Starr of the sale
Bonhams will soon present collectors with a unique opportunity to buy cars that exactly half of the Beatles owned. On December 2 in London, Paul McCartney’s 1964 Aston Martin DB5 will cross the block as lot 132, with a presale estimate of $1,700,000– $2,000,000. Four lots later, Ringo Starr’s 1966 Austin Mini Cooper S will be up for grabs. Bonhams estimates it could fetch between $120,000 and $160,000.
Celebrity ownership of an old car always tends to give it some bounce on the block, though certainly the celebrity in question is a big factor. Prime example: a 1970 Porsche 911S once owned by the lady who played Alice on The Brady Bunch won’t command nearly the same price as the 1970 911S once owned by the guy who played Frank Bullitt. (That’s $1,375,000 for Steve McQueen’s 911, for those of you scoring at home. And for the record, I don’t believe Ann B. Davis ever owned a 911 of any sort. But you get the point.)
By now we expect great things from the Aston DB5. We have James Bond to thank for that—and perhaps the fact that the DB5 is such a stunning car. Perfect concours examples or cars with epic histories can bring more than a million. This one, which McCartney purchased new just after the band’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, remained in his care for six years, with a known chain of subsequent ownership. It has been restored three times, each instance to a seemingly more meticulous degree, though it has now been color-changed from the original Sierra Blue to Silver Birch. The car could easily hammer within the estimate.
More curious is the Mini. Each member of the Beatles owned one at some point, but with production spanning four decades, just about every licensed driver in Britain owned one. So perhaps there’s nothing surprising in that. What sets Ringo’s Mini apart from those of John, Paul, George, and most of the 5.4 million others, however, is the custom hatchback treatment it received from coachbuilder Harold Radford in order to cart around Ringo’s drum kit.
Beyond the useful rear hatch and a special folding rear seat, other unique features include hood vents, a Webasto sunroof, VW Beetle taillights, a Moto-Lita steering wheel, electric windows, a de-seamed body shell, and Manx alloy wheels. Starr only owned the Mini for a couple years, and it has since been in single family ownership, but its 1991 restoration appears to have held up well.
Minis were appliances. Fun appliances, sure, but still, they were everything an Aston DB5 was not. Provenance is not a word you typically associated with them. Your typical 1966 Mini Cooper S has a value range of $18,200 for a #4 car with needs to $56,000 for a #1 car in concours condition, so the Bonhams estimate here could put this Mini in rare company if it sells.
To date, the top-selling Mini at auction was a 1962 beach car, at $181,500, sold by Bonhams at its Quail Lodge auction in 2014. Just one of 15 doorless, wicker-seated, Fiat Jolly-ish cars built by the factory, that Mini bore a uselessness surely trumped by its rarity, with just a dash of Monterey hype for good measure. In fact, only one other Mini has even cracked six figures—a rather unheralded 1964 1275 S race car that brought $114,338 at Bonhams’ Goodwood sale in 2014. That makes the $85,880 paid in 2012 for an ex-works, ex-Paddy Hopkirk race car seem like a bargain.
So what should we expect from the Ringo Starr Mini? In this market, who knows? Maybe two bidders who missed out on Black Friday Cooper S deals at Best Buy will fight tooth and nail to own it. Maybe the world’s biggest Beatles fan will buy the DB5 and the Mini to complete some odd niche collection. Or maybe some lucky young drummer in a rock-n-roll band will snatch it up.