How to find your Hollywood ending by owning a dream movie car

Shahzad Sheikh investigates the difficulty and cost of owning your own piece of cinematic history.

The Dodge Charger known as General Lee in The Dukes of Hazzard, seen here at an auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, is one of the more popular cars that enthusiasts like to replicate. Gabriel Bouys / AFP
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For many car enthusiasts, their love affair began somewhere off the street - either at the cinema or sat in front of a television in the living room. Thrilling speed, screeching action and jaw-dropping stunts were often what sealed the deal for a lifetime of devotion towards an automotive wonderment.

For me it was the Lotus Esprit that James Bond drove in The Spy Who Loved Me, or Steve McQueen's 1968 390 Ford Mustang Fastback from Bullitt.

How easy is it to live that dream though? Is it possible to actually buy and own either a real car from the film or television sets or a replica of the famous motor? Turns out it's a lot easier than you think depending on how authentic you want to be. Unsurprisingly, cars that actually featured on film command a premium.

James Knight, of Bonhams, the famed international auctioneers, explains: "A car that was used in a movie or TV programme will certainly add to the car's provenance. Much, however, depends on a) the programme and b) the inherent quality of the car. If the programme was good or iconic and enjoyed good viewing figures and/or long-term visibility, that will enhance the value. The better examples will enjoy a steeper upwards trend."

And then there's the market in recreated cars that are modified to resemble the celluloid autos. "It's almost a market segment on its own really," says Gaurav Dhar, of the Rolling Art Emporium in Dubai. Dhar helps connect people with their dream cars, famous or otherwise. "You get people who scrutinise and specialise in recreating these vehicles. It's a slice of heaven on four wheels for a fraction of what the real deal would set you back. I know a gent who recreates the DeLorean from Back to the Future, and has a client list that is growing."

Back to the Future is 27 years old now and many fans of the trilogy are now be in their 30s and 40s and are possibly in a position to buy the car that played the famous time machine. Does the value of cars depend on the generation interested in them?

"Of course it is a generation thing," says Dhar. "The reason muscle cars of the '60s and '70s era can now command over US$150,000 (Dh550,000) for prime examples is because there is a demand for them among people of that generation." And some of those people are now in a position to pay that kind of money for a piece of their youth.

However, Andrea May, president of The Ultimate Car Collection, Canadian-based classic and exotic car specialists, believes it also has to do with the advent of technology, which makes it so much easier to research and find a car. "We now have the internet and, of course, the ultimate networking tools of Facebook and Twitter, that allow us to expand to a market that is worldwide. Prior to this a vehicle would have been marketed in the local newspaper.

"Simply typing in 'Hollywood cars' or 'movie cars' for sale can lead you to find some of the most sought-after cars."

And when it comes to the actual cars from the movies, the values can be eye-watering. For example Bond's original 1964 DB5 from Goldfinger and Thunderball sold for $4.6 million (Dh16.9m) two years ago. At the other end of the scale, the actual Eleanor car driven by Nicolas Cage in Gone in 60 Seconds sold earlier this year for $151,000. But Knight says those prices can change from year to year.

"Let's take an Aston Martin DB5 - the James Bond connection certainly assisted their values but, for many years, they were behind a Ferrari that did not appear in films," says May. "Today, if a DB5 is worth $550,000, a comparable 250GT Pininfarina Coupe is $300,000. Fifteen years ago, it would have been the other way around - and the Bond connection has been around longer than 15 years. Sometimes it is just vogue or fashion that determines car prices."

If this all sounds a little cost-prohibitive, you could consider a replica, but are those also priced at a premium when compared to their dressed down siblings?

"Yes and no," says May. "If it resembles the car, maybe a little more, but not enough to justify a big increase in price. If there is a letter of authenticity from the studio, or the actors' signatures then, yes, considerably more money.

"But if it is not from the movie or TV show - it's like owning a reproduction of a Fendi handbag. It looks real, but it isn't the same."

Sometimes reproductions are the only way to go, for example, if you hanker after the legendary Batmobile from the 1960s television series. Fiberglass Freaks, in Logansport, Indiana, in the US, will sell you a new reproduction for about $150,000.

After all, for many the appeal might not necessarily be in knowing a famous actor's backside has graced the driver's seat before you, but just the fantasy of owning a representation of a similar car. I have no desire to own one of the two Lotus Esprit S1 models that were actually used by Roger Moore in the Bond flick - my wish is simply to own a white Esprit. Likewise, given that only one of the cars used in the iconic Bullitt chase sequence still exists and it's resolutely not for sale, it seems simple enough to buy any one of 300,000 Mustangs built in '68 (a good one will set you back about $40,000) and just paint it Highland Green and add black American Racing Torq Thrust wheels to create a satisfying look-a-like.

Alternatively, how about an early 1980s Trans Am for around $6,000? Trawling through the online forums reveals that the entire conversion kit to turn it into KITT from the television show Knight Rider could be had for no more than $2,000.

For the aforementioned DeLorean you're looking at a lot more: a decent example would cost about $35,000 (although the reformed DeLorean Motor Company will sell you a fully restored car for $55,000) but it might cost much the same again to make it look like Doc Brown's contraption (working flux capacitor and Mr Fusion power generator not included).

So is the more economical route to star car ownership simply finding a good example of a standard car and then converting it yourself?

"Marginally," says Dhar. "I would do this with caution and always look to see if one can reverse the modifications - its value will hold to you and possibly other fans of the film, but not everyone might share your tastes. So being able to restore the vehicle back to its original form without damaging it is advisable should you want to sell it later. You appeal to a larger audience that way."

Bearing that in mind, are these cars potentially an investment that could earn you some profit in the long-run?

"Actual cars that appeared in films, yes," says Knight. "Limited runs of replicas produced by manufacturers, yes as well; replicas made by anyone else, not really."

This is echoed by May: "If you can provide authenticity from the studios, they will definitely hold their value."

And Dhar is even more positive, but with a proviso: "As long as you don't overspend on the initial purchase and buy wisely, you can bag yourself the car of your dreams and enjoy it, knowing it will rise in value."