Columns

Hilary's Oldsmobile sells for big bucks 2016.05.11

By RICH FOLEY

Way back in 2005, I wrote a column titled “Does Hillary Clinton drive a Saturn?” As it turned out, that wasn’t the case. In fact, the last personal vehicle she owned was an Oldsmobile. That gave her something in common with former President Richard Nixon, whose last vehicle before being elected vice president in 1952 was a 1950 Olds 98.

President Kennedy once owned a 1961 Ford Thunderbird convertible, which along with Bill Clinton’s 1967 Ford Mustang convertible had to be the two coolest presidential rides ever. Clinton was said to have had a hard time leaving the Mustang behind when he moved to Washington. 

Sorry, Barack Obama, your Ford SUV can’t compete with that company. But the last car Hillary owned has just changed hands on eBay for an amount far exceeding what the previous buyer had paid then-First Lady Clinton for the car.

As the Clintons’ time in the White House grew short in 2000, Hillary sold her personal car to the White House head groundskeeper. The groundskeeper, a man with the ridiculously appropriate name of Mike Lawn—I swear I didn’t make that up—was looking for a suitable first car for his daughter. Except for a few times that Chelsea Clinton drove it while she was learning to drive, it had mostly sat inside the gates of the White House for the previous eight years.

Mrs. Clinton sold Lawn her 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera for $2,000. Since the car had only 30,000 miles on it, that was a pretty good price for a low mileage vehicle. Unfortunately, Lawn’s daughter was not impressed. Unlike the much more sporty Cutlass Supreme coupe, the Ciera was more its ugly step-sister with four doors, crank windows and a “Clinton for Governor 1990” sticker on the rear window.

 The teenager refused to drive it, pronouncing it an “old lady’s car,” perhaps a bit unfair to Hillary who was only 53 years old at the time. Lawn took the Olds home to Pennsylvania, parking it in his garage in Gettysburg, where it has spent most of the last 16 years. He tried to sell it five years ago with no success. This time, he hit the jackpot.

Listing it on eBay, Lawn noted that the car’s title was still in Hillary’s name. In most states you have a limited time period, usually a few weeks or less, to apply for a title in your name after a vehicle purchase. Unless Pennsylvania law is different, I’m not sure how Lawn got away with that.

The car also still had the last Arkansas license plate Hillary had purchased for it, plus that Clinton for Governor sticker, now 26 years old. An insurance company that specializes in antique, classic and special interest vehicles estimated its value at $8,700 based on its condition alone, not allowing any premium for the Clinton connection, but that seemed wildly optimistic for a 30-year-old four door Oldsmobile.

Luckily for Lawn, eBay bidders were fully aware of its history and when the auction ended on April 25 after a total of 145 bids, the eventual winner paid a whopping $60,100 to take the Olds home. Someone either likes Hillary a lot, or maybe there’s another explanation. Perhaps there may be an exhibition tour in the future.

Cars with some sort of interesting history sometimes end up as attractions at fairs, carnivals and the like. After outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were killed in an ambush in 1934, the Ford coupe they were driving at the time was put on tour around the country for about 10 years before ending up on display in a Nevada casino.

I remember paying a quarter or so in the mid-1960s to go in a tent at the Lenawee County Fair and see what was supposedly Adolf Hitler’s limousine. It did have a bullet imbedded in one of the rear windows, but I don’t remember ever reading about any assassination attempts while Hitler was in his car. In retrospect, I wonder how many “Hitler” Mercedes limousines might have been on the fair circuit in those days?

I’m not sure how much of a market there might be to charge people for a peek at Hillary’s old car, especially if she loses the election. All I know is that somebody very much wanted to own a run-of-the-mill used car with a “celebrity” history behind it. The big mystery is who, and why?