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BBC Autos

Evolution of Design

The 10 most famous cars sold at auction

  • Rolling fascination

    California’s Monterey peninsula, a verdant, wooded outcrop south of San Francisco, is typically known as a pilgrimage site for the world’s golf-playing elites. But this week, “Pebble Beach” connotes a vision even more genteel.

    Ahead of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance on 18 August, the premiere vintage-automobile event in North America, are for many attendees the real attraction of the week: blockbuster car auctions that feature the kind of metal rarely glimpsed outside of museums or private garages.

    Gooding & Company, RM Auctions and Bonhams have sold some of the most expensive, most recognisable cars ever built on and around the Monterey peninsula. Apropos of what figures to be a banner week for auctioneers, we offer this survey of the most recognisable – and in some cases, the most expensive – cars ever sold at public auction, whether at Pebble or other up-market enclaves around the world. (Photo: Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions)

  • 1964 Aston Martin DB5

    With their widely recognised pedigrees, movie vehicles are among the most sought-after collector cars. This 1964 DB5 was one of two cars on loan from Aston Martin that made cameos in 007’s Goldfinger and Thunderball films starring Sean Connery. It was retro-fitted at Aston’s Gaydon, England, factory with all the spy gadgetry that Q-Branch could conjure, and displayed in the company’s headquarters until American radio personality Jerry Lee convinced Aston to sell him the car in 1969, which they did for a cool $12,000. The car was sold at RM Auctions’ summer sale in London in 2010 for a much cooler $4.6m. (Photo: Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions)

  • 1966 Batmobile by George Barris

    The original Batmobile is one of the most revered vehicles in automotive entertainment. What started life as a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car – which George Barris acquired from Ford for all of $1 – was adapted in just 15 days to become the star vehicle in the 1966 Batman TV series. Since its appearance alongside Adam West and Burt Ward (Batman and Robin respectively), it has gained iconic status and spawned many imitators, but none can match the star power of the original. It sold for $4.62m at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction earlier this year. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

  • 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom V

    This psychedelic Roller is brought to you by the fertile mind of John Lennon. When the Beatle bought the car in 1965 it was a staid black, a colour that didn’t quite suit the musician’s counter-culture leanings. To the chagrin of Rolls-Royce, the musician commissioned artist Steve Weaver to create something more in tune with the times. He also converted the rear of the car to accommodate a double bed, television, refrigerator, telephone and sound system.

    When Lennon faced pressure from the IRS in 1977, he donated the car to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York in exchange for a $225,000 federal tax credit. The museum auctioned the car in 1985 for $2.29m. It is currently on display at the Pointe‐à‐Callière museum in Québec as part of The Beatles in Montréal exhibition, which runs through March 2014. (Photo: Royal BC Museum)

  • 1954 Mercedes W196 R Silver Arrow

    Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio piloted this Silver Arrow to victory in the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix, en route to clinching his second of five total Formula 1 titles in his career. It was widely assumed that the champion’s racecar would set a new record for a car sold at public auction when it went under the hammer at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July 2013. Eliciting a bidding war that resulted in a final gavel price of $29.7m, the Mercedes all but blew away the previous record holder, a 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa that garnered a $14.9m winning bid at Pebble Beach in 2011. (Photo: James Mann/Bonhams)

  • 1954 Mercedes W196 R Silver Arrow

    Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio piloted this Silver Arrow to victory in the 1954 German and Swiss Grand Prix, en route to clinching his second of five total Formula 1 titles in his career. It was widely assumed that the champion’s racecar would set a new record for a car sold at public auction when it went under the hammer at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July 2013. Eliciting a bidding war that resulted in a final gavel price of $29.7m, the Mercedes all but blew away the previous record holder, a 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa that garnered a $14.9m winning bid at Pebble Beach in 2011. (Photo: The Spitzley/Monkhouse Collection)

  • 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe

    The Gullwing is one of the most widely recognised cars of all time, a testament to the kind of beauty that transcends generations. Among the car’s early admirers was actor Clark Gable, who bought the example pictured above new for $7,295, adding racing Rudge knock-off wheels and a wood and chrome Nardi steering wheel. It was sold at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale, Arizona, auction for $2.35m in 2013. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

  • 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe

    The Gullwing is one of the most widely recognised cars of all time, a testament to the kind of beauty that transcends generations. Among the car’s early admirers was actor Clark Gable, who bought the example pictured above new for $7,295, adding racing Rudge knock-off wheels and a wood and chrome Nardi steering wheel. It was sold at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale, Arizona, auction for $2.35m in 2013. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

  • 1969 Dodge Charger

    A fixture of American television in the early 1980s, The Dukes of Hazard featured a 1969 Dodge Charger, known on the programme as the General Lee, that would sail through the air as often as it would kick up dust. This example, sold by Barrett-Jackson for $121,000 at its 2012 sale in Scottsdale, was the first to achieve the epic jump over Sheriff Roscoe’s cruiser, a feat that earned it the name Lee 1. Another heavily modified example was built by John Schneider – Mr Bo Duke himself – and sold for $495,000 in 2008. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

  • 1969 Dodge Charger

    A fixture of American television in the early 1980s, The Dukes of Hazard featured a 1969 Dodge Charger, known on the programme as the General Lee, that would sail through the air as often as it would kick up dust. This example, sold by Barrett-Jackson for $121,000 at its 2012 sale in Scottsdale, was the first to achieve the epic jump over Sheriff Roscoe’s cruiser, a feat that earned it the name Lee 1. Another heavily modified example was built by John Schneider – Mr Bo Duke himself – and sold for $495,000 in 2008. (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

  • 1962 Lincoln Continental "Bubbletop" Kennedy Limousine

    Though not as recognisable as the midnight- blue 1961 Continental convertible in which President John F Kennedy was shot in November 1963, this 1962 Continental Bubbletop limousine was also enlisted in executive service. Purchased from Ford in 1962, the car was sent to Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati to be suitably appointed with warning lights and sirens, flag mounts in the front fenders and Herculite safety-glass windows. Its interior, divided by a partition, was upholstered in black leather in front and a combination of light blue cloth and leather in the rear. Known by its Secret Service fleet number 297-X, the Bubbletop sold for $429,000 at RM Auctions’ Monterey sale in 2010. (Photo: Darin Schnabel/RM Auctions)

  • 1962 Lincoln Continental "Bubbletop" Kennedy Limousine

    Though not as recognisable as the midnight- blue 1961 Continental convertible in which President John F Kennedy was shot in November 1963, this 1962 Continental Bubbletop limousine was also enlisted in executive service. Purchased from Ford in 1962, the car was sent to Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati to be suitably appointed with warning lights and sirens, flag mounts in the front fenders and Herculite safety-glass windows. Its interior, divided by a partition, was upholstered in black leather in front and a combination of light blue cloth and leather in the rear. Known by its Secret Service fleet number 297-X, the Bubbletop sold for $429,000 at RM Auctions’ Monterey sale in 2010. (Photo: Darin Schnabel/RM Auctions)

  • 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage

    Steve McQueen sooner conjures a hard-boiled San Francisco policeman at the helm of a 1968 Ford Mustang fastback, immortalised in the 1968 film Bullitt, but there is another car of the same vintage that has strong McQueen ties: a Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage. The GT40 was chosen to be a camera car in the McQueen-directed film LeMans, as the actor insisted that all race sequences be filmed “at speed”. The car’s 289-cubic-inch V8 engine ensured the car was up to the task. It was sold at RM Auctions’ 2012 auction in Monterey for $11m, a record for a GT40. (Photo: Pawel Litwinski/RM Auctions)

  • 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage

    Steve McQueen sooner conjures a hard-boiled San Francisco policeman at the helm of a 1968 Ford Mustang fastback, immortalised in the 1968 film Bullitt, but there is another car of the same vintage that has strong McQueen ties: a Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage. The GT40 was chosen to be a camera car in the McQueen-directed film LeMans, as the actor insisted that all race sequences be filmed “at speed”. The car’s 289-cubic-inch V8 engine ensured the car was up to the task. It was sold at RM Auctions’ 2012 auction in Monterey for $11m, a record for a GT40. (Photo: Pawel Litwinski/RM Auctions)

  • 1975 Ford Escort GL

    Pope John Paul II used many different so-called popemobiles as official cars during his tenure – including a Fiat Campagnola, Mercedes G-Class and Ford D-Series truck – but his personal vehicle was an unassuming 1975 Ford Escort GL. The pope used this car for miscellaneous errands in and around Rome, and loved that he could pass unnoticed while driving it. Illinois businessman Jim Rich bought the car for $102,000 in 1996 when the Vatican put it up for sale. Facing financial troubles, Rich offered it at auction in 2005, where it fetched $690,000 – a rather divine return on investment. (Photo: Jae C Hong/Associated Press)

  • Lotus Esprit “Submarine”

    Another Bond car, this Lotus Esprit Series 1 from The Spy Who Loved Me is set to be sold at RM Auctions’ London sale on 8 to 9 September. Starring beside Roger Moore in the 1977 film, this one-of-a-kind, fully functional Lotus Esprit submarine was discovered in a storage unit in Long Island, New York, by a couple who bought the unit at auction following a lapse in payment by the film producers. It has since been shown at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and is being offered for sale for the first time. Though it is expected to fetch in excess of £500,000 ($760,000), silver-screen nostalgists have a way of driving up prices in the heat of bidding. Stay tuned. (Photo: Don Griffin/RM Auctions)

  • Lotus Esprit “Submarine”

    Another Bond car, this Lotus Esprit Series 1 from The Spy Who Loved Me is set to be sold at RM Auctions’ London sale on 8 to 9 September. Starring beside Roger Moore in the 1977 film, this one-of-a-kind, fully functional Lotus Esprit submarine was discovered in a storage unit in Long Island, New York, by a couple who bought the unit at auction following a lapse in payment by the film producers. It has since been shown at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and is being offered for sale for the first time. Though it is expected to fetch in excess of £500,000 ($760,000), silver-screen nostalgists have a way of driving up prices in the heat of bidding. Stay tuned. (Photo: Don Griffin/RM Auctions)

    Any cars that we might have missed? Let us know on Facebook or message us on Twitter.

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