Famous previous ownership – A curse or a blessing?

Classic cars are often advertised as having had famous previous ownership – usually accompanied by a pronounced hike in the price. Are the higher prices justified?Is a famous name in the vehicle registration document really an indication that the vehicle is actually worth more?

Sometimes, a car’s history does make a difference. In 2005, for example, an inconspicuous Golf IV attracted attention when it was auctioned by an online auction house. Although a seemingly unspectacular used car, the Golf achieved the sensational price of almost EUR 190,000. The reason was neither the condition nor the rarity of the car, but the vehicle registration document only, on which the name of a certain Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was noted – by that time better known as Pope Benedict XVI. But just because the Holy Father is infallible, can the same be said of his former private car? Curiously, the buyer, a casino in the United States, tried to resell the Golf seven years later after using it as a promotional vehicle. Only this time the auction did not even reach the reserve…


In the USA, a Mercedes-Benz 770K said to have been delivered to the “Führer and Reich Chancellor”, also failed to sell when it was offered for sale during Scottsdale auction week. An American collector had aimed to sell the open tourer for a substantial sum, but the maximum bid of at least 7 million euros was deemed too low, and no sale was made during the auction.

This extreme example shows one of the difficulties of such an undertaking: Who would buy the vehicle on these terms? A Mercedes collector who wants to crown his fleet with it, perhaps. But how can a vehicle be the crown of a collection if it’s accompanied by such a historical shadow? If you appear at a classic car event with such a car, you will inevitably have to talk about the owner, and it’s questionable whether this will draw positive attention.


Even more so than with conventional classics, pricing for vehicles with previous celebrity ownership is emotionally charged. There are other factors too: How is the value of the celebrity factor measured? For example, who is a world star and who is just a villain who could afford a chic car because of his position in a military dictatorship? Appeal varies by region too: a German series actor will have a following in a German-speaking country, but nowhere else. The Rolls-Royce previously owned by Barbara Cartland (novelist and step-grandmother to Princess Diana) is more likely to attract a premium in the UK and the Commonwealth, but will be less desirable anywhere that her books and her connection to the British royal family is less well-known.

But there are also the world stars, the names that are known to everyone and that would almost justify any price. David Bowie’s Volvo 262 Bertone Coupé made headlines when it was auctioned for 190,000 Swiss francs. The usual value of a comparable car is around EUR 20,000, and the Swiss auction house was expecting an estimate of between CHF 65,000 and CHF 75,000. So the Volvo sold for almost ten times its market value.


The fact that the names of prominent previous owners are documented in a vehicle registration certificate is often enough to boost value, but it is even better if anecdotes or history of the driver and vehicle have been handed down. This works best, of course, if it is a racing car. There’s no shortage, for example, of video and photographs of Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari 412 T2 – the first Scuderia Ferrari vehicle that he ever drove.

Another special car from the racing car category is this Gulf GR7 from 1972. Not only Derek Bell, but also James Hunt and Jackie Ickx successfully drove almost all famous endurance races in Le Mans, Spa, Daytona and on the Nürburgring in this remarkable machine.

A Cadillac owned by Elvis Presley

Sometimes there are strange stories, like that of the Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado Coupé once owned by Elvis Presley. A closer look reveals a hole in the right front fender. According to legend the Cadillac, which was actually very dear to his heart, did not start one morning. So The King put on his gunslinger face and shot into the fender in anger. Whether this helped to start the car is not proven, but the bullet hole still testifies to the car’s originality and Elvis’s quick temper. The story is so extreme that it’s often forgotten that it was also this car in which Elvis drove his wife Priscilla to the hospital in February 1968, where their daughter Lisa Marie was born.

Lots of famous vehicles to be found on Classic Trader

Whether it’s the Aston Martin owned by footballer Roy Keane, the ex-Michael Schumacher Formula 1 Ferrari, the Bugatti of the Belgian Prince Leopold, the 1960s Austin-Healey 3000 rallied by Pat Moss and Ann Wisdom or the racing cars of Sir Stirling Moss or Derek Bell, there’s an amazing number of cars on Classic Trader and in the market with famous previous ownership.

From the seller’s as well as the buyer’s point of view, it makes sense to make the most of this history. Every detail creates transparency and helps with buying or selling. This is also why surcharges on the price are justified for rational reasons: there’s a practical appeal in, say, the second car of a celebrity or one that moved little and only on the Côte d’Azur in summer and was carefully maintained by a specialist workshop.

If an emotional charge is added to the more rational increase in price, this is generally justifiable as a special feature or unique selling point. A high offer price increases the profit margin, but also limits the potential buyers accordingly. With regard to the actual sales price, an auction certainly always carries the risk or chance that the price will build up. No matter the method of buying or selling, transparency and telling the complete story telling is always recommended. After all, a classic vehicle is not just dealing with pure sheet metal, but history is also an integral part of the package. It’s important to understand the provenance of the vehicle and its owners with the necessary time and care. This will make it easier for both sides to find an appropriate price.

Photos JME Healeys, Marreyt Classics, Girardo & Co, ChromeCars

Author: Paolo Ollig

As editor-in-chief Paolo regularly writes about all the big and small stories related to classic cars and motorbikes. Classic dreams: Lamborghini Countach and Mercedes-Benz 300 SL.

Related Posts

Broad Arrow Group – Advisor, Marketplace and Financier for Car Collectors

The Broad Arrow Group was founded in 2021 by experienced industry veterans, who not only share a passion for cars, but also a common vision: to bring a new level of simplicity, transparency and accountability to the collector car world.  Continue reading Broad Arrow Group – Advisor, Marketplace and Financier for Car Collectors

Changes in the Classic Car Market 2023

Keith Riddington from Classicmobilia is a recognized specialist and dealer with a focus on Aston Martin vehicles. In his market column he gives an insight into his current perception of the classic car market. Continue reading Changes in the Classic Car Market 2023

CT Analytics | Top 10 of the most popular Off-Road Cars

Off-road vehicles stand for wilderness and adventure. Even if current four-wheelers and SUVs rather have to hold their own ground in the search for parking spaces in inner cities. Continue reading CT Analytics | Top 10 of the most popular Off-Road Cars