By Radu-Sorin Marinas
BUCHAREST - A private Romanian collector won an auction on Thursday for a luxury car given to the communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu by the Shah of Iran, outbidding Iranian collectors who had hoped to bring the car home.
The Shah had gifted Ceausescu the Iranian-made car in 1974 to mark his election as president of the now-defunct Socialist Republic of Romania.
The Paykan Hillman Hunter, built from 1967 onwards, was the first car built by the Iranian National Company, and became not only a landmark of Iranian industry but also a national icon.
On Thursday, the car was sold to a Romanian collector for 95,000 euros, 24 times the starting price, Alina Panico, of the Artmark auction house in Bucharest, told Reuters.
"An Iranian bidder was narrowly outbid by a Romanian buyer by only 5,000 euros," Panico said. She added most of the 100 bids that had been filed belonged to Iranian collectors seeking to bring their national symbol from the 1970s back home.
The limousine that was auctioned is fully roadworthy, with a top speed of 145 km/h (91 mph) and a 1.5 litre, four-cylinder in-line engine delivering 54 horsepower.
Hillman, originally based near the English Midlands city of Coventry, was one of the oldest and most prolific British car brands, and the marque continued to be used until 1976 by its then-owner, Chrysler.
After failed attempts to build Fiat models, the Iranian National Company produced its first Paykan under licence from Hillman in 1967.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had visited Romania in 1966, beginning an era of commercial and diplomatic ties, and a friendship with Ceausescu.
The Romanian leader had come to power the previous year, and set about creating one of the most repressive regimes in Cold War-era Eastern Europe.
In 1989, as communism crumbled, he and his wife Elena fled mass protests in the capital by helicopter but were quickly captured and shot by a hastily assembled firing squad.
An airliner used by Ceausescu in official trips between 1986 and 1989 is also up for auction at a starting price of 25,000 euros, but Panico said it had generated less interest so far.
The Rombac Super One-Eleven rear-engined jet is one of just nine built in Romania under licence from the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), and cannot be taken out of Romania as it is considered part of national heritage. ($1 = 0.8207 euros)