The 1937 Ford Cabriolet convertible driven by Leonardo DiCaprio in the critic-lauded film “The Aviator” will cruise onto the block at the Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction in January.
But it’s likely to be overshadowed by a 1953 Buick four-door Roadmaster owned, driven and customized by the real-life aviator and reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.
Barrett-Jackson, the annual classic car show and auction that attracts top car fanciers from around the world, roars into WestWorld Jan. 26 for five days. Last year, 185,000 people swarmed onto the car-crammed polo fields, and $38.5 million in pricey cars changed hands.
While most show attendees come to buy or eye classics from Packards to Porsches, Barrett-Jackson regularly attracts dozens of celebrity cars and celebrity car lovers.
Last year, Barrett-Jackson attendees crowded around a custom Bentley owned by another famous oddball, Michael Jackson, and autographed by such luminary passengers as Reba McEntire, Beyonce Knowles and Tom Petty.
But Barrett-Jackson president Craig Jackson said “The Aviator” cars are likely to be an even bigger crowd draw.
The Buick Roadster, which Barrett-Jackson originally bought from the Hughes estate soon after the eccentric tycoon died in 1976, will be on display at the Scottsdale car show and ater sold at the Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach Auction in April, Jackson said. In the interim, it will go on a road trip around the country — transported, not driven — so lots of people can get a look “at a piece of American history,” he said.
“This guy (Hughes) was a genius, one of the most interesting industrialists of the last 100 years,” Jackson said. “He was a major player in the (United States) and the world, and this is one of the only pieces of history that really shows his quirks.”
The Buick was completely disassembled by Hughes’ own engineers and scientists and reassembled with such modifications as an electric-powered air-conditioning system, air flow filtered through a “germ box,” sealed windows, a 24-volt generator in the trunk and a system that would jump-start any of his airplanes.
That was so Hughes didn’t have to tell anyone when he was heading airborne or which plane he planned to lift off in, Jackson said.
Jackson, whose brother Brian bought the car from Hughes’ holding company, housed it in his own garage for several years. When Jackson family buddy and actor Robert Mitchum, a sometime traveling companion of the aviation giant, saw the old car, he told the Jacksons what the odd jump ports were used for and recalled watching Hughes fire up a plane from the car.
As Hughes’ behavior became stranger in his late years, the Buick served as his safe place.
“He was afraid his office was bugged, so he stored his cars in a room with only one door and he held meetings in his car, picking up people himself and driving to someplace like the city dump,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he can’t say how much the two Hughes-related cars will go for. But he said the release of the movie and its already award-nominated status should push their values upward.