The worlds of luxury motoring and sporting legend combine with the news that a 1970 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow convertible that once belonged to boxing legend Muhammad Ali will be auctioned by Bonhams.
Let’s forgo any puns on “float like a butterfly”—though it is a Rolls-Royce, and the word “float” is often used to describe the airy, smooth ride of the British marque—and instead look to its pedigree. The vintage automobile is estimated to fetch from $47,000 to $70,000 (plus buyer’s premium) when it goes under the hammer, without reserve, on Oct. 5 in Belgium.
The car is one of only 272 Silver Shadow left-hand-drive convertibles created by then-in-house coach builder H.J. Mulliner Park Ward in Willesden, London. At the time of its release, it was the company’s most expensive, top-of-the-range model, according to Bonhams.
Ali purchased the Rolls-Royce new in New Jersey in December 1970 for around $16,000 (about $105,000 in today’s dollars), according to the auction house, the same year his boxing license was reinstated after a three-year suspension due to draft refusal during the Vietnam War. The convertible was hand-built and features walnut veneers, Connelly leather, Wilton carpeting, and other luxury appointments.
“This Silver Shadow was bought new by a sporting legend in the absolute top spec,” says Gregory Tuytens, motorcar specialist at Bonhams. “Several bespoke options ordered by Ali are still fitted on the car today, such as the special headrests.”
It was Rolls-Royce’s greatest car for “the Greatest,” as Ali referred to himself for his acumen in the ring. Born Cassius Clay, Ali took gold at the 1960 Olympics before becoming the heavyweight champion in 1964 when he defeated Sonny Liston. Following his suspension, Ali would reclaim the heavyweight title two more times in the 1970s, first by defeating George Foreman and then Leon Spinks.
After compiling a career record of 56 wins, 5 losses, and 37 knockouts, he retired in 1981 at age 39. He was named BBC Sportsman of the Century in 1999. In 1984, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He died on June 3, 2016, at age 74.
A noted Rolls-Royce enthusiast who owned many in his lifetime, Ali drove the convertible for six years. The vehicle has since traveled from the U.S. to Europe, where the current owner, who resides in the Netherlands, has placed the car on the market once again.
The owner has kept the car, which has never been completely restored, as original as possible. It features a 6.75-liter V-8 automatic engine, weighs around 4,800 pounds, and, at the time of its debut, was listed with a top speed of 118 mph (190 kph). The speedometer reading sits at 4,475 miles, according to images supplied by Bonhams.
The buyer will receive accompanying documentation including copies of the car’s original specification sheet and warranty acknowledgement. Also included: a copy of Ali’s temporary driver’s license under his birth name of Cassius Clay, plus a photograph of the boxer with his friend Diana Ross and the car outside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas before Ali’s 1973 fight with Joe Bugner.
Four-door versions of the Silver Shadow are currently available for $10,000 to $20,000, while the latest convertible from Rolls-Royce, the Dawn, will set you back about $350,000 depending on finishes.
Ali collectibles have been sought after both prior to and following his death. A pair of boxing gloves signed by Ali and given to the late actor Robin Williams in 2006, when he was honored with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award, will be auctioned on Oct. 4 as part of the Sotheby’s sale from the comedian’s estate. The gloves are estimated to attract bids of $1,000 to $2,000.
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