Update: This auction has ended and Roy Rogers' Nellybelle sold for $38,400.
The King of the Cowboys rides again. Nellybelle, the 1946 Willys CJ-2A Jeep that appeared on The Roy Rogers Show for seven years in the 1950s, will cross the auction block at Julien’s “Icons & Idols: Hollywood” sale November 16–17 in Beverly Hills, 20 years after Rogers’ death.
The lovable Jeep belonged to Rogers, but it was driven on the Double R Bar Ranch by his television sidekick, Pat Brady, from 1951–57. The gray CJ-2A features innovative bodywork and has Nellybelle painted on each side. It was Rogers’ idea to replace the mule ridden by his comical movie companion with the cantankerous vehicle that became a beloved TV character. Brady often begged the Jeep to start, and he coaxed it to stop by bellowing, “Woah, Nellybelle!”
I arrived on the scene too late to see any of Roy Rogers’ movies or watch his television show, but thanks to my grandfather I was well aware of his star power. I grew up listening to the singing cowboys known as the Sons of the Pioneers, and Rogers was a founding member of the group before he started making movies in the 1930s (when his name was Leonard Sly). In addition, Rogers was so well marketed during his heyday that his likeness was on everything from magazines and coloring books to games, lunch boxes, toys, pedal cars, and clothing—and I got some of those hand-me-downs from my older brothers.
Rogers was still a big deal (to me anyway) as I grew up in the mid-1960s. In fact, I vividly remember wearing a Roy Rogers t-shirt, white cowboy hat, a pair of holstered six-shooters, and black cowboy boots—sometimes with cut-off jean shorts. It’s pretty difficult to look cool in a get-up like that, but I gave it my best shot.
Such was the influence of Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys. The guy was like Santa Claus on horseback.
Nellybelle—a quarter-ton utility powered by a 60-hp, 134.2-cubic-inch, inline four-cylinder L-head engine—is nothing to crow about when it comes to performance or style. But she’s a television icon just the same. She even has her own song.
The last time that Nellybelle was offered to the public was in July 2010, when she sold for a whopping $116,500—nearly four times the $30,000 high estimate—at Christie’s Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum Collection Auction in New York. Who knows what the Jeep will go for this time around, but it’s hard to imagine it will come close to reaching six figures. Julien’s, in fact, estimates it will sell for much less: $30,000–$50,000.
But for those of us in the over-50 crowd, Nellybelle is priceless. Just like the King of the Cowboys.