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The Buick Roadmaster Tom Cruise drove in ‘Rain Man’ is up for sale

<i>United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock</i><br/>Dustin Hoffman (left) and Tom Cruise in the 1988 movie
United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstoc
United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock
Dustin Hoffman (left) and Tom Cruise in the 1988 movie "Rain Man"

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business

It wasn’t exactlyThe Fast and the Furious” — pretty much the opposite — but the 1988 Oscar winning film “Rain Man” featured cars as an integral part of the story. And the movie’s most famous car, a 1949 Buick Roadmaster, is up for auction.

The beige convertible has been owned by star Dustin Hoffman since production of the film finished, and it’s expected to sell for between $150,000 and $250,000, according to the auction firm Bonhams. The car is being offered at an auction in Arizona on January 27.

“Rain Man” was, essentially, a road trip movie. In the film, Charlie Babbitt, played by Tom Cruise, is an exotic car importer facing a financial squeeze when he finds out that his long-estranged father has just died.

After flying to Ohio, where he grew up, he finds out that his father has left him only two things in his will: some prize-winning rose bushes and the Roadmaster, the very car that had been at the center of their final falling out.

“Only 8,000 production models made,” he tells his girlfriend as they look over the Buick. “Straight-eight. Fireball eight. First full year of the DynaFlow Transmission.”

Later, as he tries to figure out who received the rest of the $3 million inheritance, Charlie goes to a residential facility for people with developmental disabilities. There, a bother Charlie never knew he had reveals himself by talking about the car.

Raymond Babbitt, played by Hoffman, has autism. He gives that same short speech, evidently one recited many times by their father, but Raymond says “8,095 production models made.” The oddly specific — and genuinely accurate — production number offers the first clue to Raymond’s gift for perceiving and recalling numbers, something that becomes a major point in the movie.

Charlie sneaks his new-found brother out of the institution and takes him on a trip to Los Angeles. Raymond’s refusal to fly in an airplane or even to ride on an interstate highway forces them into a 1940s-style backroads trip in the classic car.

Rain Man won the Best Picture Oscar in 1989. Hoffman also won for Best Actor, Barry Levinson for Best Director and Ronald Ross and Barry Morrow for Best Screenplay for their work in “Rain Man.”

The specifications given for the Buick during the film are correct. It really does have a straight-eight engine, meaning the cylinders are arranged in a straight line rather than angled outward in a V formation, as is typical on many cars now. And the car really does have a two-speed DynaFlow automatic transmission, a feature that also would have been a particular point of pride in 1949. “DynaFlow” is even written in chrome on the side.

“Those straight-eights that Buick built back then were known for their incredible smoothness and durability,” said Bob Boniface, currently head of Buick design and classic car aficionado. “It was a great motor.”

In that era, Buick was also the most progressive General Motors brand in terms of styling, Boniface said, something that’s reflected in the 1949 Roadmaster with its flowing lines and sculpted grille.

“In many ways, it was more experimental and more expressive than even the Cadillacs of the day,” he said.

The 1949 Roadmaster convertible was a special car built in limited numbers, Boniface added. It’s realistic that Sanford Babbitt, Charlie and Raymond’s father, would have cherished the car and taken good care of it. It was one of the most expensive models General Motors sold at the time. Only a few Cadillac models cost more, he said.

Two identical Buicks were used in making the film, according to Bonhams. When filming was completed, Hoffman bought one and the director, Levinson, took the other.

Hoffman’s car has been kept in storage for decades but is still in good running order, said Jakob Greisen, motor cars specialist for Bonhams. He’d recently driven the car himself. A new owner will probably want to have it thoroughly gone over before taking on any long drives, though, he said.

This car’s estimated selling price is considerably more than the $45,500 an ordinary 1949 Roadmaster convertible in good, but not excellent, condition might be worth, according to Hagerty, a company that tracks collectible car values.

Greisen concurs that the car probably would be worth about that much if not for the connection to Hoffman and the movie. He’s confident in this car’s value estimate, though.

“I bet it will do the estimate. I’m quite sure of that,” he said. “Because of the provenance.”

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