1.4 million, because it was driven by Steve McQueen in the movie Le Mans.”

One of Motorclassica's main events is the classic car auction. This year's will feature a drop-dead gorgeous 1969 Lamborghini Miura S up for grabs. The Lambo, possibly the most beautiful car ever made, is finished in a custom paint job of lime green with orange and white stripes. But this car's real drawcard is that British supermodel, Lesley "Twiggy" Lawson, used to sit behind the wheel.

“We expect Twiggy's car to get a fair bit of international interest,” Mathers says. “We're estimating a price of around $1 million, to $1.3 million.

Also up for auction on October 28 will be the 1935 Bentley 3.5 litre that once belonged to Australian former governor-general Lord Casey. A 1907 Fiat Brevetti landaulet driven by American Grand Prix champion Phil Hill will also go under the hammer.

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