In the divorce, the ex-wife got the car. More than 40 years later, the ex-husband was apparently still carrying a torch — for the Rolls-Royce.
It was no ordinary car. And they were no ordinary couple.
The ex-wife was the much-married Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor. The ex-husband was pop singer Eddie Fisher. The car was a 1961 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II Drophead Coupe, a convertible ordered when they were still lovey-dovey.
It came with American-style left-hand drive and was delivered in December 1960 to the couple at the Pierre, the chic Fifth Avenue hotel they called home when she was not making movies and he was not in a recording studio, hoping for another top-of-the-charts hit. Under “customer,” the original order form said “Mrs. Elizabeth Taylor Fisher.” Someone crossed that out and wrote, in capital letters, “Mr. Eddie Fisher.”
Now the car is back at the Pierre, where it will be sold Tuesday. The seller, Karl Kardel of Piedmont, California, bought it from Taylor in the late 1970s, more than a decade after she and Fisher had divorced.
Guernsey’s, the New York auction house handling the sale, expects it to go for $1 million to $2 million, well above the $600,000 to $700,000 paid for each of the last couple of Silver Cloud IIs known to have changed hands.
“The big unknown is, what does its history with Elizabeth Taylor do to the price?” said Arlan Ettinger of Guernsey’s, noting that when Christie’s sold Taylor’s jewelry and film memorabilia in 2011, bidders paid far more than the presale estimates — 50 times more, in some cases, according to Christie’s.
Kardel, 78, an architectural restoration consultant, said he had decided it was time to simplify, especially after he was hit by a car while crossing a street in Berkeley, California. He now sometimes finds walking painful.
Kardel would not say what he had paid for the Rolls. “When I bought it, my friends thought I was an idiot,” he said. “But then about four years later, the car shot up in value enormously, and I became a genius. And four years after that, the values dropped again, and I became an idiot again.”
He added, “I bought that car because I loved it, and I think it’s still one of the most beautiful cars ever made.”
Taylor referred to her Rolls as the “green goddess,” Ettinger said. The order form listed the color as “smoke green,” a color that, he added, complemented her eyes.
Of course, it has the unmistakable Rolls-Royce grille, topped by the equally unmistakable silver-goddess ornament on the hood. Of course, it has power steering — Rolls-Royce had introduced that as an option in the mid-1950s. Of course, it has power windows, another option at the time. Of course, it features a dashboard of exotic Carpathian elm burl wood. Of course, it has a 6.2-liter V-8 engine. (The fuel economy of that engine was listed at 12 mpg in an early road test by The Motor, a British car magazine.)
But this Silver Cloud II had something no other Rolls-Royce had: a little love logo. The couple’s initials — E and E, for Elizabeth and Eddie — were discreetly painted on the doors.
Before long, Fisher was gone — the scandal kept gossip columnists pounding away at their typewriters for months — and so was the logo.
For a while, anyway, Fisher apparently still had the keys to the Rolls. Soon after rumors about a Taylor-Richard Burton affair began circulating, he drove it into either a bus or a streetcar in Rome. News accounts of exactly what happened varied. The car suffered a bashed-in fender. Fisher, unhurt, watched as the car was towed off. Then he walked to the studio where “Cleopatra” was being filmed for a lunch date with his soon-to-be ex-wife.
Fisher had been Taylor’s fourth husband. Burton became her fifth in 1964, nine days after her divorce from Fisher became final. Burton was also her sixth, after they divorced in 1974 and remarried in 1975, only to divorce again nine months later.
A few years after that, Kardel heard that she wanted to sell the car. He found himself dealing with Taylor’s personal secretary. “You couldn’t ask any questions, and, no, she” — Taylor — “would not talk to you personally,” he said.
Nor was he allowed a test drive, and the secretary would not hear of bargaining about the price.
Kardel said one of his friends had known Fisher. The friend reported that Fisher missed the car and “really wanted to ride around in it again,” Kardel said. But they did not make a date before Fisher’s death in 2010 at age 82.
The men in Taylor’s life — and her chauffeurs — may have taken their turns at the wheel, but Kardel doubts that she did.
“I don’t think Elizabeth ever had a driver’s license,” he said.