Ask the Appraiser

The fleeting cost of fame

by Dave Kinney
6 May 2022 3 min read
Image
When it comes to celebrity-owned cars, there's a big difference between famous and famous—like MJ. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Pierre Laval was Time Magazine Man of The Year in 1931. Let’s say, hypothetically, a very expensive and elaborate automobile once owned by him were to come up for sale. How much would it be worth?

That answer rides on many factors, but none more significant than whether or not you had to Google Pierre Laval. Fame, like life itself, is fleeting. That’s why the value celebrity ownership adds to a classic vehicle, despite valiant (and fun) attempts to quantify it, ultimately must be considered case-by-case basis—and indeed often are by appraisers.

To save you the search: M. Laval was nearly universally known in his day as the Prime Minister of France and, not much later, became infamous as head of the Vichy government that collaborated with Nazi Germany. His story does not end well, as he was executed in 1945 for being a traitor to France.

Forgetting his rather abrupt demise, here we have a well known person, much like the Time Magazine Man of the Year in 1930 and 1932 (Mahatma Gandhi and Franklin D. Roosevelt, respectively).

In a North American sale, would Masseur Laval’s car bring a celebrity bump in value? Probably not. How about in a sale in France? Perhaps, but somehow, I think the fans of the late M. Laval are rather few and far between, and perhaps not willing to express that fandom in the form of paying more for his ex-ride.

The same is true for fading Hollywood stars, aging rock ‘n’ roll icons, politicians, and sports personalities. Sure, there are a number of names that break through many generations, but there are more that fade into relative obscurity after they have left the national or world stage.

There’s also, even in this hyper-globalized era, a certain regional aspect. The car owned by the beloved weatherman on your local TV news might be worth a bit more in his home market, but 200 miles away, the name means little.

It also matters if said celebrity is known as a car guy or gal. Extra points for cars that illustrate that passion, such as exotics and/or those that demonstrate eclectic taste. Fewer points if we’re talking about the four-door sedan they drove to and from work. All that explains why movie-driven cars associated with Steve McQueen still peg the needle among car collectors even if (whisper it) he is not a household name for everyone in 2022. He was one of us. All of this is something that an appraiser would have to take into consideration when attempting to offer an opinion of value.

Last but not least, one must carefully consider the car. Is it valuable in and of itself? Or is it the rolling equivalent of John Lennon’s discarded gum wrapper—something of interest solely because of the association with fame? Either way, the celebrity value can be hard to calculate. For instance, how much of the $410,993 for Denzel Washington’s 1997 Porsche 911 Turbo was paid for an iconic performance car in cherry condition versus the potential for endless Training Day references? Only the buyer knows.

Denzel Washington Porsche
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Note that celebrity cars can be interesting far longer than they’re valuable—like some kind of radioactive half-life. You are welcome to tell people at the local cars and coffee that your Eldorado was once owned by the guy who did a guest shot as a bowling alley clerk in Laverne & Shirley (those born after 1980 are allowed to say “who?” at this point). I can assure you said ownership won’t add the value of a Samuel L. Jackson or a Dwayne Johnson.  

In the world of celebrity values, things change. And they often change very, very fast.

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Comments

  • Larry D says:

    I bought a ’65 Mustang coupe in 2000. The car had belonged to NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett at one time. For years afterward, people were impressed when I told them he had once owned the car. I kept the car until 2018 and by then, when I would tell people Ned Jarrett used to own it, the majority of them would ask who he was.

  • Slyhook says:

    I was always under the impression that “bad guys” beat out the “good guys”. For example, Hitler’s 1939 Mercedes would trounce Eisenhower’s ’52 Cadillac. A Bonnie & Clyde Ford would shoot down J. Edgar Hoover’s ’71 Cadillac, but you get the idea. A Dart Vader mobile slams a Luke Skywalker transport and so forth. Infamous beats famous in most cases.

  • Mark says:

    I was once at a car show talking to others about Mustangs when a reference to Bullitt and Steve McQueen was made. Our host (who had to be in her 30s) had no idea who we were talking about.

  • Hector says:

    I Does not know Michael Jordan owned an small Chevrolet SUV in the 80’s , not makes the highly price as he promoted American Cars, probably in his younger years as a professional basketball player this SUV is not a collectible car only if is bellow to Jordan with the title in his name makes a lots of money, this SUV is no a collectible car, that’s my opinion. thanks

  • Hector says:

    I did already

  • DantheMan says:

    I remember when Jerry Seinfeld sold about 10 Porsches and a VW bug at an auction.
    The Bug drew over $100k. The following summer it sold at the first Barrett Jackson auction at the Mohegan Sun for about 20% of that price.
    So much for star power.

  • Bartman says:

    Starting in the late 1980s I started to collect mid 1960s Ford Thunderbird convertibles. I had a 1962, a 1965 and a 1966. I developed a reputation locally of being able to diagnose and repair the complicated convertible top mechanisms and as such my name spread around the local communities among other people that had these cars. This would lead to people getting my phone number and randomly calling me to either repair or inquire if I wanted to buy their car.
    This led to me looking at a very nice 1964 Thunderbird convertible in turquoise color whose original owner was Edgar Bergen, a Vaudevillian and movie actor who was also a well known ventriloquist up through the 50s and 60s. The original title and owner’s manual were with the car and verified previous ownership.
    I was very tempted to buy the car, l believe the asking price was around $8,500 at the time and it would have put me on my way to owning a poker straight of Thunderbirds from 1962 through 1966, but I just didn’t have room for any more as I already had 14 cars, so I passed on purchasing it.
    The niche celebrity market for that car was getting slim back in the early 90s and now would be almost nonexistent. If I would have purchased it and had it for sale today, my best bet for a buyer would be Jeff Dunham, who is also a car collector. I imagine he would appreciate that car.
    I don’t know what happened to the car as the man that owned it has since passed and the property and his cars have been gobbled up in development.

    • studenorton says:

      There might have been a brief re-blip of fame for Edgar Bergen’s Thunderbird in the 90’s, as Charlie McCarthy’s dumber sister had her 15 minutes as “Murphy Brown”…

  • Kenneth Kyle says:

    I’m pretty sure Pierre Laval was a monsieur, but I guess he could have been a masseur as well.

  • Aaron says:

    This is a topic I was wondering about since I bought frank Herbert’s Volvo but regardless of it’s value I think it’s cool to own

  • Neal Kirkham says:

    My 1930 Phantom 2 Rolls Royce was star of the film The Yellow Rolls Royce made in the 1970’s.
    It has a sedanca de ville body and is in perfect condition.Several years ago it won a prize at Pebble
    Beach as the most elegant Rolls Royce.Without this prize it would be worth about $150,000. Today??

  • Normand Raymond says:

    I have a 1986 Chrystler 5th Avenue which was originally owned by all time great Ted William. How do I get a certificate of authenticity for this vehicle?

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