My Car Quest

April 20, 2024

Are Celebrity Owned Classic Cars Really More Valuable?

The craziness of who owned what – we have written about this subject a few times before but we keep coming back to it because it is so fascinating. And there have been celebrity owned cars and movie cars in the news lately such as the Bullitt Mustang and the Ford GT40 replica used in the movie Ford v Ferrari (is this really a celebrity car?) Both sold at auction recently. There are more questions than answers about this subject. Let’s read what our Mr. Wyss has to say.

Mike Gulett, Publisher

by Wallace Wyss –

Of all the things about auction season, generally January in Arizona, that drives me nuts is the outsize price paid for some car that isn’t worth that much by itself, when compared with the same model, same vintage, same condition with its brothers, but because it was owned by someone famous suddenly someone will pay more.

A short phrase would be “rub off” potential.

A longer phrase would be “the McQueen effect” the phrase that came up when a Ferrari 250GT Lusso ordered by Steve McQueen in a special brown shade went for twice what it was expected to go for at an auction a few years ago. And it’s probably increased greatly in value from there. Even the owner was surprised, as I remember talking to him when he first got the car and he was dubious that it was a car to spend a lot on restoring as it was “only a Lusso.”

I tried to think of cars that would appeal to me because of who owned them.

Celebrity Owned Classic Cars

Porsche 911S - Steve McQueen

The Steve McQueen Porsche 911

I think cars that were in movies, that admittedly tugs at my heartstrings a little. Say the Daytona Spyder that was in that movie A Star is Born, the one that the male lead rolls at the end, after storming off in a fit of pique. But the trouble was there was three Daytona Spyders used in that movie. Do you give your heart to the one that survived the most intact, or the rolled one?

And there were three ’68 Mustangs used in Bullitt and one sold for $3,740,000 at the recent Mecum auction in Florida.

You see, there’s a problem with film cars. When you are making a movie and have hundreds of actors, prop men, cameramen, lighting technicians etc. standing around, you can’t just have one car. What if it conks out? Catches fire? You’d have all these people standing around at thousands per hour while you fixed the car. So the solution is to have:

1.) One real clean one for the close ups

2.) One a little worn for the diving shots

3.) One of dubious originality (maybe another engine) that you can smash up

So going back to the reasons for paying more for a car than the value that the price guide books would give a “no owner named” version of the same car, I’d say another reason is if you liked the guy or gal that owned it. You like what they stood for. I like, for instance, Raymond Loewy, the car designer. When I met a guy with a Raymond Loewy redesigned Jaguar XKE, I thought the car was ugly but I could commensurate with his passion to buy the car because he too was a fan of Loewy. If he was an architect, so much the better because all architects that asked about it would realize the present owner was a big Loewy devotee.

Raymond Loewy XKE-Celebrity Owned Classic Cars

Raymond Loewy Custom Jaguar XKE – photo by Mike Gulett

And then there are famous actors. I’d like the Bentley Continental that Richard Burton owned (and died in) just because I respected his acting chops. And the Nethercutt Museum has that swanky Sedanca de Ville town car once custom built for Delores Del Rio.

But the problem is, if the celebrity that owned it was famous so long ago that nobody in 2020 would recognize the name what good is it?

Take the short wheelbase Duesenberg owned by Gary Cooper. I know who “Coop” was but does anybody born after the year 2000?

Clark Gable's Mercedes-Celebrity Owned Classic Cars

Clark Gable’s Mercedes – his daily driver when he died, now owned by Bruce Meyer – photo by Mike Gulett

And when I met Steve McQueen’s son, Chad, I liked the old Porsche 911 he was driving. It was not mint but owned by the McQueens. I mean if you bought it and someone asked you “where did that car come from?” and you can answer “the McQueen family” that that imbues it with a certain je nais se quoi. As the French would say. A certain borrowed glory as it were.

Two I missed were the Ferrari 275GTB of Clint Eastwood, and also the Targa-ized Ferrari Boxer, that definitely built for him as he was a little tall for a Boxer.

And as far as writers, I’d like to own something once owned by Hemingway, and Clive Cussler (though I no longer read his books, feeling eventually that they are too juvenile..).

But then another wrinkle is, how long does the celebrity have to own it before it’s really considered to be sufficiently imbued with his presence? Carroll Shelby owned a 289 Cobra that was converted by his crew to a 351 and had an automatic (he had a game leg from a youthful motorcycle accident but rarely admitted to it). I consider that car is really Shelby’s because he modified it to suit him. I believe it was sold at auction. But now in 2020 they are once again having an auction of ex-Carroll Shelby cars but you wonder which ones did he really alter to suit himself and appear in here and there or are they just used cars that passed through his hands?

And then there’s military heroes. I haven’t kept track of which of their cars have come up for auction. Maybe a Rolls owned by General Montgomery and used as a staff car In Theatre?

Frank Sinatra's Ghia

Frank Sinatra’s 1961 Ghia L6.4 Hardtop – photo by Mike Gulett

Opposite from that is famous cars owned by despots like the “Blue Goose” a Mercedes 540K owned by Goering, one swept up by the 101st Airborne as they closed in on Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” at the closing days of the war.

So I admit it, there’s a mystique to cars formerly owned by famous people that can sway even sound minds and make them pay more than the “Blue Book” price. I try to resist it when a famous name is mentioned, and steadfastly look at the car itself. The question you have to ask yourself is: “If it belonged to nobody you ever heard of would you still be considering it?”

And, hey, is anybody paying more for my ex-Mercedes Gullwings, or my ex-Ferrari GTC4 or Porsche Convertible D because I owned them? I don’t want to know the answers…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 17 car histories and one novel about a barn finder The Ferrari Hunters. The radio show he co-hosts, Autotalk, is broadcast each week from KUCR FM Riverside.


Avanti in garage-Celebrity Owned Classic Cars

Studebaker Avanti once owned by the actor Dick Van Dyke – photo by Mike Gulett

Are Celebrity Owned Classic Cars Really More Valuable?
Article Name
Are Celebrity Owned Classic Cars Really More Valuable?
Today we consider the fascinating subject of what impact that celebrity owned classic cars has on the value of those cars.


  1. Byron LaMotte says

    I’ve never understood this? Of course anything Steve McQueen sat in brings many multiples of it’s true value. While we connect with Steve McQueen the next generation might say who the heck was Steve McQueen? I think he was some old movie star in my parent’s generation (me). Why the heck did that old beat up Mustang sell for so much $$?
    If Bullitt Mustangs are your thing there many nice ones out there at a fraction of $3.74 mil. that you can drive and have fun with. You asked whats on my mind.

  2. The short answer is that yes %’s of dollars are added to celebrity cars by the appraiser or the person buying the car. It’s the price of emotion.

    You have to categorize values. For insurance purposes the replacement value of a once owned celebrity vehicle entitles a person the amount of money it would take to go and replace a 1963 XYZ that such and such owned with another 1963 XYZ that another such and such person owned. Since that rarely is possible the compensation for the loss is higher than a regular 1963 XYZ. In the case of the Bullitt Mustang it can’t be replaced by another Bullitt Mustang in the same condition that it was in when the movie was made. How many Dukes of Hazard cars exist?
    That is value for replacement.

    Value for retail or hammer price is what a person simply feels a property is worth. The Bullitt Mustang is worth exactly what the buyer paid to that person. That’s a fact – dollars were handed over for a property. The new Bullitt owner now needs to convince their insurance carrier that a check for $3.4M comes in the mail if there is a total loss. Retail values are driven by the market and appraising a celebrity owned car. Vintage Ferrari’s are the best example because they all have the provenance of coming from Enzo as if he built them. A hand built tube chassis race car with a 3 liter is just that – what $50K in parts and pieces?. A Ferrari with the same technical spec’s $48 million with the provenance of Enzo and the whole story. Rare hand built 12 cylinder Ferrari’s are stratospheric because they are traded among a tiny group of people that have vast wealth. Part for part these cars are very similar and sometimes not as nice as peer vehicles without a pedigree hence the skewed values. That’s the retail cost of emotion.

  3. Wayne Watkins says

    There is currently an ex Jerry Lewis owned 77 Rolls Royce Cloud11 33,000 mile with 18ct gold Tiffany keys for sale on the Gold Coast in Queensland. It has the receipt signed by Jerry to its now second owner , dated December 15th 2009 in Las Vegas . It is in mint condition and has been for sale here for about two years with no takers as it is still LHD and in miles , not kilometres . I would put a value of A$10,000 on it , which is about a third of asking price.

  4. wallace wyss says

    I have never asked an insurance company the question–if the car was owned by some once-famous person, say, Dan Blocker, and you want to insure it fir twice its n ormal value because of that, do they really want to pay that outsize amount if the car is destroyed, when their researchers show that all the cars of same model, same year are half that orice? Or will they just charge a higher premium and just indulge you, the cuistomer?


    The best celebrity item that went to auction was not even a car: Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona WRISTWATCH sold for $17.8 million at Phillips 2 1/2 years ago, setting a record price for a wristwatch at auction (since broken). Its provenance of its association with Pauk increased its $60,000 book value by 300 times. Glenn in the Bronx, NY.

  6. wallace wyss Yes an insurance policy for such a car is expensive but a special car needs special insurance. This is why the companies like Hagerty, Grundy, Chubb, etc exist. If you have Dan Blocker’s car and you call your Farmer’s Agent they probably won’t have a policy that covers you – at least they probably won’t insure it with an agreed value policy. Farmers, Allstate, etc insure quantity. Specialists insure quality. That sounds worse than I meant it to sound. Using Dan Blocker’s example – he owned several rare and very valuable cars. One in particular is a 1965 Chevelle Z16 that they made 201 units of. I personally know this car and the story behind it. My customer bought the Blocker Z16 at auction around 2006 and used the result as a value position to insure it. Years after he bought it I appraised the car and actually used the original auction transaction as a comparable and the value had actually dropped. The customer had insured the Z16 with Hagerty for the price that the car sold for on an agreed value policy. The Farmer’s agent isn’t likely going to insure that car on an agreed value policy. Now – a car like Dan’s Z16 sold for $335k in 2009, another then sold in 2018 for $280K. Two have come up for auction in the past couple of years and they did not sell despite $200k bids. Insurance companies can lower your value if the property isn’t holding value.

  7. Wayne Watkins – That said this car is in a tough market with LHD and being in Australia. We have some RHD cars here and their values suffer because of the configuration. I looked up global auction results and only one 1977 Silver Wraith II sold publicly in the last two years. It sold for $19,800 US including 18% fees. Your $10,000 US number is correct. However that’s before shipping, taxes, and fees if it was to be exported. Nice one’s here go for about $18,000 US. Go offer $5000 US and you might get lucky. Also the Jerry Lewis provenance is valuable but perhaps less in Australia?

  8. The France call is good…if the car was in Retromobile 2020 perhaps but it’s in Australia. I don’t know the French market at all. Everything is soft. According to my math Mecum sold 68% of their lots last week in Florida. If memory serves that’s usually an 85% number. I’m working on a report now for a very rare car with ties to a member of The Rat Pack. There’s no proof of that ownership so it’s not going in the report with any dollars associated with it.

  9. I have a 1983 MB 380sl. Its in perfect shape. The previous owner (and I have this in writing on the title transfer) was Hank Williams Jr. I bought it in Tenn. Do you folks this the value is higher than book? If so, with 116,000 miles on it and a new long block, what would you think the value is to the right buyer? Thanks.

  10. wallace wyss says

    I think to someone who likes the singer so much they have a shrine to them in their home with lots of memorabilia. But most important would be pictures of the celebrity with the car, especially at different events. For instance I knew the fellow who bought James Coburn’s Ferrari California spyder and it was a familiar car around town with Mr. Coburn at the wheel.

    • Any ideas/tips on how to prove previous ownership? I have a MB with a warranty card with Willie Nelson and his manager’s name on it.

  11. The 1965 GTO I own left the factory as a PHS documented real GTO, 389 4bbl, open rear axle, console 4 speed hardtop in the beautiful Iris Mist exterior paint, black vinyl top, “parchment” interior, black carpet. It was best described as a “Royal Bobcat Tribute” when I bought it from Volo Auto Museum about 9 years ago. October 1965 421 block, 65 X heads hand ported with roller tip CompCams rocker arms, 65 Tripower, .030 over JE aluminum pistons, balanced factory rods and crank, 4 bolt main caps and Ram Air II cast iron exhaust. **Multi-Platinum Country Music star *Gunner Nelson* had sold it to Volvo as he has done deals several times with them.** Since then I have had the 421 rebuilt again, .035 over w/Race Tec 10:1 forged aluminum pistons, CompCams hydraulic roller lifters and cam, double roller timing set, balanced and polished 421 crank, Viton stem seals, and a Pertronix Ignitor III billet aluminum distributor and ignition system. Quick Performance 9″ based nodular iron rear axle assembly w/3.90 gears and numerous upgrades to it, all powder coated. 4 wheel Wilwood power disc brakes, Wraptor serpentine belt and accessories system that added Air Conditioning, and a not yet installed American Powertrain TKO-600 5-speed, high performance clutch assembly and hydraulic throwout bearing, and UMI upper and lower rear control arms.

  12. Jeff Cobb says

    My first experience of Pebble Beach Concours was a very primal eye opening experience. Been 29 times in 33 years and have always considered it my secret automotive and human bridge to the heavens. Around 20 trips or so I found the cars and moments to be top, but the last 9 trips or so I found the real and true honest treat of PB and Monterey week ARE THE PEOPLE AND THEIR STORIES! The fantastic cars can be so over the top that relating with them is so difficult though the fantastic people and their stories really make PB a truly unique moment of the highest level.
    Unique cars with great providence and or possibly a well known prior owner should prime the intrinsic worth of a car. That named prior owner gives the very important dynamic human connection to the static art work of said car. People “buyers” need to see themselves or “this known prior famous person” behind the wheel, then this buyer or owner can relate, feels more into this car which becomes a Zen moment of humans dreams, needs, wants, desires and ? with a special car because of some famous person ownership.
    May have been at the 1991 Christie’s auction at Pebble. I saw Frank Sinatra’s Ghibli get sold for $22K +- then on stage the license plate was removed and sold separately. I think the plate was sold for $26K, many years have clouded my memory-my best memory. The car should have sold for more but it’s butt ugly bad yellow paint said no! But you readers know what I mean. We buy these cars for art reasons, racing, driving, money making, bragging rights, the Jones experience pleasures.
    My 2cts turned into a $1.50, hard to say but no doubt a proper prior well named owner no doubt increases all known worths of a certain car. Helps to turn static worth to dynamic belief. Sell the sizzle not the steak.

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