How Much for Rudy Ragtop?

Cute but piddly trinkets have a way of appreciating wildly in value in the hands of cultish collectors. Take ChevronTexaco’s little toy car models. Since the Wunderman creations rolled out seven years ago, more than 20 million have been sold at Chevron gas stations throughout the country—at the low, low price of just $6.95. But have a gander on eBay today, and you’ll find “vintage” models of Tyler Taxi, Tony Turbo and Kelly Kompact—complete with eyes that move and doors that open—going for many times that price.

The cars have been featured in Chevron TV spots from Young & Rubicam since 1996. Gene Knapp, svp and group account director at Wunderman in Chicago, said the cars popped up on eBay shortly after the debut of the first model, Sam Sedan. Wunderman handles retail promotions for the model cars and created the Web site around them,

At last check, 103 of the cars were listed on eBay, including the two ice-cream-truck models—Chandler Chip (shown here) and Summer Scoop—which made their debut this year. The highest bid we saw for a single car was $51; Knapp says he once saw one going for $212.

“We’ve developed an emotional relationship with the Chevron consumer,” Knapp says. “It’s all about putting smiles on people’s faces.”

The next car to come off the assembly line will be Hope 2003, due in October. (Proceeds from that model will be donated to breast-cancer research.) Later in the fall, Riley Roadster will get its motor running. Riley will appear in a Y&R commercial that breaks Sept. 1.

Knapp is in a privileged position. He doesn’t have to go online and haggle with the clawing masses to get his hands on the prized vehicles. “I’m sitting in an office full of them,” he says, laughing, adding that he has many more at home, along with various T-shirts and buttons. “People approach me in public, on airplanes … when I wear the T-shirts,” he says.