Society grants celebrities an unreasonable boost in status due to their position. If someone exhibits outstanding athletic ability or moving acting skills or even just achieving fame for being outrageous, their words and actions suddenly carry the weight of their stardom. By extension, it seems, their possessions encapsulate that aura. Sure, expensive homes owned by celebrities will be expensive and expensive cars, too, but what about common cars?
There was a spoof on this very subject on an episode of "Seinfeld" back in the mid ‘90s when George was conned into buying a car he wasn’t interested in because it supposedly belonged to the actor Jon Voight. It turned out the LeBaron convertible George bought actually belonged to some guy named John Voight, the dentist, but it illustrates how celebrity, when attached to a car, can make an uninteresting product desirable.
Now I’m going to take you back even further. Those who have been on this earth less than half a century can probably skip the next anecdote or scratch your head at the following references, but for those of a certain age and beyond the theme song whistle and the mention of Mayberry will conjure images of a young Andy Griffith, and even younger Ron Howard, and Aunt Bee (pronounced “ant”; the “u” is silent in Mayberry).
Apparently Francis Bavier, who portrayed Aunt Bee in the TV series, learned to drive late in life and became very fond of Studebaker cars. In fact, her loyalty was such that she never drove a different brand automobile, purchasing a 1966 Studebaker Daytona, one of the last produced before the demise of the historic carmaker. Aunt Bee drove that car through her retirement until she was unable, letting the registration lapse in 1983 but keeping the car in her garage in North Carolina, where the tires eventually went flat and her cats found the seats a comfortable place to nap.
Upon Aunt Bee’s death in 1990 and with no heirs, she willed some of her possession,s including the Stude, to the University of North Carolina Center for Public Television which auctioned it off. It was hoped the dusty and dented, faded green Daytona would bring in a few hundred dollars, but interest was steady and when the gavel fell, Bavier’s beloved Studebaker sold for $20,000, flat tires, cat hair and all.
Some stars are also bona fide car guys with the chops to back up their enthusiasm. Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno are two notable celebs who take car collecting seriously, but on a different level is the late, great King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen. So prolific was Mr. McQueen’s touch on the value of cars, it’s known as the McQueen effect, kind of like the Midas effect, but I’m pretty sure his cars are worth more than gold.
It’s reasonable to assume any one of McQueen’s personal sports or race cars will bring big bucks at sale time, but even a common, utilitarian vehicle like his 1952 Chevy pickup with rudimentary, period installed camper shell, recently sold for just under $100,000. A 1976 Porsche 930 Turbo, similar to one we used to eat lunch on behind the Porsche dealership I worked for in the late 1980s, sold for $1.95 million, thanks to the McQueen effect.
Vehicles that have movie cred and star power like the famous 1968 Mustangs used in the film "Bullitt" can send prices out of low earth orbit. One of those three Mustangs recently sold at auction for $3.4 million, plus another $340,000 in buyer’s fees. It was a good day for Mecum auctions.
Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 299 Main St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.