Stellar Values

  • 24 January 2020
  • 5 min read
  • 5 images
Stellar Values image

The Bullitt Ford Mustang certainly didn’t go unnoticed. You’d had to be deaf and blind not to know that one of the holy grails of big screen motoring was going under the hammer at Mecum’s auction in Kissimmee.

The plot of the film is well known but it is the car chase between the Mustang (driven by Steve McQueen) and a Dodge Charger R/T that has entered the history of cinema as one of the most famous chases – if not the most famous chase – ever.

The car itself was a very normal 1968 Grey Mustang GT390 S-Code dark green (Highland Green) with virtually zero modifications to the standard model. After co-starring in the film, it was sold to a Warner Bros. employee who, in October 1974, sold it to its current owner for a reported $6,000. The car remained hidden from the eyes of experts (so much so that it was believed to have been destroyed) until recently when, in January 2018, it returned to the spotlight during the presentation of the new Mustang Bullitt at the Detroit Motor Show. At the auction it was totally preserved and, of course, fully documented, but perhaps more importantly, it was offered without reserve.

And so, we arrive at the moment of the auction. We should start by saying that Mecum’s auctions are somewhat of a national-popular event, almost country festivals, with people all over the place, a bit of chatter, people shouting to get someone’s attention and the auctioneer reciting the carol of the offerings, an experience that is totally different from the European auctions or Gooding and RM (in reality, Mecum in Kissimmee is an authentic popular event because, in addition to the auction, there are hot-dog stands, live entertainment festivals, live music, test routes to try out the latest off-roaders, a parade of cars that are not for sale, etc.). But this time it was totally different. As soon as the car entered the hall, an absolute silence fell, as if the Pope had arrived for prayers at the local parish, and the “religiousness” of the event continued with a kind of secular procession. The car was pushed by hand and a dozen “bodyguards” cleared the way and kept it clear (or at least attempted to) from all sorts of curious people who hoped to touch that legendary relic. The amount of cell phones taking photos from every angle was incredible, an indescribable scene. The auctioneer, to maintain the extremely unique and spectacular style of the sale, climbed up onto the rostrum (the counter from which he held the auction) and began to launch bid requests like there was no tomorrow and the bids duly arrived. Starting from 1 million it quickly arrived at 2.5 in increments of $500,000, then the effervescent atmosphere, gave way to attention as it slowly reached 3.4 million which, including commissions, is $3,740,000. If we consider that the previous owner had paid $6,000 for her, the car had a 623-fold increase in value in 46 years!

Everyone knows that such history is expensive. But how much is this increase worth compared to one without history? Well, 10 lots later a normal 1968 Ford Mustang GT390 S-Code was sold, once again green (but in a slightly lighter shade), the only difference being that this car was already restored. The sales figure for this second was $82,500. So, history multiplied the value of this car 45 times. How much did Steve McQueen affect it and how much did Bullitt?

But while everyone was busy watching McQueen’s Mustang, three other cars with movie history were offered by Mecum.

Fast forward to 1983 when the horror film based on Stephen King’s best-seller “Christine” hit the big screen. Again, the star is a car, a 1958 Plymouth Fury that lives its own life and terrorizes the (human) co-star. After the film the car was awarded as a prize in a lottery and, unlike the Mustang, it was never “lost”. Offered at $400-500,000 it remained unsold as bids dried up at $275,000. By comparison, a normal one in November had gone for $49,000 (about one sixth).

Christine’s Fury, however, was the only one of the four cars on offer that remained unsold. It certainly lacked the “iconic” aura that the Bullitt movie had or perhaps because it’s from a film that’s too old compared to the other two cars that we are about to analyze, both stars of recent films.

Fast forward once more to the 90’s and another high-octane movie. In 2000, Nicholas Cage played a car thief who has to steal 50 collectible cars overnight to save his brother’s life. The film is called “Gone in 60 Seconds”. The unicorn of his illegal career is “Eleanor”, a 1967 Shelby GT500 – actually heavily modified by hot rod magician Chip Foose – gray with black bands all over the car. There are many replicas around but this was one of the original 11 used during filming. The price of $852,500 could knock someone off their chair but it’s more than justified (the last one sold in 2013 for $1,000,000). In this case it‘s difficult to make comparisons because it is a heavily modified car compared to the original, because they used so many in the film (and even among the same cars used in the film there may be important differences, because some were used as stunt cars and others as close-ups) but, just to make a comparison, a normal Shelby GT500KR was sold for $132,000. The factor in this case is about 6.5x but, as mentioned, this is purely stylistic exercise.

Let’s finish this roundup of big-screen cars with a car that comes straight from “Le Mans ’66” Matt Damon’s latest effort. The same title says it all and having come out a few months ago I’m not here to tell you the plot. But the car does. In the film they used various Shelby Cobras and Ford GT40s but they were all replicas produced by Superformance, a company known for its quality in reproductions. The one offered was the car used in the final race by Ken Miles (Christian Bale), blue with red fenders that, to put it mildly, duels with the Ferrari 330 P4. The engine was not a normal 7-litre (427cu for Americans) but a much larger 8.2 litres (511cu), but this was the only noticeable difference compared to an original one. Obviously having participated in a film recently released in theaters and being the hero car paid dividends in this case too. If a normal GT40 Superformance was awarded in August at $150,000, this one went for more than triple that value at $484,000.

Now the question is, how much would the Lamborghini Miura P400 used in the movie “The Italian Job” go for?