“This is a little moment of history, ladies and gentlemen,” the auctioneer said as he began the bidding at 100,000 pounds ($117,000) — a starting figure that already eclipsed the previous record for a similar car, in white, sold last year. The final price, including a 12.5 percent buyer’s premium, was more than $850,000.
The sale came just days before the 25th anniversary of a car crash in Paris that killed Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed. She was not behind the wheel of that car — a Mercedes-Benz S-280 — when it crashed at high speed early on Aug. 31, 1997.
The princess, and memorabilia marking her life, holds enduring public appeal long after her death. Last year, a slice of cake from her royal wedding to Prince Charles — 40 years old, and probably not fit for consumption — went under the hammer in another auction, going for about $2,000.
Those in attendance at Saturday’s auction certainly appeared eager to keep a slice of U.K. history and a memento to the “People’s Princess,” cheering as bids emerged from Coventry and Cheshire, and booing when the lead bids shifted abroad.
“This is going to be like the Elgin marbles. It will have an embargo on being sent abroad,” the auctioneer quipped, referring to a series of 2,500-year-old sculptures that are the subject of one of the longest cultural disputes in Europe. (Over the years, many have tried to persuade the British Museum to return them to Greece.)
Classic car values have soared in recent years as people cooped up during the coronavirus pandemic poured their wanderlust into other ventures such as cars, real estate and art.
Diana’s car was ultimately sold to a buyer in a bucolic Cheshire village, just south of Manchester, that is favored by British Premier League soccer players.
The auctioneer described the vehicle as an “immaculate example” of the Ford Escort, which was one of the best-selling cars of the 1980s in Britain. Known as the “people’s sports car,” it ranged from basic to fully souped-up sport editions.
It was a rare black version of the car, apparently ordered at the request of palace security officials who wanted Diana to drive a more discreet vehicle. She preferred to drive herself, with a bodyguard riding in the passenger seat.
Also on sale Saturday was a 1973 black Rover P5 used to drive Margaret Thatcher to Buckingham Palace before her appointment as Britain’s first female prime minister and a 2015 Land Rover Defender that featured in the 2015 James Bond film “Spectre.”
The Escort was one of a number of world car sales records broken Saturday, the auction house said. Even the auctioneer appeared surprised as the bidding escalated: “550,000 pounds on the Ford Escort. I’ve never said that before.”