In terms of investment potential, the prices of cars which formerly starred in movies are accelerating faster than the already bullish collectible car and movie memorabilia markets. This week Herbie (The Love Bug) set a new world auction record for a Volkswagen Beetle at US$126,500 to become one of the top 50 movie cars ever sold at auction.
It's been a spectacular few months for movie cars. We first put together our top movie cars auction list in October, 2014, and since then it has been growing like Topsy and we've become acutely aware of the number of significant movie star cars which are regularly going to auction.
In the last six months alone, apart from Herbie's sale, a Porsche 908 used in the 1971 movie Le Mans sold for £2,185,500 (US$3,419,215), the iconic "Swamp Rat" truck used in the TV series The Beverley Hillbillies sold for $275,000, a 1955 Pontiac Star convertible used in the TV series I Love Lucy sold for $220,000, a 1958 Plymouth Fury used in the movie Christine sold for $198,000, a 1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost used in The Great Gatsby sold for £82,140 ($127,978) and a 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom used in the movie Morocco and once owned by Marlene Dietrich sold for $742,500. All those cars are now in our top 50 movie cars listing and in the next few weeks we expect several more to push into the list.
Herbies are quickly becoming more valuable
The Love Bug (1969) began one of the original successful movie franchises that inspired so many other franchises thereafter, and helped movie executives realize that once a movie had been a hit, a slight variation on that theme had a high probability of being a hit too – then we had sequels, series of movies, prequels and even remakes of the same hit movie of a few decades prior. Check out the top ten grossing movies of the last few years and you'll see lists almost entirely comprised of reprised characters and plot lines.
Well the lovable Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own predates all those movie series which seemed to go on forever – Dirty Harry, Police Academy, The Godfather, Jaws, Back to the Future, Alien, Terminator, Rocky, Superman, Indiana Jones and Star Trek – and it predates most of them by a decade or two. Of the big name movie franchises in history which have grossed more than $200 million, only Ian Fleming's James Bond is older, and it's no coincidence that all of the 007-driven cars that have reached auction before becoming part of museums or private heritage collections are on our top movie car list already.
The big difference though is that Herbie was deeply loved by several generations of children and is still gathering fans 46 years after first hitting the silver screen. What's more, whereas Bond's taste in automobiles was very upmarket, Herbie is a people's car (the literal translation of Volkswagen), and until last week, getting a genuine Herbie in your garage was not cost prohibitive.
The wealthiest of the earlier generations of Herbie fans are now at the age where they are indulging their passions, so it's no surprise that Herbie should set a world record for a Volkswagen Beetle at auction and slot himself into the top 50 movie car list by fetching $126,500.
The sale of Herbie is illustrative of the significant increase in prices fetched by movie cars over the last decade.
That's because the hourly "burn rate" of the actors, crew, cameras, lighting and the not-so-small army of support staff assembled for the production of a feature movie necessitates that there be two, three or four of everything as insurance against any potential for downtime. In the case of movie cars, which can break down or crash while doing spectacular stunts, there are often three or more identical cars prepared for filming.
The particular Herbie that sold for $126,500 this week was used in filming Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas, and was the specific vehicle which squirts oil on the traffic policeman's foot near the start of the former movie.
The appreciation in Herbie prices
Several Herbies have sold at auction in the last decade though, and the growth in values indicates a clear trend which can't be be ignored: movie cars are rapidly appreciating in value.
Just eight years ago, two Love Bugs were sold at different auctions. One was sold by Kruse for $21,000 in September, 2007 and in April, 2008, RM Auctions sold a Herbie replica for $23,100.
In 2012 at Gooding & Company's January Scottsdale auction another Herbie with screen time in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo fetched $66,000. Barrett-Jackson's result last week is double the best previous price for a genuine screen Herbie.
The rise in prices is largely due to the increase in interest in the movie collectibles marketplace over recent years, plus the relentlessly bullish auto collectibles market, as this is the point where two of the collectible market's tectonic plates intersect.
RM Auctions recently became RM-Sotheby in yet another indication of just how strong the collectible car market has become. Sotheby's is one of the world's oldest (since 1744) and best known auction houses for art, diamonds, jewellery, and high priced realty.
The appreciation of movie cars judged by recent sales
The list of movie cars sold in the last six months (the third paragraph of this article) is particularly illustrative of the rapidly appreciating values of movie cars as several identical cars have sold previously.
Marlene Dietrich's 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Transformal Phaeton from the movie Morocco sold for $742,500 at a Bonhams'in March, 2015, but had previously been sold in January, 2012 at Bonhams' Scottsdale auction for $524,000. That's a compounding annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.32 percent – somewhat better than bank interest.
The 1958 Plymouth Fury used in the movie Christine that sold for $198,000 in the same Barrett-Jackson as the Swamp Rat also had a precedent, with an identical car from the same movie also going under the auctioneer's hammer in May, 2005 and selling for $39,100. That's a CAGR of 17.64 percent.
The only really accurate 20-20 vision is hindsight, so knowing what we now know about the success of film franchises and the current prices being fetched by movie cars, we went back over auction results of the past ten years with a view to finding cars that are now worth a lot of money but which sold for not very much, not all that long ago.
Here's what we found.
Tom Selleck's 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS from Magnum P.I.
A decade ago, it seems sellers were thankful for being able to sell their movie cars at better than used car prices and bargains were plentiful. In July, 2004, Joseph Maddalena's Profiles in History was still growing into the movie memorabilia powerhouse it is today. In just the company's 19th auction, it sold a 1979 Ferrari 308 GTS used by Tom Selleck in the 1980-88 TV series Magnum, P.I., the earliest known car used in the production of the series, for $57,500.
David Hasselhoff's K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider
At the same 2004 auction, Profiles in History sold K.I.T.T. (Knight Industries Two Thousand) the highly-modified 1983 Pontiac Trans AM used by David Hasselhoff in the 1982-1986 TV series Knight Rider, for $54,625. In May, 2005, Bonhams sold another K.I.T.T., this one used in the third series of the show, for $69,000.
Both of those iconic cars could reasonably be expected to fetch an order of magnitude more today.
Herman's Drag-U-La from The Munsters
Steve McQueen's Rolls-Royce from The Thomas Crown Affair
Harrison Ford's 1955 Chevy from American Graffiti
Madonna's Auburn Replica from Dick Tracy
Some other recognizable cars which were "well bought" during 2005/2006 included a Drag-U-La replica from the 1964-1966 CBS TV series, The Munsters which fetched $51,750, Steve McQueen's 1967 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow by Mulliner from The Thomas Crown Affair which sold for US$70,200, the 1955 Chevy driven by Harrison Ford in the nostalgic American Graffiti (1973) which sold for an astonishing $25,300, and the gorgeous 1969 Auburn Replica driven by Madonna in Dick Tracy which fetched $52,900.
Vin Diesel's twin-turbo Mazda RX-7 from The Fast & the Furious
The Fast and the Furious film franchise has already grossed more than $2 billion and propelled Vin Diesel to one of the hottest action heroes on the planet for his ongoing role as Dominic Toretto.
So far there have been seven films in the series and Furious 8 is confirmed for 2017. Now when these next two cars were auctioned, only a few of those films had been made, and perhaps historical perspective hadn't registered, but ... aficionados will recognize the above as the hero car from the initial film in the series, The Fast and the Furious (2001).
In May, 2005, the twin turbo 1993 Mazda RX7 driven by Diesel in The Fast & The Furious (2001) sold at a Bonhams auction for $40,250. The car was the real deal, and was used in the film in the main drag sequence against Walker's Eclipse and in the escape from the police following the drag race. The car has roller wheels installed under the front spoiler so that when Diesel pushes it hard up into the steep incline of the parking garage, the front end sustains no damage. In September, 2007, another of Diesel's Mazda turbo RX-7s from Fast & the Furious sold for $23,500.
Michael J. Fox's DeLorean DMC-12 from Back To The Future III
Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of the period was the sale for $40,250 of the DeLorean DMC-12-based Time Machine built by Dr. Emmett L. Brown (Christopher Lloyd) for Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) in the movie Back To The Future III (1990). Profiles in History sold a similar DeLorean DMC-12 for $541,000 in December, 2011.
1967 Lincoln Gadgetmobile from Inspector Gadget
1987 Ford Sedan from Men in Black
Rescue truck from Baywatch
Lamborghini Gallardo from 2 Fast, 2 Furious
Another auction held in September, 2007 by Kruse at Indiana's historic Auburn Auction Park saw a 1987 Ford Sedan used in Men in Black sold for $7,000, Inspector Gadget's 1967 Lincoln Gadgetmobile sold for $17,500, one of the Mazda trucks (complete with Baywatch logos and flashing lights) used in Baywatch sold for $10,250 and a Lamborghini Gallardo from 2 Fast, 2 Furious sold for $29,000.
THE Ford Thunderbird from Thelma & Louise
Quite clearly there's a difference between cars that appear fleetingly in a movie and those that play a significant part, and hence you'd expect the 1966 Ford Thunderbird used in one of Thelma & Louise might be seen as a sound long-term investment.
The unconventional classic was a critical and commercial success, and regularly gets listed amongst the greatest chick flicks of all time and as one of cinema's all-time-great road movies. It won the 1991 Academy Award for the Best original Screen Play.
With two female leads, (Geena Davis as Thelma and Susan Sarandon as Louise), and directed by no less than Ridley Scott, the movie was set almost entirely in a green 1966 Ford Thunderbird.
Both Sarandon and Davis were nominated for Academy Awards, and a young co-star in his first movie (Brad Pitt) kick-started a not unsubstantial career in the movie too, but the Thunderbird has appeared at auction on several occasions and just didn't do all that well. The first time one of the cars from the movie appeared was at the aforementioned 2007 Kruse auction where it fetched $45,000, and the subsequent two sales were in the shadow of the Global Financial Crisis.
Barrett-Jackson sold one with the seat signed by Pitt and the sun-visor signed by Geena Davis for $71,500 at Scottsdale in January, 2008 and later that same year another one of the film cars sold for €30,680 (US$38,963) at a Coys auction in Padova, Italy. Go figure.
Leonardo DiCaprio's Cadillac from Catch Me if You Can
In the 2002 film Catch Me if You Can, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Frank Abagnale Jr, the legendary forger, conman and impersonator who cashed millions of dollars of worthless checks as the FBI followed him across the world. This 1964 Fleetwood 75 four-door sedan was the car in which DiCaprio drives his on-screen father, Frank Abagnale Sr, played by Christopher Walken. Whilst it's hardly a major part in the movie, it's not entirely unforgettable either, and it would propel the price of the car at auction today well past what it achieved at a Bonhams auction in 2006 – $4,095.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's Indian from T-3: The Rise of the Machines
The 2003 blockbuster movie T-3: The Rise of the Machines was the third movie in the Terminator science fiction film franchise that propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger into American folklore and onwards to become the 38th Governor of California. Arnie rode motorcycles in the first three Terminator movies, and although the 100 cubic inch Indian Police bike from T3 didn't feature quite as heavily as the Honda 750 in T1 or the Harley Fat Boy he rode in the storm drain scene in T2, two of the seven bikes used T3 were sold in 2008 and 2009 respectively by Bonhams.
"Grease Lightning" from Grease
Starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, the 1978 box office hit Grease cost $6 million to make and grossed $395 million to become one of the top musicals of all-time. One of the hit songs from that movie was about the starring car of the movie, a hot rod named "Grease Lightning."
"Grease Lightning" was not just part of the inevitable race scene (driven by Travolta), but integral to the plot, and part of the final sequence when Danny (Travolta) and Sandy (Newton-John) sail off into the clouds to the sounds of Love is a Many Splendored Thing.
The car has been exhibited extensively, trademarked and merchandized with toy manufacturers, has featured on-stage at an Olivia Newton-John concert ... and it sold for a $88,550 in May, 2005. It was a lot of money for a movie car then, but not now.
Burt Reynolds' Pontiac Trans Ams from Smokey and the Bandit
Burt Reynolds' 1977 blockbuster Smokey and the Bandit did more for Pontiac Trans Ams than Goldfinger did for silver Aston Martins. In 2005 a replica of the feature car built by movie car constructor George Barris sold at auction for $23,000.
In December, 2014, a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am replica used in the promotion of the film, but which had no screen time in the film, sold for $450,000 at a Julien's Auctions sale in Las Vegas. The car had been gifted to Reynolds after the movie promotion was completed and had been his personal car for many years, so the association was not as tenuous as most replicas.
Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu's Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder from Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Now this car did not sell at auction, as it failed to meet the vendor's reserve, but whatever the vendor's reserve might have been, it had to be equal to or less than the auctioneer's lower estimate of £3,000,000 ($4,888,710) and the car attracted a bid of £2,625,000 on the day, which was in October, 2008 when the GFC was top of mind for most people with spare change of that magnitude, however ... this 1963 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder was driven by Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu in the film Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and despite a drop in the collectible car market following the GFC, it is now fully recovered and this car would now be worth $15 to $20 million with that film provenance. Check out our top 100 most expensive cars of all time and you'll see more than a dozen identical cars in that list which haven't been movie stars. A missed opportunity!
Bruce Lee's Chrysler Imperial "Black Beauty" from The Green Hornet
Tom Cruise's Triumph Street Scrambler from Mission Impossible III
Modified in "street scrambler" style, this Triumph Bonneville is one of five built by the Triumph factory in Hinckley, England specifically for the filming of Mission Impossible III, starring Tom Cruise, and is one of two used in the actual production. The 865 cc bike began as a stock Triumph Bonneville and was modified with a custom paint scheme, stylized fenders and seat unit, a hand-made exhaust system and trials universal tires and predates Triumph's own production street scrambler design by several years. The machine sold for $29,250 at a Bonhams auction in 2006 along with a letter from Todd K Andersen, Vice President, Marketing, Triumph Motorcycles (America) Ltd authenticating its origins and history.
Mr T's 1987 Chevrolet G20 Van from The A-Team
One of the hit television series of the eighties, The A-Team ran five seasons and this George Barris custom was used in the final series. Sold in fully restored condition with a "crate-fresh" 350 cu in (5.7-litre) engine, with a show-correct interior featuring four captain's chairs, 350-watt Kenwood amplifier, dash-mounted CD player and a bass bin beneath the rear seats. The van sold in London in March, 2007 for £9,200 ($18,052).
Annette Benning's Lincoln Zephyr V12 Convertible from Bugsy
This extremely rare V-12 1938 Lincoln Zephyr Convertible 760B was driven by Warren Beatty's (Bugsy Seagal) on-and-off-screen girlfriend Annette Benning (Virginia Hill) in the 1991 award-winning feature film Bugsy. Similar cars now fetch a lot more – ($132,000 in June, 2012 and $187,000 in January, 2013) – without film provenance. Hence this car would have been an excellent investment at $75,900 back in 2003 even without it's silver-screen history.
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn's 1961 Ford Thunderbird Convertible
Not quite a film car but close, this '61 Thunderbird was purchased new by Spencer Tracy, one of the American Film Institute's top ten actors of all-time. He was nominated for a record nine Academy Awards for Best Actor (sharing the record with Sir Laurence Olivier) and won two. Upon Tracy's death in 1967, it was purchased by his partner of 26 years, Katherine Hepburn, the American Film Institute's "greatest female star in Hollywood history." Hepburn won a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress. A section of Hepburn's autobiography is devoted to this car and a copy of the book went with the sale of the car. Eight males and 12 females have won two oscars for leading actor/actress, but only two people have won more than two – Katherine Hepburn with four and Daniel Day-Lewis with three. This car's owners are hence first and equal third on the all-time list.
When it sold in 2003, it had had just three owners and in the three years before it was sold, it had $30,000 spent in restoration costs. It sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction at the Petersen Museum in 2003 for $26,400.
Starsky's red-and-white Ford Gran Torino from Starsky & Hutch
So popular was the Starsky & Hutch cop show of the seventies and so iconic was the car the lead actors cruised the streets in, that Ford produced a limited run of 1000 replicas of the red with a white flash Gran Torino. One of the seven cars used in the production of the series appeared at auction last year and without concrete validation, only pulled $40,000. There was plenty of evidence of the car having been the real deal, but no paperwork. If the paperwork could be found, this car would be worth considerably more.
Gillian Anderson's 1977 FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser
Another not-quite-a-movie-car-but-close, this car was included in this list to highlight that a car doesn't need to have starred in a movie or TV series to have it's provenance dramatically enhanced by a celebrity former owner, particularly one with credibility in the car's relevant domain. This car is such an example, as it was owned by X-Files star Gillian Anderson (who played Special Agent Dana Scully in the science fiction television series) and used extensively during the filming of the series.
For those not familiar with Toyota's original Land Cruisers, they are near bulletproof and while originally perceived as the "poor man's Land Rover" their far greater reliability has now translated into such a reputation that good examples sell for more than $100,000. This is a collector car in its own right, and Ms. Anderson recognized it as such long before it became desirable by the masses. Gillian has even appeared on Top Gear, further validating her petrolhead cred.
When this car was sold in 2003, Anderson offered to sign the car for the buyer and sent it to auction with this testimony: "I bought this car while filming on the last season of X-Files. I have always loved vintage Land Cruisers and this is the most beautiful one I have ever seen ... I wanted a car that I could really feel the road with in a way that one can't when driving contemporary sleek machines. So on days off from the grind of shooting i would use it to drive along the Pacific or up into the Santa Monica mountains. I hope this wonderful car's next home is with an owner that enjoys it as much as i did."
Earl Hickey's 1973 Chevrolet El Camino from My Name is Earl
Coming Movie Car Auctions
Captain America's Yamaha TT500
David Carradine's Alligator Corvette from Death Race 2000
B-grade shmultz has its place though, particularly when it features a bunch of aspiring actors who go on to spectacular careers, such as the Death Race 2000, which featured a young David Carradine and a young Sylvester Stallone whose star had not yet risen.
The blockbuster Rocky was made the following year and so was Sly, but at the time this movie was produced, David Carradine was the better known of the two due to his role of Kwai Chang Caine in the Kung Fu TV Series. Indeed, this movie was one of Stallone's big breaks.
The one-of-a-kind "alligator" Corvette (it's actually a Volkswagen chassis with an air-cooled Corvair motor), is expected to fetch between $20,000 and $25,000, despite the fact it got lots of screen time as Carradine (Frankenstein) fights against his deadly rival Stallone (Machine Gun Joe).
2000 Buick Blackhawk from Bad Boys II
This Buick Blackhawk is a hand-built custom 2+2 convertible developed to celebrate Buick's 100 year anniversary in 2003. It wasn't built in-house, having been outsourced to to former Buick designer Steven Pasteiner to create the concept and we're certain no-one was disappointed – it's a masterpiece.
The Blackhawk was built from a variety of modified 1939-1986 Buick components and panels and included a power retractable carbon fiber top which stores itself inside the deck lid with 463 horsepower and 510 lb/ft of torque supplied by a fuel-injected 1970 vintage 455 cc Buick GS Stage III V8 engine through an 4L80E 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. It was perfectly suited to become Will Smith's wheels in Bad Boys II.
Paul Walker's Toyota Supra from The Fast and The Furious
This car just might be one that surprises as the recently deceased Paul Walker is the posthumous star of Furious 7, a movie that has just been released and is smashing box office records willy nilly.
The car is the iconic orange Toyota Supra driven by Walker in The Fast and The Furious (2001), is expected to fetch $150,000 to $200,000 but ... anything could happen on the day.
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more