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David Bowie’s vintage Volvo, reflecting the discreet, quiet book lover behind the wildly changeable performer, fetched $218,000 at auction

E.L. Hamilton
Photo Credit: Dennis Elzinga - Volvo 262 Coupe
CC BY 2.0
Photo Credit: Dennis Elzinga - Volvo 262 Coupe CC BY 2.0

Imagine a ride for Ziggy Stardust, and you probably picture a bespoke Rolls-Royce, a deadly Lamborghini, or an envy-inducing Tesla Roadster. But a Volvo for a glam-rock star? Nah.

In fact, David Bowie’s classic 1981 262C Volvo, black with tan leather interior, recently sold at a Swiss auction house for $218,000, approximately three times higher than expected. Bonus for the hard-core Bowie fan who purchased the coupe: It came with the original service booklet and a copy of the vehicle registration, clearly signed over to David Robert Jones (Bowie’s real name).

That Bowie chose a Volvo makes sense when you think about it. While the chameleonic Starman, whose long career spanned genres and decades, was a highly theatrical and ever-evolving public performer, in private he was discreet and understated. He moved to Switzerland during his Thin White Duke phase in 1976 to avoid the trappings of celebrity and dodge high taxes. There he kept a low profile, denying he was David Bowie on the few occasions he was asked for autographs. With his first wife, Angie Barnett, he bought a house near Montreux, where he would record part of his 13th album, Lodger, at Mountain Studios, as well as the hit single “Under Pressure” with Queen. Their son, Zowie (now known as Duncan Jones), attended school in nearby Vevey.

Bowie in 1967

Bowie in 1967

In 1982, Bowie, by then divorced, bought the larger, 14-room Château du Signal near Lausanne. He got married to his second wife, the Somali-born model Iman, in a secret ceremony at Lausanne’s city hall in 1992, and the news didn’t come out until 10 days later. Bowie was frequently quoted saying, “In Switzerland, they leave me alone.” Iman didn’t love the quiet life, however, so Bowie sold the chateau in 1995, and the two decamped for New York.

Serious Moonlight Tour, 1983

Serious Moonlight Tour, 1983

Bowie’s limited-edition 262C Volvo was actually a luxurious model for the staid brand, designed by the Italian design house Bertone to compete with the Cadillac Eldorado, according to Motoring Research. Bowie ordered one of the last of the 6,620 models manufactured, most of which were destined for the U.S., and it was delivered to his home in 1981. The Swiss auction house that handled the recent sale described the vehicle as “very good and well maintained original condition.” It had just 53,000 kilometers (or 33,000 miles) on the odometer. The standard features included a 2.8-liter V6 engine that delivered a peppy 155 horsepower and soft tan leather seats with wood trim and ruched doors. It will surprise no one that Bowie opted for Volvo’s at-the-time state-of-the-art hi-fi system with Blaupunkt speakers.

Bowie in Chile during the Sound+Vision Tour, 1990

Bowie in Chile during the Sound+Vision Tour, 1990

David Bowie’s death in 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album, Blackstar, spurred an outpouring of public affection and tributes and renewed interest in his pop legacy and private life, which also explains the high price his Volvo fetched. His son Duncan Jones—who with his high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, and perfect smile looks the spitting image of his father—recently launched an informal David Bowie bookclub on Twitter saying his dad was a “beast of a reader.” (Indeed, Bowie was a voracious reader who published a list of his favorite 100 books of all time in 2013. His taste spanned as wide a range as you’d expect, from Homer to F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Related story from us: Wine and drugs fueled David Bowie and Queen’s marathon session that resulted in their 1981 classic “Under Pressure”

“David Bowie Is,” a record-breaking exhibit that originally opened in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, has traveled the world and been seen by more than 1.8 million people, according to the New York Times. It examines his life from his teenage years through his death, and displays rare photos, set designs, and such artifacts as an original Ziggy Stardust bodysuit. Naturally, Bowie’s music plays over speakers throughout the exhibit, which lands at the Brooklyn Museum in March for its final showing.