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Rare F1 car raced by James Hunt of 'Rush' headed to auction

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His talent on the track and antics off it were depicted in the film "Rush." Now deep-pocketed fans of the late James Hunt will be able to buy the last F1 race car he ever drove to victory.

RK Motors Collector Car Auctions has announced it will be selling the 1977 McLaren M26 F1 race car that Hunt drove the season after winning his only world championship title in 1976. It was that season that Hunt's rivalry with Austrian racer Niki Lauda came to a head, the events of which were chronicled in the recent Ron Howard film.

The car is the last F1 racer Hunt drove to a victory in his career and has a pre-sale estimate of $1.2 million to $1.8 million.

PHOTOS: James Hunt's McLaren and other auction highlights

Hunt drove this car -- chassis number 3 -- to victory over a sparse field of competitors in the final race of the 1977 season, the Japanese Grand Prix in Fuji, Japan. Despite competing in F1 racing the following two seasons, Hunt's 1977 win in Japan would be his last.

The car is powered by a Ford Cosworth V-8 that makes 525 horsepower at a screaming 10,600 rpm. It's built with an aluminum monocoque chassis and is in full running order.

RK Motors wouldn't disclose the car's current owner. But he was known to regularly enter it in vintage racing series, and it's likely the new owner would do the same, said Bill Mathews, vice president of auctions at RK Motors.

The car’s current owner also owns a race car used by Lauda, though he told Mathews he wasn’t able to part with both at the same time. Despite a greater public awareness of Hunt and Lauda as a result of “Rush,” Mathews said the timing of the sale of Hunt’s car was “more of a coincidence than a deliberate move.”

Die-hard race car collectors are already well aware of this car’s history and value, so the film won’t affect their interest. “Rush” could have an effect, however, on car collectors dipping their toes into vintage racers for the first time, Mathews said.

“I think it will expand the market there,” Mathews said. “Hollywood has a huge impact on value of collector cars.”

This sale is a first for RK Motors' nascent auction division. Though it will physically take place in Charlotte, N.C., a portion of the Nov. 2 event will also be simulcast to Abu Dhabi.

There, another auctioneer will be collecting live bids from the audience, who will watch the auction on screens measuring 30 feet by 18 feet, Mathews said.

"Anybody can put their sale on the Internet. That's not a big deal," Mathews said. "We actually take the live auction effort and market it to those foreign countries."

The company hopes to expand to the point where it's hosting five to six auctions a year in the U.S., while also boosting the number of international locations for the simulcasts.

"Our objective is to create a network of bidders internationally and to always make the sale available to those bidders," Mathews said.

This first auction will feature 250 cars sold over two days. Other highlights include a 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, a 2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR V-12 roadster -- one of only six ever built, and a 1977 Chevrolet Nova NASCAR raced by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Yet many collectors and race fans will be watching the McLaren sale intently. It's already generated enough interest to gather a pre-sale bid higher than the (undisclosed) reserve price, Mathews said.

"I expect to be pleasantly surprised by the sale price of that car," Mathews said. "If someone wants to take the car home, somebody’s going to have to come and bid for it."

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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