#auctionwatch This week, RM Sotheby’s presents over 100 lots from the estate of Paul Newman in its sale High Speed: Paul Newman’s Racing Legacy, with racing artefacts and treasured keepsakes from his extraordinary life up for sale.
The story goes TV Host David Letterman received an unusual phone call from an old friend one evening.
‘Dave? I’ve got a deal from a guy in Maine. It’s a custom Volvo 960 station wagon, OK? But it’s different. He’s going to take a small-block Ford V-8 racing engine, strip out the transmission and suspension, then supercharge it. My guy’s gonna make it for me. Would you like one?’
‘Well yeah, Paul,’ Letterman told the caller. ‘Wouldn’t we all?’
Letterman told his TV audience after Newman died in 2008, ‘This was the kind of car that people would stare at streetlights. It was like an atomic furnace under the hood. I used to love driving it. It would go 170 miles per hour and underneath the exhaust system would glow bright orange.’
Newman loved to live life at speed. That he souped up a Volvo – the quintessential 1980s brick of safety and reliability – makes it even better. According to Paul, the car would “chew anybody’s ass from 20-100mph.”
Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, the car caught fire on the New York Interstate. Luckily, an intact version of Newman’s tinkering with hot-rodding Volvos can now be bid for at the next RM Sothebys auction.
Alongside his need for speed, the Hollywood legend is also well-remembered for his affability and humble nature, adding to his huge appeal and enduring legacy.
In a 1991 interview with the New York Daily News, Newman said: ‘I had no natural gift to be anything, not an athlete, not an actor, not a writer, not a director, a painter of garden porches, not anything. So, I’ve worked really hard, because nothing ever came easily to me.’
In truth, Newman was a man blessed with many natural talents.
He had three major careers in his lifetime. The first was his acting, the second was his charitable foundation, and the third was his racing legacy.
Newman began racing after starring in the 1969 movie Winning and in 1972, aged 47, he began racing professionally.
By 1979, he had finished second at the 24 Hours of LeMans driving a Porsche 935.
In 1983, he formed Newman-Haas Racing with Carl Haas, a sports-car driver, signing up two ex-Formula One World Champions — Nigel Mansell and Mario Andretti — and compiled 107 Indy car race wins.
He would eventually go on to become a world-class race car driver – and one of the most successful team owners in the sport’s history.
This auction of Newman’s race-worn fire suits, custom helmets, and championship rings offers the opportunity to relive some of his greatest on-track victories.
The studios tried to stop him, so he just drove under pseudonyms. But, he was easy to spot: Those famous piercing blue eyes, like laser beams in the semi-darkness of the pit garage or staring out from the grid under the lid of his helmet.
Newman made his last start at 81 years of age at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2006. He died on 26 September 2008, at age 83, in his Connecticut home close to Lime Rock Raceway, where a few weeks earlier, he’d treated himself to one last race, bringing together family, friends and loved ones.
As Letterman put it, [‘Newman was] a guy who knew how to live life.’
RM Sotheby’s sale, High Speed: Paul Newman’s racing legacy runs until 13 June. See more.