When he was an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama drove a car appropriate to the office — a Hemi-powered ’05 Chrysler 300C. The car was leased, and in 2007 when he turned it in (for a Ford Escape Hybrid, following ribbing about driving a gas guzzler) it got snapped up as a presidential collectible. And now it’s for sale on eBay for no less than $1 million. Nobody has bid yet.
“We have the original Illinois title showing this vehicle was actually used by Barack,” said the seller, Illinois resident Tim O’Boyle. “19,000 miles driven when this vehicle was Obama’s. I’m sure many of them were highway miles back & forth from Chicago to Springfield [the state capitol].”
OK, maybe it was Obama's car, but it's a 2005, and our current president was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2004. Maybe he made a few trips to Springfield in it, but for most of the ownership period he was on to bigger and better things.
Somehow, a used Chrysler 300 lacks presidential gravitas. Obama drove it when he was on the lower rung of the political ladder. He didn’t get driven in it to international treaty signings. The Kelley Blue Book puts a value of about $14,000 on the car, so even if you add $300,000 for celebrity cachet, you’re still only a third of the way there.
I asked noted classic car expert Manny Dragone to evaluate the car from a distance, and he came up with "maybe $10,000 if they're lucky. Remember, the value is not established until it is sold!"
There are a bunch of presidential cars around. Bill Clinton’s ’67 Mustang convertible is much more famous (he drove it during his first term at the 30th anniversary of the pony car), and it now resides in The Museum of Automobiles in Morrilton, Ark. Liberace reportedly owned a Lyndon Johnson limo — where is it now?
John Reznikoff of Westport Connecticut (left) knows all about presidential cars, because he owns two of them — both Lincolns that were part of JFK’s Camelot. The Continental convertible with the presidential seal in the back seat was, Reznikoff said, Kennedy's "lucky" car — "it's the last one he got out of alive." See it on YouTube here. The limo is from the presidential motor pool, and Kennedy last rode in it circa late '62 or early '63. Reznikoff also owned, and sold, Obama’s first new car, a Jeep Grand Cherokee bought in 2000.
“I found it at an out-of-the-way sports memorabilia auction in New Jersey and paid something like $26,000,” Reznikoff told me. “Nobody knew about it.” That one had perhaps more collector value than the Chrysler, because Obama talked about it in a post-bailout victory lap at a Chrysler plant. “I still remember walking into that showroom and driving out in that new car,” Obama said. “It had that new car smell, and everything worked. I wasn’t used to that. Everything was electronic. I’d had to roll up my windows up until that point. So I’ve got some good memories of that car.”
Reznikoff, who also collects presidential hair, found an undisclosed buyer for the Jeep a year and a half ago. He doubts the Chrysler is worth a million. “I don’t think so, but you never know — it has great associations.” He also said that the current owner of the Jeep would sell it for $300,000.
O’Boyle is hopeful, and he offers these precedents on his eBay page:
- The president of Iran's ancient Peugeot fetched £1.5 million at auction — only because it belonged to Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad drove the 1977 white sedan when he was the mayor of Teheran and put it up for sale on an auction site last year.
- A light-blue 1975 Ford Escort GL once owned by Pope John Paul II sold for $690,000 to a Houston multimillionaire who put it in a museum.
- The current Pope Benedict’s 1999 VW sold for $244,000 and he probably never drove it (as he did not have a drivers’ license as a cardinal; he had a driver).
- Billionaire buys Adolf Hitler’s convertible blue Mercedes for $8 million.
By the way, when the Jeep was restored, Reznikoff kept the old parts. Want to buy some presidential spark plugs?
Here's a video look at the Obama Chrysler auction. Update: The car drew no bids, as might have been expected.