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How celebrity ownership can add value to old cars, trucks

 The Reggie White Buick

The Reggie White Buick

With the 2020 auction year in full force, it’s interesting to think about how celebrity ownership affects the value of a collector car. This question arose recently when we ran into a 1949 Buick that had been owned by Green Bay Packer football star Reggie White. The Buick Super Sedanet was on display at Greg’s Speed Shop (www.gregsspeedshopllc.com) in Waupaca, Wis., so we’ll use it as an example for the purposes of this article.

Famous Football Player’s Car

Reggie White was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Dec. 19, 1961, and died in Cornelius, N.C., on Dec. 26, 2004, at age 43. White played for the Memphis Showboats (1984-1985); Philadelphia Eagles (1985-1992); Green Bay Packers (1993-1998); and Carolina Panthers (2000), He was a member of the Super Bowl XXXI winning team.

 Football player Reggie White gave the car to Tom Kajuva.

Football player Reggie White gave the car to Tom Kajuva.

White signed with the Green Bay Packers in 1993 and agreed to terms on a four-year contract worth $17 million. He played for the team for six seasons, recording 68.5 sacks to become, at the time, the Packers’ all-time leader in sacks. White was also valued for his role as a team leader. He helped the Packers win the 1996 Super Bowl with a game-ending sack in Super Bowl XXXI. That victory was the only championship White ever had at any level. In 1998, White was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Car’s Current Caretaker

Tom Kujava, who owns the Buick today, helped Reggie White with his collector cars. Kujava had heard about the Buick and told White he’d like to see the car, which was kept by an uncle in Tennessee. One day, White asked if Kujava would go with him to retrieve the car from Tennessee. Before they left, White said he had a speaking engagement in Florida and couldn’t make the trip. He then told Kajuva he was giving him the car, because he knew it would finally have a good home.

Kujava has lived up to the role of taking care of the car and has shown it at Lambeau Field parked between statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi. He says that the shiny Buick draws attention like “honey draws bees.” According to Kajuva, the car’s front suspension was “cut” for a subframe upon which a Mustang II-type suspension was fitted. It also has new non-factory paint, red pin stripes and a few other minor modifications. However, the engine is still a Buick “Fireball Eight” (overhead-valve straight-eight) and the transmission is the car’s original Dynaflow Drive.

 The glove box door has been signed by members of Reggie White’s family.

The glove box door has been signed by members of Reggie White’s family.

A Bit About ’49 Buicks

The 1949 Buick Super shared a new GM C-Series body with the Roadmaster, but had a shorter wheelbase than the Roadmaster. Features and benefits of 1949 Buicks pushed by the automaker included Dynaflow Drive (the optional automatic transmission); Cruiser Line ventiports; Full-View vision; “Living Sofa” interiors; Fireball Eight power; Self-Setting valve lifters; Poised engine mounting; Quadruple Coil Springing; Ride-Steadying torque tube drive; Safety Ride wheel rims; Sound Softer top linings; Load-Rite balance; Perma-Firm steering; Silent Tone body mounting; and Flex Fit oil rings.

Fastback Sedanet styling was seen on two-door coupes. “Here the long, sweeping lines of the Coupe hide the surprising roominess that highlights Buick for ’49,” said the year’s sales catalog. “Swing those wide doors open — step in and stretch out in comfort that most sedans can’t match.”

Supers featured three chrome Venti-Ports on each front fender. A “Super” script was found just above the full-length body side molding on the front fenders. New fender-edge taillamps were featured along with fender skirts. New fender-top parking lamps appeared. Full wheel trim discs were standard along with such features as a cigar lighter, an ashtray and an automatic choke. Cloth interiors were standard in closed cars.

 The Buick "Fireball"

The Buick "Fireball"

Super interior fabrics were plusher than those found in Specials, with a Custom trim option offered. A new instrument panel was used. It continued the previous Buick motif with a centered radio grille flanked by operational switches. The windshield panels were curved, but still had a center division bar. A swiveling radio antenna, unique to Buicks, was mounted above the center bar.

Non-Celebrity Value

The “Collector Car Price Guide” book published by Old Cars estimates that a 1949 Buick Sedanet would be worth $26,950 in No. 2 (fine) condition and $38,000 in No. 1 (excellent) condition. The condition of Reggie White’s former Buick Super fits between these two brackets. But, as we noted, it has modifications and upgrades that could affect its non-celebrity value. With a bit of research, we discovered that cars such as this one had been offered in 24 auctions held between 2001 and 2018. The average sale price in these auctions was $41,447. The lowest auction price was $4,000 (presumably for a rough car) and the highest auction price was $74,000.

Further research indicated that a customized 1949 Buick Super Sedanet had been sold for $89,000 Australian dollars at the Shannons Sydney Winter Classic Sale in Sydney, Australia, in 2016. That came to $67,403 U.S. dollars at the time of the sale. This may or may not be the $74,000 auction sale mentioned above, but we think it is, with the auction company’s premiums and fees accounting for the $7,000 difference.

The Celebrity Value Factor

Experts consulted about this car had different views on the importance of Reggie White being the car’s previous owner, since White is not as well-known outside Wisconsin as he is within the Badger State. Richie Clyne of Clyne’s Classic Cars in Las Vegas (and former manager of the Imperial Palace Auto Collection), felt White’s celebrity ownership was worth a 15 percent premium. So, if top dollar on a ’49 Buick Sedanet is $67,403, a 15 percent addition would bring the estimated price to $77,513. However, Jay Grams of the Volo Auto Museum (www.volocars.com) thought the Reggie White car is worth about $30,000, plus a “little” (perhaps $5,000) for the Reggie White connection.

Cars owned by Green Bay Packer Bart Starr have been featured at The Automobile Gallery in Green Bay, and a 1967 Bart Starr Corvette brought $142,500 at Dana Mecum’s Indianapolis auction on May 15-20, 2016. Guides say a 1967 Corvette convertible is worth $86,400. Bart Starr is somewhat more famous than Reggie White and the Bart Starr car was a Most Valuable Player gift at the first Super Bowl, two facts that make it extra special. But if the Bart Starr car warrants a 65 percent celebrity premium, it’s reasonable to think that the Reggie White car warrants a 15 percent premium. So, simply stated, the premium that celebrity ownership adds to a car’s value increases according to a celebrity’s level of popularity.

Tommy Kujava has been offered a high price for the Buick, but decided he wasn’t going to sell it because Reggie White loved the car and wanted Kujava to have it and take care of it. Kujava does not know the history of the car before Reggie White purchased it, but he would certainly be interested in hearing from anyone familiar with the Buick.

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