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COLUMN ONE

Being McQueen for a day

The late actor's Ferrari goes to auction this week. Auto critic Dan Neil slips into a machine from another age and drives like a Bullitt.

August 15, 2007|Dan Neil | Times Staff Writer

There's also some question about McQueen's affection for the car. Chad McQueen, the actor's son, remembers the car disappearing from his dad's collection after only about three years and not the 10 years asserted by Christie's. The Lusso was by no means McQueen's favorite car. "My dad had a lot of favorite cars," says McQueen. Such is the fickleness of a real car guy.

The relationship between celebrity provenance and value is problematic. Much depends on which celebrity. On Friday, for instance, Bonhams & Butterfields is auctioning off a Jaguar once owned by singer Lena Horne, but nobody expects her ownership to command much of a premium over market value. It's not simply a matter of a star's luminosity, Messer says. "It's got to resonate." People have been burned speculating on cars once owned by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

"McQueen is not your average celebrity," says Christopher Sanger, vice president of Christie's and head of U.S. sales of automobiles. "From his movie work to his personal life, he was synonymous with cars, horsepower, racing."

And McQueen's stock is rising. According to Martin Cribbs, director of rights representation for Corbis, which manages the actor's image and likeness for his heir, McQueen is one of the firm's top 10 earning accounts and, in terms of requests, among the top three, which puts the unlettered McQueen right up there with Einstein.

"We're amazed at the growing popularity of McQueen," Cribbs says, "not just domestically but worldwide." McQueen has been summoned from beyond to sell Tag Heuer watches, Absolut Vodka and, perhaps most famously, Ford Pumas and Mustangs, in commercials where the actor was digitally rematerialized behind the wheel.

"McQueen was the real deal," says Cribbs. "It's that authenticity that comes across to people, that means something. McQueen stands for something larger than just being an actor."

The McQueen Lusso, Christie's Sanger says, is really the perfect auction car "because it has all these intangibles associated with it. It's the sort of thing that helps folks part with more money than a Lusso would otherwise be worth."

Regalia hopes so. "The bigger the number for this car, the bigger the celebrity the car itself becomes," he says. "This isn't the end of this car's story. It's the beginning."

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dan.neil@latimes.com

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