By Peter Corbett, Arizona Central
A white hearse that carried President John F. Kennedy's body in Dallas after his 1963 assassination is among the high-profile vehicles with celebrity links expected to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at this weekend's Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale.
The 1964 Cadillac transported the casket carrying the slain president's body and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy from Parkland Memorial Hospital on the 3-mile trip to Dallas Love Field and Air Force One.
PICTURES: 2012 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction
The immaculately maintained car's 10 minutes of fame has earned it a spot on the auction block Saturday at Barrett-Jackson, when a few seven-figure cars are also expected to change hands.
Built by the Miller-Meteor Co. of Piqua, Ohio, the hearse with 47,818 miles was previously offered on eBay for $1 million.
It was bid up to $900,000 in the online auction, but bidders did not hit the seller's reserve, or minimum price, said Craig Jackson, Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. chairman.
"We'll see what it's really worth," he said, noting that the hearse is being offered at no reserve Saturday, which means a sale is likely.
Celebrity cars are a staple of Barrett-Jackson and the other auction houses that congregate in Scottsdale, Phoenix and Fountain Hills each January.
Those vehicles spark interest at the auctions, but serious collectors are generally focused more on rare pre-war classics, European sports and race cars and American muscle cars from the 1960s to early 1970s.
Cars with celebrity owners defy price estimates.
A rather ordinary 1953 Buick sedan that Howard Hughes owned sold in 2005 for $1.62 million at Barrett-Jackson's auction in Palm Beach, Fla. Two years ago, a 1930 Model A that John Dillinger reportedly used as a getaway car brought $165,000 in Scottsdale.
This year's celeb cars include film star Marlene Dietrich's 1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom I convertible at Bonhams' auction at the Westin Kierland Resort in Phoenix.
Bonhams, new to the Valley auction scene, is also selling a 1974 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow that got its 15 minutes of fame when pop-culture artist Andy Warhol owned it for 13 years.
Dietrich's Rolls sold for $524,000 on Thursday, Bonhams spokesman Jared Zaugg said.
Last year, a 1963 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance also linked to President Kennedy sold at Barrett-Jackson for $132,000 to Addison Brown of Paradise Valley, despite issues raised before the auction about its authenticity.
Critics questioned whether it was the actual Navy vehicle that carried the president's casket from Air Force One to Bethesda Naval Hospital. That dampened bidders' enthusiasm.
"We got caught up in the Kennedy conspiracy theories," said Jackson, whose auction house defended the ambulance's provenance.
The ambulance is in collector Tammy Allen's car museum in Grand Junction, Colo.
The ambulance was not legitimate, according to the research of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, said Robert Shepard, president of the Golden State Chapter of the Professional Car Society.
However, the hearse is not in dispute.
"There is no question about the authenticity of this vehicle," Shepard said, adding that the chain of custody is well-documented for the 1964 Cadillac hearse.
Only a handful of bidders is likely, and it is difficult to say how much they will be willing to spend, he said.
"There is nothing positive associated with this car," Shepard said. "It's a negative to begin with, and it's a hearse, even if its place in history is well-documented."
The Cadillac hearse was a new car for the O'Neal Funeral Home in Dallas when the Secret Service used it to carry Kennedy's casket. The first lady rode in a jump seat in the back of the vehicle, which the funeral home had to track down at the airport after the Secret Service and Air Force One departed for Washington.
More than 2,500 cars are on the auction block this week at Barrett-Jackson and the other five events: Russo and Steele, RM Auctions, Gooding & Co., Silver Auctions and Bonhams.
Results from the early auctions show income running well ahead of last year's events.
Sales of 158 cars at Barrett-Jackson on Tuesday totaled $3.85 million, up 14 percent from a year ago, and Wednesday's total of 249 cars for $7.75 million was 10 percent over 2011, the auction house said.
McKeel Hagerty, whose company insures collector cars, said there are a lot of good cars and buying momentum going into the weekend.
He expects that Gooding & Co. will again have the most seven-figure sales, including a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL with an aluminum body.
Gooding estimates the car's value at $2.5 million to $3 million.