There is no shortage of exotic, classic, and high dollar cars and trucks headed across the block at R.M. Sotheby’s Auburn Fall auction this September. But mixed amongst muscle cars, Ferraris, and Mercedes is one you might not expect. A 1976 Ford Escort. And no, this isn’t a former rally car Escort. It is, however, expected to be one of the highest grossing sales at the auction.
This Escort has had only three owners in 42 years, but that’s not the reason for its value. It’s not a special trim level, and it didn’t win a famous race. It is because the first owner of this Ford Escort was Karol Józef Wojtyła.
Now that name might not ring a bell. But you have still probably heard of him. Because that was the birth name of Pope John Paul II. That gives this car some high credentials. Or should that be some credentials from on high? It was the Pope’s last vehicle before his elevation to the papacy just two years after purchase.
When that happened, this Ford was placed into storage by the Vatican. There it remained hidden until it was sold at auction for Vatican charities in 1996.
This is a European Ford Escort, not the version North Americans are used to. 1976 was the second year of the boxier second-generation of the car. Fittingly, this is a base model car, the GL. Under the hood is the base model engine. A 1.1L four-cylinder that produced a humble 56 hp, backed by a four-speed manual gearbox. Even the soon to be Pope shifted his own gears. It does have power brakes and a clock, but no niceties like a radio, air conditioning, or hubcaps.
This is a very original car, and it looks well loved. Which is auction code for well used. It may be low mileage, with an odometer that appears to show around 28,000 km, but it looks like those years miles may have been long ones. The dents and dings are original, which suggests that while the word of His Holiness may have been infallible, perhaps the driving of Karol Wojtyła might not have been.
After the sale in 1996, the car was on display at a restaurant in Chicago. After nine years there, the car was sold at auction again in 2005, shortly after the death of Pope John Paul II. It has remained in that buyer’s collection since then.
This Ford was the last automobile to be owned and used by a modern Saint and influential world figure. It makes this car truly unique, and one that will probably be the centrepiece of any collection it will find itself in. And the hammer will fall on it this Labour Day weekend.
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