Diana, Princess of Wales' third Ford Escort was purchased after her security decided that her second Escort, a rather vivid red 1.6 cabriolet, was too conspicuous and that the manual canvas top didn’t provide enough protection.
Wanting to stick with a Ford Escort, the Princess insisted on the then new performance pinnacle of the range, the RS Turbo Series 1. With 130bhp from its turbo-charged engine (15bhp more than the popular XR3i) it had a viscous-couple limited slip differential, Recaro seats and unique alloy wheels.
It sold in limited numbers. It also only sold in white. The Royal Protection Command (SO14) recommended a black car, so Ford Special Vehicle Engineering created a special car - one of only three ever produced in black - replacing the sporty grille for the regular five-slat front grille, adding a second rear view mirror for the protection officer in the passenger seat and installing two-way radio in the glovebox.
The Princess put 6800 miles on her unique stealthy RS Turbo S1 before it was returned to Ford in 1988. Used by a Ford manager, it was later a promotional give-away for Kiss FM in 1993, won by a Miss Jones of Essex. For a while it lived in a Ford collection before being fully restored and sold by Silverstone Auctions at the end of August.
Despite just 24,961 miles on the close and its excellent presentation, even the best examples of the Escort RS Turbo would fetch no more than £50,000, so the near three-quarters of a million-pound value of this particularly black version is all down to its exceptional provenance.
Which other ex-celebrity cars have sold for far more than otherwise expected?
John Lennon’s Psychedelic Rolls-Royce Phantom
John Lennon of The Beatles bought a Rolls-Royce Phantom in 1966, one of only 517 built. It was custom fitted with a cocktail cabinet, reading lamps, writing table, tinted windows, a portable television and seats that could fold into a bed! There was even a suspension model record player designed to stop the needle jumping while the car was being driven. It cost him £11,000 at the time about £230,000 in today’s money.
He later commissioned artist Steve Weaver to paint the car in a bright orange colour with the flamboyant – and very 60s psychedelic – swirls and floral motifs plus a giant Libra on the roof – Lennon’s Zodiac Sign. Sotheby’s eventually sold this car for a staggering $2.3m (nearly £2m) – but that was back in 1985! Today it is estimated to be worth about $7m
Hasselhoff and Reynolds-owned Trans Am star cars
While we're not focussing on TV and movie cars in this line-up, the following two Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams were both stars of the small and big screens and owned by their legendary co-stars in the rear world.
David Hasselhoff, who starred as Michael Knight in the hit 1980s action-adventure show, ‘Knight Rider’, was given his own ‘KITT’ (‘Knight Industries Two Thousand’), as the gadget-laden smart-taking-AI equipped black T-Top Trans Am was known. The TV car had unique front and rear styling revisions, black wheel covers, and a custom bespoke interior with digital displays, TV screens and a very unique steering wheel.
The very best examples of the Firebird Trans Am won’t fetch more than £40,000, and a full conversion to a KITT replica would probably set you back the same again. Hasselhoff getting $150,000 (£130k) for this car is impressive, although that was for charity.
Meanwhile Burt Reynolds famously drove the previous generation Trans Am in black and gold with the rising Phoenix ‘Firebird’ graphic on the bonnet, in ‘Smokey and the Bandit’. Two of the four cars used in the movie were sold by Reynolds himself, one for $450,000 (£390k) and another on behalf of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre for charity, raising $550,000 (£475k). Again, the very best examples without superstar provenance wouldn’t break £100,000.
Movie stars are synonymous with glamorous cars, especially from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Star power was just a bit more special then, and lent a unique lustre to already exotic cars that can never be dimmed. Many of those now command understandably big money.
Frank Sinatra’s gorgeous 1970 Lamborghini Miura SV sold for $150,000 (£130k). That may sound like a lot, but in the context of both the car itself and the stardom associated with it, it’s a piffling amount. Especially when you consider that the current valuation of a similar car is over £2m. However, the $150k was what it went for in 2003. If it turns up for sale today, it’ll be in the millions for sure.
Rowan Atkinson’s £10m twice-crashed McLaren F1
The Blackadder, Mr Bean and Johnny English comedian and actor has another life as a superfan of cars and part-time historic car racing driver. One of the most iconic cars he’s owned is the legendary 1990s McLaren F1 supercar.
He bought the car in 1997 and even at that time would have paid around three-quarters of a million pounds. But values have rocketed since, and when he sold it in 2015 some reports indicate it fetched as much as $12.2m (£10.5m) despite having crashed it twice. The second time injuring himself and almost writing the car off, but allegedly having it rebuilt at a cost of more than he originally paid for it according to some reports.
But you can't beat the provenance of one of the rarest and most desirable supercars ever created, owned, and smashed, by Mr Bean!
Unsurprisingly Ferrari’s were rather popular among the A-Listers of the day. Fred Astaire had a 1955 Ferrari 750 Monza Scaglietti Spyder, that went for $2.5m (£2.16m) in 2011. Steve McQueen wasn’t just a movie star, he was also a bona fide racing driver, having done much of his own stunt driving for movies like Bullitt and LeMans. His 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 sold in 2014 for over $10m (£8.6m).
However, James Coburn’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California (a rare and hugely desirable model) managed to exceed even that, achieving $11m (£9.5) in 2008. It was bought by British TV and radio personality, Chris Evans!
Clark Gable purchased his 1955 Mercedes 300SL for $7,295. Having undergone a complete restoration, it sold at auction in 2013 for a stunning $2m (£1.7m).