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Sold: '75 Escort, low mileage, 1 driver (the pope)

Texan buys car of John Paul II for $690,000

LAS VEGAS -- A light blue 1975 Ford Escort GL once owned by Pope John Paul II sold for $690,000 yesterday to a Houston multimillionaire who said he plans to put it in a museum he wants to build in his hometown.

''To me, it's a piece of history," said John O'Quinn, 62, a Baptist who said he has a collection of about 600 vehicles. ''What a great human being Pope John Paul was."

Built 30 years ago at a Ford plant in Cologne, Germany, the car sold yesterday in what auctioneer Dean Kruse said was original papal condition -- no hubcaps, no air conditioning, no radio, but with several nicks and dents.

''The car will never be driven," said O'Quinn, who said that at least temporarily it will be warehoused with his other cars. ''But hopefully, in my life, I'll be able to go back and touch this car and feel the pope's spirit."

O'Quinn, a lawyer who made a fortune in a multibillion dollar Texas tobacco settlement, outbid least seven other would-be buyers.

''I'm so glad it will be preserved," he said.

The seller, Jim Rich, 41, of Sugar Grove, Ill., became emotional about giving up the car to pay bankruptcy debts to his father.

''I've been smothered by greed and courts," he said.

Rich bought the car for $102,000 at an auction in 1996, and said he promised the pope that he would display the vehicle proudly at his Chicago West restaurant and never part with it.

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