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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cool McQueen’s runabout “most important celebrity car” ever on block

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HOLLYWOOD, CA – Though less than the record Ferrari price of $9.3 million recently paid for a Le Mans-winning racer, the chestnut brown Ferrari once owned and raced by actor Steve McQueen has sold at auction in California for just over $2.3 million, auction house Christie’s said Friday.

The price, which doubled pre-auction estimates, was driven up after the record May 20 auction of 33 Ferrari’s at the factory in Italy. The 1962 Ferrari 330 TRI/LM Testa Rossa sold for $9.3 million by RM Auctions and Sotheby’s. It was driven to a Le Mans win in 1962 by Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien.

McQueen’s 1963 Ferrari 250 GT/L Berlinetta Lusso went for far more than its estimate of between $800,000 to $1.2 million at the Christie’s International Motor Cars auction in Monterey, California on Thursday.

The auction house’s head of US car sales, Christopher Sanger, described the car as one of the most important celebrity-owned vehicles ever to come to auction, and said the 800-strong crowd cheered when it came on the block.

“The much-anticipated sale of Steve McQueen’s 1963 Ferrari Lusso exceeded our highest expectations, confirming the continuing allure of one of the most important pop icons of our time,” he said in a statement.

Sanger said the chestnut brown metallic Ferrari had been used regularly by iconic actor and noted car enthusiast McQueen in daily life.

“This was his personal run around — not a film one-off extra — but a car used for the grocery run, as well as trips to the racetrack.”

McQueen, the star of classic films such as “The Great Escape,” “Papillon” and “Bullitt” built a large collection of cars as his wealth and fame grew.

The Berlinetta Lusso was the first Ferrari to be parked in his garage, Christie’s said. Only 350 of the cars were ever made, and McQueen’s car is widely considered the best example, it added.

Still, rare sports cars can fetch more. The highest price ever paid, $18 million for a Bugatti in today’s dollars, was set back in 1987. The $9.8 million sale by Christie’s in ‘87 of a 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale Kellner Coupé, would be about $18 million in today’s dollars.

McQueen, who died in 1980 aged 50, traded the car in 1973 before it ended up in the hands of a restorer.

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