I’m surprised I’ve never heard this story before; it’s hardly been a secret, but somehow I’ve missed it. If a painful Volkswagen Beetle geek like me missed it, then I can only assume many of you better-adjusted people have as well, so I think the story is worth retelling. It’s the story of an old Beetle that ended up being worth about a half billion dollars because of Domino’s Pizza.
The story behind the half-billion-dollar-bug is the story of the origin of Domino’s Pizza, the ubiquitous pizza delivery chain that, if you say you’re not familiar with, you’re lying. Domino’s was founded by two brothers—Tom and James Monaghan, who, back in 1960, bought a small pizzeria called DomiNick’s for a mere $500 down, which would still be absurdly cheap even in today’s dollars: about $4,200.
The brothers borrowed another $900, and got a 15-minute lesson in pizza-making from Dominick. Tom was having trouble paying for school at the University of Michigan, so he had to drop out, and as a result was pretty dedicated to working in the pizza restaurant.
The plan was for Tom and James to each work half-nights. That ended up not working out because James had a full-time job as a mailman that was paying better and more steadily than the fledgling pizza gig. So, after about eight months, James had enough of struggling with the pizzeria, so he asked Tom to buy him out.
Tom agreed, and bought out his brother by giving him the restaurant’s delivery vehicle, a 1959 Volkswagen Beetle.
A 1959 Beetle sold for $1,625 new, about $14,000 at the time. Still a cheap car. In 1961, a ‘59 Beetle would have held much of its resale value, so figure the modern equivalent would be a value of, oh, $12,000 or so, let’s say.
Between 1961 and 1999 a lot of growth happened for Domino’s Pizza, which was named by one of Monaghan’s delivery drivers when they realized they could no longer use Dominick’s name. When Tom sold 93 percent of his shares in 1999, he was paid $1 billion.
Half of those shares he sold were his brother’s, purchased for that 1959 Beetle. That means the value of that 50 percent stake went up from around $12,000 adjusted dollars to about $500 million.
Old air-cooled Beetles have been selling for plenty at auction (Hagerty says around $30 grand), but you’d have to hang onto one until around the time the sun becomes a red giant to hit that $500 million mark.
So, there it is: this old ‘59 Bug may be the most valuable VW ever. Because of pizza, and what was likely a very regrettable decision.
It’s also worth noting that Tom Monaghan was also quite a car collector himself, with interesting tastes. He seems to have a fondness for AMCs, using Javelin delivery cars in the early days, and later bought George Barris’ custom AMX car.
He eventually amassed a 244-car collection, including Dusenbergs, Bugattis, and the Packard that ferried FDR to his inauguration.
Incredibly, none of those cars ended up being worth as much as that humble little Beetle.