WHY PROVENANCE CAN MAKE OR BREAK A CAR

The provenance that buyers of the future choose to care about could vary significantly from today.

WHY PROVENANCE CAN MAKE OR BREAK A CAR

During 2012, the value of a Rolls-Royce purchased for more than £130,000 in July that year had tumbled by at least half come October, with some commentators even deeming it “worthless”. This was despite no changes in market values for the model, and no physical damage or changes to the car’s condition. So how did it happen? It all comes down to provenance.

The particular car in question was a 2002 Rolls-Royce Corniche, sold by Neales auction house with a high estimate of £90,000. The winning bid exceeded this by more than 40%, with a bidding war due to its previous owner who was considered favourably at the time – Jimmy Savile. All that changed in October 2012, when ITV aired a documentary that would see Savile’s true nature exposed, and subsequently the value of anything now tainted with his name was shattered.

Provenance can have a dramatic impact on a car’s value. The effect is most commonly seen in the collector car world in relation to racing cars and their variously impressive or unremarkable motorsport histories. A hugely successful Group C racer (ideally with an outright Le Mans win among its victories) might be worth three times that of a barely raced example. Likewise, sports cars campaigned by drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, or Jim Clark will fetch considerably higher sums than those with less remarkable histories.

The impact of celebrity can also have a major impact on value. Cars formerly owned by Steve McQueen are notorious for achieving results far above the market. His Ferrari 275 GTB/4 sold at auction in 2014 for more than three times the price of a similar car without the same provenance. Perhaps more remarkable was the 1970 Porsche 911 S used in the film ‘Le Mans’, which beat the market value for the model by a factor of 10.

Will McQueen’s car always be so sought after though? While his legacy persona is the ‘King of Cool’, his reputation is also saddled with accounts of physical and emotional abuse of his former wives and partners. In a society where this behaviour is increasingly (and rightly) seeing outrage rather than being overlooked, it may be the case that the next generation of collector car buyers do not greet ‘ex McQueen’ cars with the same fervour.

Plenty of celebrities have far more respectable reputations of course, and few more so than Tom Hanks. Supporter of dozens of charities, giver of espresso machines to the White House press corps, and ordained minister; Hanks has near-bulletproof credentials, and has often been dubbed ‘America's Dad’. It was no surprise to see cars owned by him recently selling for three or four times the typical market value.

Collecting Cars has also found new homes for numerous cars with celebrity provenance. The 1967 Mercedes-Benz 600 formerly owned by The Beatles’ lead guitarist, George Harrison MBE, sold in July 2021 for £145,000, while A 1977 VW Beetle 1303 LS Cabriolet with Roger Daltrey among its previous keepers was sold in Kuala Lumpur for £26,500 – subsequently travelling all the way back to the UK. The platform has also sold several cars belonging to F1 champion Jenson Button; most notably his 1994 Porsche 964 Turbo 3.6 X88 (£317,464) and custom 1970 Ford Bronco ($166,000). Sister site Watch Collecting recently sold his Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 for $26,600.

The provenance that buyers of the future choose to care about could vary significantly from today. Will movie stars of the 1960s or ‘70s carry much weight with a bidder in the 2030s or 2040s? Will cars from famous YouTubers or TikTokers instead be sought after by a new generation of buyers? It all remains to be seen.

At the time of writing, Collecting Cars is listing an original Porsche 964 Carrera 4 in the rare factory colour of Polar Silver, formerly owned by F1 racing driver David Coulthard. Click through to find out more about the car, as well as its condition and history.