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Unusual cars shine at Tupelo Automobile Museum auction

Published in blog.hemmings.com

1964 Leslie Special. Photos courtesy Bonhams.

While a Tucker 48 proved to be the topseller at last weekend’s Tupelo Automobile Museum auction, it was a trio of even less mainstream cars that caught our attention, including a one-of-four 1964 Leslie Special, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s VW-powered Wishbone custom, and a 1982 George Barris-built “Barrister” roadster, said to be one of roughly a dozen examples built.

1964 Leslie Special

1964 Leslie Special 1964 Leslie Special 1964 Leslie Special 1964 Leslie Special

1964 Leslie Special.

At first glance, the 1964 Leslie Special doesn’t look at all like other cars from the decade, built on either side of the Atlantic. It doesn’t look like the 1957 Ford F-100 pickup that underpins it, either, but with good reason: The Leslie Special was built as the (automotive) star of the 1965 Warner Brothers comedy, The Great Race. Fabricated by the studio’s prop shop and bodied in fiberglass and PVC, it was one of four “hero” cars and five “villain” cars (the Hannibal Twin-8) crafted specifically for the 1965 movie.

The Leslie Special sold last weekend was car number three, powered by a 260-cu.in. Ford V-8 (installed by the studio) and mated to an automatic transmission, since leading man Tony Curtis reportedly couldn’t drive a manual transmission. Purchased by the museum in 1994 from the collection of Bob McRae and Corky Rice, it sold on Saturday for a fee-inclusive $112,000.

Ed Roth Wishbone custom

Ed Roth Wishbone custom Ed Roth Wishbone custom Ed Roth Wishbone custom Ed Roth Wishbone custom

1967 Ed Roth Wishbone custom.

By 1967, “Big Daddy” Roth was more than just a struggling artist selling airbrushed T-shirts at local California car events. Thanks to a deal with plastic model kit manufacturer Revell, Roth was paid for his automotive creations, earning a commission on each model sold. The twin-nose Wishbone, Roth’s first custom with an air-cooled, four-cylinder Volkswagen engine was to be one of these Revell models, but the company rejected the design, meaning that Roth was out of pocket for the build and would earn no commission from kit sales.

The car’s delicate front suspension was reportedly deemed too fragile to replicate in plastic, though dragster and funny car kits of the day used similar suspension setups. Perhaps Revell felt the kit wouldn’t sell enough examples to recover tooling costs, or didn’t represent Roth’s best creative work. For his part, Roth was said to hate the Wishbone, and after completion (and subsequent rejection), cut the car into pieces to be scrapped.

Enter a Roth associate named “Dirty Doug” (likely not his birth name), who lobbied for keeping the cut-up Wishbone instead of recycling its parts. Roth reluctantly agreed, under the condition that the car not be reassembled, a wish Doug honored. Roth had said nothing about trading the pile of scrap for something else, and when Doug bartered the car’s remains away, its new owner wasted no time in piecing the Wishbone back together and displaying it (as a Roth creation) on the show circuit.

Lawyers (and threats of bodily harm) eventually saw the car retired from the show circuit, destined to live the remainder of its life in museums and private collections. The Tupelo Automobile Museum acquired the Wishbone in the early 1990s, and last weekend the car’s new owner paid $95,200 for the privilege of parking it in his own garage.

1982 George Barris Barrister roadster

1982 George Barris Barrister roadster 1982 George Barris Barrister roadster 1982 George Barris Barrister roadster 1982 George Barris Barrister roadster

1982 George Barris Barrister roadster.

George Barris intended his third-generation Corvette-based Barrister roadster to be an homage to the grand luxury cars of old, incorporating such design motifs as a vee’d windshield, a massive radiator surround and (fake) side-exit exhausts. Inside, many Corvette bits remained, wrapped in velour or paneled over, and under the stretched hood, a Cross-Fire fuel-injected 350-cu.in. V-8 still sent power to the rear wheels (located a bit farther back, thanks to a lengthened frame).

The Barrister roadster proved popular with celebrity buyers like Bo Derek, James Caan, and Liberace, who, it’s claimed, once owned this exact automobile (though to be clear, documentation confirming this was absent). Barris built about 12 Barristers in-period, and this well-preserved example of 1980s excess sold for $51,520 on Saturday.

1934 Duesenberg Model J Prince of Wales Berline

1934 Duesenberg Model J Prince of Wales Berline 1934 Duesenberg Model J Prince of Wales Berline 1934 Duesenberg Model J Prince of Wales Berline 1934 Duesenberg Model J Prince of Wales Berline

1934 Duesenberg Model J Prince of Wales Berline.

Cars in the top-10 included a 1948 Tucker 48, which sold for $1.985 million (in non-running condition); a 1934 Duesenberg Model J Prince of Wales Berline, which sold for $450,500; a 1930 Hispano-Suiza H6B Coupe Chauffeur, which sold for $335,000; an 1899 Knox Model A runabout, which sold for $201,600; a 1950 Talbot-Lago T26 Record three-position cabriolet, which sold for $196,000; a 1936 Lagonda LG45 tourer, which sold for $168,000; a 1967 Mercedes-Benz 300 SE cabriolet, which sold for $151,200; a circa 1916 Owen Magnetic Tourer, which sold for $128,800; a 1934 Mercedes-Benz 290 cabriolet D, which sold for $117,600; and a 1929 Cord L-29 cabriolet, which sold for $113,120.

1950 Studebaker Commander Starlight.

For those seeking project cars, the Tupelo sale had much to offer. A circa-1923 Stanley Steamer rolling chassis sold for $8,064; a 1966 Lincoln Continental sedan sold for $7,840; a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 220S saloon, equipped with aftermarket air conditioning, sold for $7,840; a 1954 Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Mk IIA drophead coupe sold for $7,840; a 1955 De Soto Firedome V-8 sedan sold for $5,600; a 1950 Studebaker Commander Starlight sold for $5,600; a 1947 Dodge D24 Custom, once owned by Congressman William “Fishbait” Miller, sold for $3,360; a 1958 Nash Metropolitan convertible sold for $2,240; a 1917 Mitchell D-40 Junior five-passenger touring sold for $2,016; and a 1969 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham sold for $1,120.

For complete results from the Tupelo Automobile Museum sale, visit Bonhams.com.