YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Used '75 Ford, Comes Loaded With John Paul's Accessories: $690,000

October 30, 2005|From Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — A light blue 1975 Ford Escort GL once owned by Pope John Paul II sold at auction here Saturday for $690,000 to a Houston multimillionaire who said he planned to put it in a museum he wanted to build in his hometown.

"To me, it's a piece of history," said John O'Quinn, 62, a personal injury lawyer who made a fortune in a multibillion-dollar settlement between Texas and tobacco companies in 1998. "What a great human being Pope John Paul was."

O'Quinn, a Baptist who said he had a collection of about 600 vehicles, acknowledged it was the story behind the car, and not the vehicle itself, that prompted him to outbid seven other would-be buyers.

The car, built at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany, sold Saturday in what auctioneer Dean Kruse said was original condition -- no hubcaps, no air conditioning, no radio -- with several nicks and dents.

"The car will never be driven," said O'Quinn.

He said that at least temporarily it would be warehoused with his other cars.

The seller, Jim Rich, 41, of Sugar Grove, Ill., became emotional about giving up the car to pay bankruptcy debts. "I've been smothered by greed and courts," he said.

Rich bought the car for $102,000 at an auction in the United States in 1996 and said he promised Pope John Paul when he received the keys at the Vatican that he would display the vehicle proudly at his Chicago restaurant and never part with it.

Wearing shoes with holes and a blue blazer without buttons, Rich pulled a food stamp card from his wallet and said he had been using it for about nine months to buy groceries.

"The pope would think [selling the car] is something I should do under extraordinary circumstances," he said.

Bidding was as labored as an uphill climb for the car's 1.1-liter engine. It began at $150,000, after the auctioneer failed repeatedly to get any of the 350 people at the Las Vegas Hilton auto auction to offer $1 million, and stalled when bidders were exhorted to be generous.

The car came with what were said to be several papal possessions: wooden rosary beads, a box of matches, a candy tin and a dashboard medallion of St. Maria Goretti, patroness of youths and victims of rape.

Los Angeles Times Articles