In the collector car world, there are two major auction “happenings” in the U.S., both named after their locales: the Monterey (CA) auctions every August, and the Scottsdale (AZ) ones in January. All the major auction companies attend, and spend most of the week in an attempt to outdo each other with number of lots, featured consignments, and dollar totals.
Both are watched carefully by hobbyists, media, and pundits, and each has been known to act as a bellwether for the health of the classic car hobby. (We myopic Americans also quickly forget that similar events in the rest of the world perform a similar function, but because they’re “over there” their significance is easily ignored.)
With the more upscale auction houses due to begin dropping the hammer in a few days, I thought it might be educational and entertaining to select one car from each of the “Big 3”, and predict its end result. As it turns out, I have chosen one British, one German, and one Italian car. They are all personal favorites of mine, and I’ve made a habit of following their recent sales trends.
All three are listed as “no reserve” sales, meaning they will sell to the highest bidder. Pre-sale estimates are provided, and auction houses tend to be notoriously optimistic with them, presuming it will encourage bidding. From my observations, many no-reserve cars sell below estimate.
In alphabetical order by auction company:
Bonhams: 1978 Porsche 928, Lot #11, selling Thursday
The car has 21,000 original miles, it’s a stick shift, in beautiful condition, but would you look at those colors! Porsche 928s have long been derided among marque enthusiasts who disdain anything that isn’t air-cooled. Part of the contempt for the model may stem from Porsche’s initial claim that the 928 would “replace” the 911, which the company intended to drop. It didn’t work out that way.
After years of sales languishing in the $5,000-8,000 range for a driver-condition one, enthusiasts have rediscovered the car. That doesn’t make it valuable, though. This one is a first-year edition with the (in)famous Pasha interior, and if you’re not familiar, check out the photos! The only 928s selling for numbers close to this estimate are the final versions from the early 1990s. Still, this car will have its fans.
This body style had its debut in 1966 as the Duetto. Its styling was initially considered controversial, coming after the achingly beautiful Giulietta spiders. But The Graduate movie helped put the car into the minds of mainstream America, at least as much as was possible for a semi-affordable Italian two-seater.
Because of its struggles in meeting U.S. emission standards, Alfa Romeo offered no 1968 models for sale here (ditto for 1970). This 1969 spider dropped the Duetto name in favor of “1750 Spider Veloce”. Displacement was up, fuel injection was added to keep the EPA bureaucrats happy, but the basic body shape would live on for a short while longer until the ram bumpers were bolted on.
Really fine Duettos have soared recently to $40,000. Most Alfisti prefer the carbureted Duettos over the Spica-injected later models. This car is gorgeous but the pre-sale estimate is out of whack, and is more appropriate to a perfect late ‘50s-early ‘60s Giulietta.
The Jaguar E-Type (also known as the XKE in the USA) is often singled out as one of a small handful of collector cars considered a blue-chip investment. Stunningly beautiful and universally admired when new, E-Types were not just a pretty face, with power and speed to back up its feline curves.
The so-called Series I cars were sold from 1961-1968; the year 1969 brought the first significant styling changes to what became known as the Series II cars, mainly to the bumpers and exterior lights. The Series III cars, made from 1971 through 1974, were all built on an extended wheelbase; many had auto trannies. Under the hood was Jaguar’s V12 which added lots of torque and lots of complexity.
Time has firmly decided in favor of the Series I cars as the most pure and most valuable; the Series III cars have their fans for those who like power; and the Series II cars have become “the affordable E-Type”, with affordable a relative word in this context.
This RM car is a beautiful restoration, and an award winner, but it’s a Series II car. Those who want an XKE and have no price ceiling will seek a Series I. I personally am a fan of the pale primrose color here, but I’ve read that many are not. The pre-sale estimate is slightly optimistic.
RICHARD’S PREDICTION: $95,000
What do you think? Are the estimates accurate? How off-base am I? Send in a comment with your own sale price predictions.
Friday was Day Two of the RM Sotheby’s Auction at the Hershey Lodge (located of course in downtown Chocolate World). In contrast with Thursday’s auction, the cars were a mix of pre- and post-war (still dominated by the former), and some of the lots had reserves this time around. The performance of the pre-war iron was again impressive, with the cars selling for decent money, proving that there is still a market for ’20s and ’30s era vehicles. Friday also had a smattering of imports scattered amongst the American marques.
As we’ve seen at every auction lately, Friday’s offerings included an estate sale, with a large poster proclaiming “The Complete Collection of Jack Dunning, Offered Entirely Without Reserve”. Presumably, Jack has either passed on and his heirs don’t care, or, he needed to liquidate and he didn’t care. I didn’t stick around long enough to witness any of Jack’s wares sell, but if you’re interested, RM has the results posted here.
I did watch the first dozen and a half or so cars go in, up, off, and back. The fine ground crew decided to start and drive most of these cars, so that treat was enjoyed after missing out on it the previous night. Of the vehicles I watched, only one failed to sell: a ’55 Chrysler C-300 (first year of the legendary 300s), which was bid up to $50,000 against a $70,000 estimate. Me thinks the right number is right in between.
Overall, I do believe that RM Sotheby’s puts on an excellent auction. They work hard at it, and frankly, it shows. I’ve been fortunate to be a first-hand spectator at auctions by Bonhams, Barrett-Jackson, Carlisle, and Mecum, all of which are fine auction companies in their own right. But I’ve seen their hits and misses. RM seems to be the most consistent of the bunch.
Below is a selection of Friday’s sales, arranged in ascending hammer price order. The prices shown are exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium.
Anyone who thinks that the collector car hobby is on the decline, or who at least proposes that the pre-war segment in particular is as dead as these vehicles’ original owners, was not in attendance as I was at the October 2019 two-day auction held by RM Sotheby’s in Hershey PA. As they have for probably the last 10 years, RM contracted with the Hershey Lodge to host the event, and it was scheduled to coincide with the AACA Hershey Fall Meet.
The auction results I observed made it crystal clear that the hobby is as strong as ever; and anyone suggesting that “no one is in the market for anything built before ______” (insert the post-war model year of your choice) is not cognizant of the facts.
The facts are these: the Thursday portion of the auction was the liquidation of the Merritt Auto Museum of Nebraska. No explanation was given for its closing, but the 107 vehicles on offer were all pre-war, and all were offered at no reserve. The catalog provided the auction house’s pre-sale estimates, and much of the pre-auction excitement boiled down to this: would the supposed indifference to such aged lots result in low-dollar sales? Or would the no-reserve format drive the bidding to numbers close to or above the estimates?
I stuck around long enough to personally observe 33 lots cross the block. Of those 33, 21 sold within or above their estimates; 13 lots sold below (and of those 13, two were “replicas”, and one was a sedan rebodied as a phaeton). It was an impressive performance, and with possibly very few exceptions, no one “stole” any automobiles. This chart shows those 33 vehicles (buckboards were clearly the hot attraction of the night):
Note that the indicated “hammer” price is exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium.
Thursday’s show also differed from other RM at Hershey auctions because every lot was pushed into and out of the building. In previous years, one of the thrills for me (and a reassurance to the bidding audience) was the visual acknowledgement that the cars started and ran. Whether the pushing was done for expediency or to spare our lungs was not stated; and while all the vehicles looked cosmetically fresh (I’d rate every vehicle a 3+ or 2- in condition), I did overhear the handlers state “watch out, that one has no brakes” several times.
Below are selected photos from Thursday’s auction. The vehicles below are arranged in order of HAMMER PRICE, from lowest to highest. Due to the size of this report, I will break out Friday’s auction results as a separate blog post.
Lot 163, 1902 Olds Curved Dash Replica, sold for $3,500, 42% below its pre-sale low estimate of $6,000
Lot 186, 1914 Buick Roadster, sold for $13,000, 35% below its pre-sale low estimate of $20,000
Lot 181, 1923 Willys-Knight Roadster, sold for $13,000, 48% below its pre-sale low estimate of $25,000
Lot 179, 1930 Marquette Phaeton (rebodied sedan), sold for $14,500, 3% below pre-sale low estimate of $15,000
Lot 168, 1933 Essex Terraplane, sold for $17,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $15-25,000
Lot 184, 1913 Maxwell Roadster, sold for $18,500, within its pre-sale estimate of $15-25,000
Lot 180, 1933 Essex Terraplane, sold for $20,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $20-30,000
Lot 178, 1929 Ford Model A Phaeton, sold for $22,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $20-25,000
Lot 201, 1928 Franklin Depot Hack, sold for $22,500, 25% below its pre-sale low estimate of $30,000
Lot 185, 1912 Detroiter Speedster, sold for $25,500, within its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000
Lot 206, 1932 Pontiac Coupe, sold for $26,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $25-35,000
Lot 195, 1932 LaSalle sedan, sold for $30,000, 14% below its pre-sale low estimate of $35,000
Lot 187, 1923 Packard Runabout, sold for $34,000, within its pre-sale estimate of $30-40,000
Lot 202, 1936 Cord 810 Westchester sedan, sold for $37,500, 25% above its pre-sale high estimate of $30,000 (it was announced on the block that engine had a cracked cylinder head)
Richard’s Car Blog continues to provide the only online auction reports with:
Multiple pictures of each car;
Results in sale price order; and
Timely posts within days of auction end.
Carlisle Auctions held its spring 2019 event on Thursday and Friday, April 25 and 26, 2019. As a sign of its increasing success, auction start times were moved up to 12 noon on both days, compared to 2pm in previous years.
Each day’s run sheets had about 225 vehicles on them, and the necessity of staging 450 cars and trucks had the Carlisle staff again extend their parking arrangement into the Tree of Life church lot across the street. The weather held up, with only intermittent sprinkles and the briefest of downpours, and the crowds were of decent size both days.
On both Thursday and Friday, I observed the first 40 or so cars to cross the block, and things started slowly, as the sell-through rate was a none-too-impressive 46% (17 out of 37 on Thursday, and 19 out of 41 on Friday). Things picked up later, helped in part by “no reserve hour” on Thursday, which guaranteed a 100% sell-through. Like any auction, some reserves were unreasonable, some cars sold for fair money, and there were some deals to be had.
Interestingly, on Friday before the auction start, Bill Miller (who founded Carlisle Events) announced that they had “done about $2 million yesterday, and we’re hoping for 3.5 [million] today”. Around $5.5 million dollars in sales doesn’t sound too shabby for this independent auction house that has grown larger and more organized year after year (check out my 2015 and 2016 auction reports to see how far they’ve come).
Twenty-seven cars which struck my fancy are featured below, arranged in sold price from $2,000 to $24,000. For those who continue to insist that “the hobby is too expensive, and I can’t afford to get into it anymore”, note that I’ve included FIVE running vehicles which hammered below five thousand dollars.
UNDER $5,000 (5 CARS)
T161 NO RESERVE 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata, blue, black convertible top, black leather aftermarket kit looks good enough to be mistaken for factory upholstery. 158,000 miles on odometer. Paint looks very good for age and mileage. Entire car let down by gaudy chrome wheels which are about 6” larger than factory. Underhood looks decent, shocked to see that brake fluid appears to have been recently serviced. Ugly wheels are an easy fix.
SOLD FOR $2,000– Based on my observations of the first-gen (NA) used Miata market (I own a ’93), one could do a lot worse than spend 2 grand on this car. The mileage didn’t scare me as the car looked maintained. The lack of typical rust was a major positive. Spend $500 on OE wheels and enjoy it.
T163 NO RESERVE 1977 MGB roadster, burgundy, black convertible top, black leather interior, new battery, wood steering wheel is nice touch. MG alloy wheels with black wall tires. 71,341 miles on odometer is believable, no obvious rust. Engine compartment shows some tasteful mods: finned valve cover, Weber carb, header, Ansa exhaust. Fun starter car, as the rubber bumper cars gather interest with the chrome bumper cars moving up in price.
SOLD FOR $3,000- I looked at this car before it crossed the block, and knew it would sell cheaply, but this price floored me. Carlisle is not the place to sell imports. Someone got a fun British roadster at half off.
T115 1965 Chevy Corvair 4-door hardtop, gold and gold, 110 hp, Powerglide, mileage is 51,554, sign on car alleges original mileage. Fake wire wheels, ugly black rub strip down sides, rear luggage rack can double as pizza warmer. Bucket seats. Alternator drive belt off its pulleys (a common Corvair conundrum). Car shows no signs of maintenance or care. Entire car is dirty, rust in rear quarter panels.
SOLD FOR $3,200- The 2nd gen Corvairs (1965-1969) are beautiful, and have collector interest, but primarily the 2-door coupes and convertibles. Even at this price, I see no upside here.
T192 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce, triple black, Alfa Romeo alloys, blackwall tires. Odometer is 77,000. Paint shows well, rear rubber duck tail blends well with paint. Some spotting in paint near fuel filler. Underhood could use a detailing, but no obvious defects.
SOLD FOR $4,000- Like Lot T163, the MGB, this result is a shock. While these Alfas are known to rust, this one looked clean and straight (full disclosure: I did not get on my knees and peek under it). The deal-breaker for me was the black paint/black top/black interior (WHO orders a convertible like that??) Even so, this was a dirt-cheap entry fee into the Alfa club.
F407 1984 Old Cutlass Supreme Brougham 2-door formal coupe. Light cream paint, dark red half-vinyl roof, red velour “loose pillow” interior. V8, automatic. Olds alloy wheels and trim rings, Mastercraft tires. One of the last RWD Cutlasses. Funny lights added to grille; rear spoiler detracts from formal look. Odometer reads 55,892 which looks accurate. Outside is OK, no obvious defects. Olds Club of America decal! A little dirty inside. Both doors along bottom inside edges show filler and paint as if to head off some early rust, not showing through outside. Yet.
NO SALE AT HGH BID OF $3,700- auctioneer announced that reserve is $5,000. Website says car sold for $4,000.Seller obviously came to his senses and sold the car $1,000 below his reserve. Even with the door rust, which might lie dormant, buyer got a reliable, good-looking and good-sized American car that has another 100,000+ miles remaining in it before any serious work is needed.
$5,000 TO $9,000 (8 CARS)
T117 1965 Ford T-Bird 2-door hardtop, dark green, black vinyl roof, landau bars, full wheel covers, whitewall tires. Mileage is 21,966, best guess is to add a “1” to the front of that. Car is dirty on outside, hard to determine paint condition. Underhood is a complete disaster. Interior is light gold or green, hard to tell as interior has faded to various autumnal shades. Factory A/C, driver’s door panel torn and taped, carpet worn, chrome pitted, entire interior needs a deep cleaning. There may be a decent car hiding under the mess.
SOLD FOR $5,700- I shouldn’t be shocked, but I am, at the overall condition of many of these auction cars. This T-Bird in particular rates a condition ‘4’ on the traditional 1-to-5 scale. But a weekend spent cleaning and detailing it could have brought it up to a solid #3 or even a 2-, which would have brought another $2,000-3,000 on the block. If a flipper bought it, that is exactly what he is going to do.
F532 1999 Jaguar XK8, silver, black convertible top, black leather interior. Jag alloy wheels, blackwall tires. Top looks spotless. 45,208 original miles. Some signs of wiring repairs underhood. Interior shows more wear than expected for mileage, especially driver’s seat bottom. Bland color combo, looks like nothing more than another used car.
SOLD FOR $5,900- These first generation XK8 convertibles are an auction mainstay. Most of the ones I’ve seen have higher mileage, and have been bringing around $7,000-9,000. This one had lower miles and brought less money, which is great news for the buyer and not-great news for the seller.
F421 1982 Mazda RX-7 GSL, 82040 miles, factory alloy wheels, sunroof. Metallic red, red cloth interior. Rotary engine, 5-speed transmission. Paint OK, but black on exterior glass trim has worn away in spots. Both underhood and interior are dirty. Floor mats worn out, driver’s seat bolster worn.
SOLD FOR $6,200- First-gen RX-7s have a cult following, but they have yet to bring the bucks. This one, like so many other cars here, was dirty and looked unloved. The good news is that it had not been messed with, as it retained all its factory equipment. Sale price was fair to both buyer and seller.
T105 1964 Ford T-Bird hardtop, 390/automatic, aqua, white vinyl top with landau bars, aqua interior. Odometer reads 99,556. Paint looks old, and is faded and blotchy all over. By contrast, interior is very clean except for cracks in steering wheel. Upholstery is so nice it’s likely been redone. Underhood surprisingly clean. A car to drive, or paint it to bring it up a notch.
SOLD FOR $6,300- The ’61-’66 T-Birds are favorites of mine. I prefer the ’61-63 Bullet Birds, but I wouldn’t turn down a ’64 like this one. These are large cars which float down the road. There’s nothing sporty about the driving experience, but it is luxurious. This was a fair price for a car in a nice color combo that needs paint.
T260 1954 Packard Patrician, 4-door sedan, straight 8, automatic. Green inside and out. Might be factory paint, with some blended-in repainted areas which don’t match. Full factory wheel covers, white wall tires look like bias-ply. Mileage is 45,000, sign claims that is original. Sign also claims long-term one-family ownership. Interior completely original and looks well cared for, if a bit worn and faded in places. Painted metal dash in great shape. Rear seat footrests still in place. Car oozes charm and patina. A true survivor which will be held back by its sedan body style.
SOLD FOR $7,500- I spent about 20 minutes checking out this car, and sat in both front and rear seats. While the $3,000 MGB or the $4,000 Alfa Spider are more to my taste, I’ve been smitten lately with Packards. As one friend joked, at this price, this is about a dollar a pound (a slight exaggeration). I hope this car is not restored, but is preserved. It’s a piece of rolling history.
T176 NO RESERVE 1994 Ford Mustang LX convertible, 68,077 miles. 5.0 V8, 5-speed manual, white, white top, red cloth interior, blac wall tires, luggage rack on deck. Paint could be original. Factory alloy wheels, no curb rash. One headlight is opaque. A 25-year-old survivor.
SOLD FOR $8,500- Lots of fun in a Fox-body V8 drop-top. A fair price in a quick and reliable car, AND it’s now AACA-eligible!
F471 1974 MGB-GT, 1.8L 4 cylinder, 4-speed manual. Odometer reads 46,143. Citron Green paint, black interior, seats have seat covers on them. Painted wire wheels, black wall tires. Rubber bumper car. Clean underhood. Outside relatively unmarked. Both door panels are wrinkled as if they had gotten wet. Car not modified, looks like it’s all there. Drilled holes and plugs in jambs from rustproofing treatment, “Rusty Jones” sticker verifies it.
SOLD FOR $8,500- Unusual color not to everyone’s taste, but a GT can swallow a weekend’s worth of luggage if you’re willing to give up top-down motoring. Some (including me) even prefer the looks of this over the roadster. This was no bargain, but the buyer didn’t overpay either. He got a good car that you can’t lose in a parking lot.
T116 1965 Chevy Corvair convertible, aqua, white top, black vinyl interior, odometer reads 55,260, sign on car claims that is original mileage. Fake wire wheel covers, whitewall tires. Driver’s door sagging and hitting jamb. Buckets, 4-speed manual, 110-hp engine. Fan belt sits correctly on this one.
SOLD FOR $9,000- Hopefully the door fit issue is an adjustment and not the beginning of a sagging body. Folding top and 4-speed make up for low output motor in a nice looking Corvair.
$10,500 TO $11,500 (6 CARS)
F418 1965 Ford Mustang, 2 door hardtop, white with white interior. Odo reads 03088, but windshield decal claims 24k original miles. 200 c.i. 6, 3-speed on floor, center console. Black rocker stripe not factory. Mediocre repaint, poor sealant job along windshield. White-on-white looks unusual. Driver’s seat worn, interior dirty, can of starting fluid on front floor not reassuring. Sign claims history as Southwest car, but other signs point to need to inspect undercarriage carefully.
SOLD FOR $10,500- While on the block, the auctioneer repeatedly referred to this as an “original 24,000 mile car”, yet I saw the odometer with my own eyes. I am beyond being able to rationalize the discrepancy. This actually happened once before at a Carlisle auction, when the screen’s mileage and the car’s mileage were wildly divergent. The auctioneer stopped the auction, wound it back to the top, and restarted. I hope whoever paid $10,500 for this car has a better understanding of the mileage situation than I do. NOTE: I now observe that this car is NOT on the results page of Carlisle Auction’s website. Was the deal voided?
T185 1994 Jaguar XJ-S convertible, 4.0L inline 6, automatic transmission. Dark red paint, tan top, tan leather interior, alloys, blackwall tires. Odometer is 35,000, sign claims original miles. Interior is so worn that it makes mileage claim hard to believe. Driver’s seat and door panel very worn. Another convertible parked with the top always down?
SOLD FOR $10,500- The restyled XJ-S cars like this one are an improvement over the originals, with their smoothed rear quarters and more legible instrument clusters. Like the later XK8s, these have been auction regulars too. The 6-cylinder engine has its fans among those who are put off by the complexities of 12 cylinders. The interior on this car was bothersome, but I guess it didn’t bother someone willing to spend $10,500 plus commission. I’ve seen nicer ones sell for less, but that was a few years ago.
T195 1980 Fiat Spider 2000. 2.0L inline 4, fuel injected, 5-speed manual. Red, tan top, tan vinyl interior (sign incorrectly claims it’s leather). I spoke with the seller, who recently bought the car from its original owner. Car has 20,000 original miles, and looks like a 3-year-old used car. Some swirl marks in the horizontal paint surfaces. Trunk lid got minor dent when it was shut onto something oversize. Overall, car is immaculate for a 1980 anything, much less a Fiat.
SOLD FOR $10,700- The seller, a flipper, must have stolen this from the original owner. Fiat Spiders aren’t overly valuable, but prices have crept up ever so slightly in recent years. I (wrongly) guessed there would be a reserve of around $12,000. Someone got a clean and desirable spider at a 20% discount.
T168 NO RESERVE 1972 Porsche 914, white, black targa top, black interior, repaint shows overspray in various spots. Interior is straight but spartan as all 914 interiors are. Engine is 1.7L as per online listing.
SOLD FOR $10,800- All Porsches are collectible; some are just more collectible than others. With 911s selling for $100,000+, and 356s (the more covered in dirt the better ) selling for $250,000+, what’s a poor person to do? Buy a 914, that’s what. Personally they’re nothing to look at (and white over black is as bland as it gets), but I’m told it’s like driving a go-kart on the street. Let’s hope this one gets driven.
T219 1973 Pontiac Firebird Formula 350, automatic. Odometer reads 78,614. Dark silver metallic, black interior. Outside is OK. Underhood is unkempt. Heater hoses look so old they may have been transplanted from a 1953 Star Chief. Buckets, aftermarket gauges. CB radio in center console has been there almost as long as the heater hoses.
SOLD FOR $11,250- I looked at this car because a) it wasn’t a Camaro, and b) it’s the last year of the original nose introduced in 1970, and I like that look. Most of these cars have not survived. The car had a nasty rumble to it while underway, which had me suspect undisclosed engine or exhaust mods. A similar Camaro might have sold for twice this, so the buyer did well.
T223 1986 Pontiac Fiero GT, V6, automatic, red, grey velour interior, sunroof. 10,000 original miles, and it basically looks it. Factory alloys, Goodyear blackwall tires. Some driver’s seat wear. Car’s main claim to fame is low mileage.
SOLD FOR $11,500- Fieros are starting to gain some collector interest, but even with the ultra-low miles, this result surprised me for a car with an automatic. I had it pinned to sell for half this (shows you what I know).
$13,500 TO $15,500 (4 CARS)
F438 2006 Jaguar XKR supercharged coupe. V8, automatic. Light blue metallic, light cream interior. Jaguar alloy wheels, blackwall tires. Odometer reads 35k and the car looks it. Overall clean and straight. Headliner is not falling down, a known issue on these coupes. Cassette player in dash – who besides me still has cassettes?
SOLD FOR $13,500- The XK8 convertible-to-coupe sales ratio was about 10-to-1, so it’s rare to see any coupe, much less a supercharged one. I’m not a fan of this shade of blue, but the immaculate state of the interior absolved any other sins. This was a great price on a car that can serve as an alternative to domestic air travel. I can loan you the cassettes.
T171 2002 NO RESERVE Porsche Boxster, grey, black convertible top, black leather interior. Porsche alloys, blackwall tires. H6, five speed manual. First gen Boxster with “broken egg” headlights. Sign claims 33,000 original miles. Clean inside and out.
SOLD FOR $13,500- Sold during “No Reserve” hour, this price was slightly higher than I’ve seen other Boxsters sell for recently. In its favor, it was spotless and the mileage was unusually low. But was the IMS bearing done? 😉
F442 NO RESERVE 1956 VW Beetle, green, black interior. Odometer reads 72,452. 4-cyl, 4-speed. Mix of original and custom. Black fabric sunroof, roof-mounted luggage rack looks aftermarket but period-correct. Cheap looking alloys, blackwall tires. Oval rear window and small taillights which Beetle collectors love. Front and rear bumpers without traditional over-riders. Dashboard is non-original, with additional gauges on left and “1956 Oval” sign in center. Upholstery is decent.
SOLD FOR $14,500- Did they devalue the car with customized touches? It’s hard to say, as I’m not sure of the oval window market. On one hand, this seems like a lot of money for a Beetle, but on the other hand, the car was in great shape overall, and the worst of the custom touches (wheels, luggage rack) are easily reversed. Sold at no reserve, so the market decided.
T109 1963 MGB roadster, red, red convertible top, black upholstery with red piping. Painted wire wheels, knockoffs, blackwall tires. Chrome bumpers. Underhood is clean as is interior. “Bent” shifter as early MGB’s have. Sign claims original top- were they red in ’63?
SOLD FOR $15,500- This is an early “B” (first model year was 1962) and few have survived. Car was a very nice example overall, but I question the claim that the red top is original. I can’t recall ever seeing a factory red top on any B, and besides, it looked too good to be 56 years old. Despite the top controversy, this was a fair price for a well-preserved early B.
$20,000 TO $24,000 (4 CARS)
F503 1964 Chevy Corvair Monza Spider convertible, red, tan convertible top, tan interior. Turbocharged, 150 hp. 4-speed manual, power top, bucket seats, color coordinated interior. Whitewall tires, full wheel covers. Paint looks decent, obviously repainted. AM radio plus tissue dispenser. Odometer reads 04,339, so car has over 100k. Turbo proudly sits on top of H6.
SOLD FOR $20,500- While I much prefer the 2nd gen Corvair styling, this was a very attractive car. The red against the tan really popped. I can’t recall ever seeing a tan dash in this generation Corvair, but I’ll take the owner’s word for it that it’s factory. Let the haters hate, but I’ll state that you could spend $100,000 on “that” brand’s H6 turbo, or, get this H6 turbo for 1/5 the price. I know which I’d choose.
T202 1962 MGA roadster, red, tan top, tan interior, painted wire wheels. Odometer is 02,662, so presumption is that car has over 100,000 miles. Mark II model with revised tail light location. Sign states last year of MGA. Overall, a presentable and attractive car, albeit in an older restoration.
SOLD FOR $22,500- Perhaps MGA prices are down a bit, as I thought this car would bring closer to high 20’s or even $30k. A bit of a steal. Or this audience doesn’t care about MGs.
F544 1962 Ford T-Bird, convertible, red, black top, black vinyl interior. Wire wheels, whitewall tires, “roadster” tonneau cover. Chrome around side windows pitted. 390/auto. Odo reads 59,969 miles. Interior slightly tarnished and worn, but front seats look nicer than rest of interior, possible they were reupholstered. Aftermarket speakers added. Underhood is decent; silver painted valve covers.
SOLD FOR $23,250- It’s well-known among collectors that many of these T-Bird roadsters are fakes, which is to say, the car didn’t leave the factory with the tonneau cover. Real deals command a price premium of close to double the price of an ordinary T-Bird convertible. This car was nice, but was not a factory roadster. It sold for close to average retail for the model. A “real’ roadster might have brought $50,000.
T208 1967 Ford Mustang convertible, red, white top, black interior. 289 V8, C4 automatic. Wire wheel covers with white wall tires. Wheels painted red, which is odd touch. Restored to a visibly high standard. Not a deluxe Mustang interior, but what is there is clean and straight. Gauge cluster looks especially good. 91,342 miles on odometer.
SOLD FOR $24,000- Charming color combo, on what appears to be a recent restoration. 1967 is my favorite Mustang year, and I especially like the interiors. This one didn’t have the deluxe interior stuff (center console, fancy door panels, chrome-trimmed seats) but was clean and presented well. The price was not unexpected for such a nice car.
“The Greatest Show on Earth”; “Automotive Mecca”; “The High Holy Days of Hershey”. The repetitive use of all these terms describes what is formally known as the AACA Eastern Fall Meet, a car show extravaganza that has been held in the quaint town of Hershey PA (“Chocolate Town USA”) since the early 1950s. This blog previously reported on Hershey in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
The Hershey Show has evolved and expanded through the decades into its current three-part form: a weekday flea market/car corral, now exclusively held on paved ground (the infamous Hershey mud is no more); a Saturday judged car show, currently held on a mostly-smooth grassy lawn; and a two-day auction conducted by RM Sotheby’s (“the official auction of AACA Hershey”).
Here we present Act II, The RM/Sotheby’s Auction.
The RM Sotheby’s Hershey Auction, a mainstay event for the last several years, is now “the official auction of AACA Hershey”. For the uninitiated, it is held on the grounds of the Hershey Lodge, about four miles from the flea market/car corral at Hersheypark.
Bidders pay $200 for an auction catalog, granting them entry into the arena. For everyone else, it’s not so bad: there’s plenty of free parking (provided you show up before the 5:30pm kickoff); a bidder’s badge is NOT required for you to walk among the cars under the tents; and outdoor loudspeakers broadcast the auctioneer’s chants and gavel smacks. Perhaps best of all, you can watch the dedicated RM staff get each of these beasts running and driving into the building. Unless you plan to bid, the real show is outside.
It’s a two-day affair, held on both Thursday and Friday, and I was there only on the first day. RM has long specialized in auctioning primarily American iron, both pre- and post-war, with a smattering of high end European vehicles thrown into the mix. If anything, by my casual observation, the American offerings have become even more mainstream (witness the ’68 Camaro, something I thought I’d more likely see at Mecum). But pre-war cars continue to rise to the top of the “sold” column (more about that in a bit).
Several auction trends continue. “Estate sales” again constituted a large percentage of cars here. There were three such named estate lots on offer, and the first of these to cross the block, the Richard L. Burdick collection, did so early on Thursday.
Mr. Burdick, a successful businessman and collector, passed away earlier this year, and obviously, his family decided that the auction method was the cleanest way to liquidate his automotive holdings. Trend #2 is to note the high percentage of “no reserve” sales, such as almost every car in the Burdick Collection.
In spite of what some perceive as a softening in the collector car hobby, the auction houses hold a good amount of power: they have continued to demonstrate their ability to move the metal (especially noteworthy in our digital-rich age); they can arrange for cars to be brought to the auction site; and they may even include some auction prep work (for the appropriate fee).
In exchange for the advertising, marketing, host location, and expected bidders, the auction company can state that all this is done on the condition of a no-reserve sale. It’s positioned as a win-win-win: the car is sold to an exuberant new owner, the seller/estate gets paid, the auction company earns its slice, and everyone goes home happy. And that’s not a bad thing! Bidders and observers alike find it a special treat to see a no-reserve car climb the block, knowing that the car is guaranteed to sell.
If no-reserve sales have potentially pushed down values, no one is seen complaining. The reality is that both buyer and seller may be happier with a guaranteed sale at 80% of perceived value compared to no sale at 100% of perceived (and unachieved) value. (Two days after the auction ended, RM Sotheby’s rightly bragged about their 94% sell-through rate.)
Staying on values, much has been written about the ups and downs of market values, driven in no small measure by collectors of various ages entering and leaving the hobby. For example, we know that Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1962, collect the cars of their youth. As the oldest Boomers leave the market, it’s said, then the cars they’ve been chasing (in this case, American cars of the early-to-mid ‘50s) drop in value. To some extent, that has been true. Many American cars of that time period hit their value peak a few years back, and while they are certainly not worthless, prices have dipped.
The other side of the curve has seen demand (and therefore values) rise for cars of the ‘80s and ‘90s as young entrepreneurs and executives, dripping with newfound wealth or at least some disposable income, snap up the cars whose posters adorned their bedroom walls. We’ve seen it with everything from Fox-body Mustangs to Lamborghini Countachs.
If we follow this logic, then it should stand to reason that most cars built before World War II would have little or no following, and I’ve heard that uttered by more than one pundit. Let’s do the math: a 1934 Lincoln should be attractive to someone who got their driver’s license that year. He or she could probably barely afford a used Model T, but they lusted for that Lincoln (or Packard, Cadillac, Duesenberg, etc.). Someone who turned 18 in 1934 was born in 1916. If alive today (unlikely), that person would be 102 (and if I’m wrong, Happy Birthday).
Reality at RM Hershey is this: of the top 10 highest-priced cars which sold, NINE were pre-war (the only exception a 1960 Plymouth Fury convertible). Here is a quote from the email I received from RM:
“… top honors going to the 1930 Cadillac V-16 Roadster, which exceeded its pre-sale estimate and achieved a final price of $495,000. Other strong results for American classics included a 1941 Packard Custom Super Eight One Eighty Convertible Victoria by Darrin, which reached a final price of $357,500, and a 1934 Lincoln Model KB Convertible Sedan by Dietrich, which exceeded estimate at $286,000.”
So who is buying these cars? My own theory is that the great American pre-war classics are being purchased by a variety of well-heeled collectors of no particular age group. They see these cars as transcending any pre-ordained value curve. Instead, the cars have been elevated to a status of collectability akin to fine art: they are admired for their style, grandeur, and place in history. Whether the purchaser remembers this car from an earlier time is of no consequence. Just as someone with means may decide to grab a vase, table, or piece of jewelry from a time long ago for its intrinsic beauty and value, automobiles from the earliest decades of the 20th century are now in that same rarefied position.
The cars featured below are a sample of the Thursday auction cars which I inspected and which sold. Hammer prices are shown exclusive of 10% buyer’s premium. (Of the 16 here, 11 hammered under estimate.)
Vehicles are arranged in ascending price order.
Lot 155, 1980 Mercedes-Benz 450SL, champagne/brown, pre-sale estimate $20-25,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $15,500
Just another used 107-platform SL, like seen so often at Carlisle and Mecum. Buyer didn’t take pre-sale bait.
Lot 172, 1969 Buick Riviera, brown, tan vinyl top, tan interior. Dealer emblem on back is from Quebec Canada. Pre-sale estimate $25-30,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $16,000
The RWD Rivs consistently sell in the mid-high teens, so price was appropriate.
Lot 171, 1989 Mercedes-Benz 450SL, white, white hardtop, black softop, pre-sale estimate $20-25,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $16,000
1989 was the last year for the 107 chassis, and they usually bring a higher price, so well-bought. May have been held back a bit by the refrigerator white color.
Lot 175, 1968 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, blue/blue, 350/automatic, “SS exterior trim” implying fakey-doo, pre-sale estimate $35-40,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $25,500
I’m no Camaro expert, but the price seemed fair for the condition.
Lot 199, 1951 Kaiser Dragon sedan, two-tone green, dragon skin upholstery, claimed 11k original miles, pre-sale estimate $35-50,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $26,000
From the Burdick collection. If you had to have a Dragon, this might have been the one to have.
Lot 176, 1959 Ford Sunliner convertible, blue/white inside and out, Continental Kit, pre-sale estimate $40-45,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $26,000
The Skyliner retractable gets all the attention; the soft-top Sunliner, with its ‘normal’ sized trunk, is arguably the better-looking car.
Lot 195, 1954 Ford Crestline Skyliner, white, blue painted top, blue interior. Glass roof, claimed “rare peek-a-boo” hood; pre-sale estimate $40-50,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $28,000
From the Burdick Collection. Claimed 13k original miles and cosmetic restoration.
Lot 173, 1969 VW Microbus camper, blue/white, “weekender” edition fully equipped for camping, pre-sale estimate $25-30,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $30,000
One of the few cars seen on Thursday to sell within estimate. VW buses continue to gain traction in the hobby, and you can even live in this one if you have to.
Lot 196, 1947 Lincoln Continental convertible, green/tan top/green, V12, one of just 738 made, pre-sale estimate $35-45,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $34,000
From the Burdick Collection. The post-war restyle did this car no favors, and neither did the color (and I like green cars, but not this green). Sold for a grand under low estimate. Cheap way to get 12 cylinders.
Lot 156, 1964 Lincoln Continental 4-door convertible, white, dark red leather, factory air, pre-sale estimate $30-40,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $35,000
Sold exactly at estimate mid-point. Clean, good looking, imposing car. Someone got a decent deal on a great cruiser.
Lot 153, 1971 Volvo 1800E, dark silver/red, pre-sale estimate $25-30,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $35,000
This was the first car to cross the block (after the automobilia). Someone got excited and paid above estimate. To my eye, the color and the alloys weren’t right. Well above market for an 1800 Coupe.
Lot 178, 1957 Olds 98 convertible, red & white in & out, J-2 tri-power, pre-sale estimate $50-60,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $47,500
1957 was a peak year for GM styling, before it went a bit haywire in ’58. This was a great-looking full-size American convertible. Well bought.
This is the only car in this report to have had a reserve. Usually, the low number on the pre-sale estimate IS the reserve, yet this sold for two grand under that. Most people who want a FWD Cord will hold out for a drop-top, but I find these sedans to be just as attractive.
Lot 179, 1954 Chevrolet Corvette, white/red, inline 6 and Powerglide as built, pre-sale estimate $60-70,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $59,500
Close enough to say that it just sold at low end of estimate. These first and second year 6-cylinder cars have their followers.
Lot 180, 1958 Jaguar XK150 Coupe, white/red, wires, pre-sale estimate $50-60,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $70,000
It was a nice-looking restoration, but these coupes don’t look as good to my eye as the convertibles. Someone saw more value here than RM did, and they may have been correct.
Lot 157, 1948 Playboy retractable hardtop/convertible, light blue, white painted top, tan interior, pre-sale estimate $55-75,000, no reserve
SOLD FOR $120,000
I’ve never seen one in the metal. It’s a sad and pathetic looking little thing, and this is coming from a former Isetta owner. It’s so rare that there may be no prior sales history, so making an accurate estimate is not possible. Whoever got it will have the only one at every show they attend.
After a summer hiatus, the blog is back! Enjoy the report on last week’s Mecum auction held in Harrisburg PA.
Mecum Auctions returned to Harrisburg PA for the fifth consecutive year, conducting its collector car and automobilia auction on August 2, 3, and 4, 2018. This event at the Farm Show Complex just keeps getting bigger and better, proving that Mecum knows its business. I’ve been in attendance all five years, and there’s little to complain about (especially in comparison to my disappointment in Barrett-Jackson’s CT event of just a few weeks prior).
This year, my buddy Larry and I made it a one day out-and-back journey, and we decided that Thursday would be the most enjoyable, as the lower-priced wares are usually on offer on Day #1. In the past, we’ve also experienced slightly smaller crowds, as many other attendees wait until Friday and Saturday so they can witness the big-buck stuff go bang on the block.
We were parked and on the premises by 9am. The doors had opened at 8, but the action wasn’t due to start until 10. We wandered among the cars in the staging tent, which would be first to cross, and made our way into the air-conditioned main hall just before the top of the hour. The size of the crowd shocked us both; there wasn’t a seat to be had, and the SRO crowds crushed the front corners. The word was out: Mecum on Thursday is a great show.
Adding to this evidence were the bidders. From the very first lot, bidders weren’t holding back. Bidding was loud and quick, paced by lead auctioneer Jimmy Landis’ style, which could be summarized as “Hey folks, we have 330 cars to sell today, and I’m gonna spend about a minute or so on each car, so pay attention!” He did, literally, spend about one minute or so per lot for the reserve cars.
A big change this year was the greater number of no-reserve lots (which kept the sell-through rate high). For these, the auctioneer had no concern about meeting reserve, so about 2-3 minutes were spent on each car, knowing it would sell.
No-reserve cars, as has been mentioned in previous posts on this blog, can cut two ways. If it’s a less desirable car, or if the right people aren’t in the room, cars can fall through the cracks, and buyers can get a potential deal. But, bidders know that a no-reserve car is guaranteed to sell, and it only takes two determined bidders to drive the price up. From my casual observations, very few of the no-reserve cars were “great deals”; most seemed to sell at or slightly above their value. (Although not photographed by me, and therefore not included in the reported results below, we watched not one but TWO Buick Rivieras, a ’79 and an ’81, sell for Two Thousand Dollars each. Yes, each drove under its own power on and off the block.)
One other trend, not unique to Mecum, was on full display here: the sell-off of “estate” collections. “The Samuel & Rhea Kline Collection”;“The Peery Family Collection”; and “The Berry Mountain Estate Collection Offered at No Reserve” were three such offerings. All of us in the hobby know it’s changing, and not necessarily for the better. As older collectors become unable to tend to their stables, or pass on, families face decisions about selling the old man’s cars. A stark reality is that their next-of-kin has no interest in a bunch of old jalopies, so those responsible for liquidation are turning to auction houses. If there is a silver lining, it’s that younger collectors have the chance to snap up some deals. Look through these results and decide for yourselves if that’s the case. (Warning: the condition of some of these cars is not for the faint-hearted.)
Below is a small sample of vehicles of interest which sold on Thursday, along with my personal observations for each. Sale prices are hammer prices, and are therefore exclusive of the 10% buyer’s premium. No Reserve lots are noted as such. And finally, as we do here on Richard’s Car Blog, these cars are arranged in price order, to give you a sense of what your pennies can buy.
$6,000 to $6,500:
Lot T101, 1991 Honda Beat convertible
Sold for $6,000
Japanese “kei class” car, never officially sold in U.S., now over 25 years old, so legal for import. Three-cylinder mid-mounted engine, 5-speed manual. Yellow, black convertible top and interior. From my research, all Beats had zebra-stripe seat upholstery and floor mats, both missing here. High miles (147,000 MILES, per sticker). Overall look is somewhat worn, with rust bubble on rear decklid. Cute, unique, but you might have wanted to hold out for a better example.
Lot T29, 1973 VW Beetle convertible, No Reserve
Sold for $6,500
White paint, white interior, top color not noted. Sign on car claims new tires and new chrome. Overall look is of a presentable car. This no-reserve car was potentially a great deal, provided the rust has been kept in check. And let’s for once and for all stop saying that you’re priced out of the hobby, as this would be a wonderful first collector car.
Lot T257, 1976 Alfa Romeo spider
Sold for $6,500
Red, black top, black interior redone in leather. Aftermarket lace style wheels looked good. Paint faded and swirled. Sliding my hand along passenger side rocker panel revealed ability to insert fingers into rust holes. This is a Series 2 spider, with Kamm tail, big bumpers, and Spica fuel injection. Alfa spiders have been climbing in value in recent years. Given the rust, the best bet here is to drive and enjoy. Any attempt at restoration will put you underwater.
Lot T19, 1989 Dodge Shadow Shelby CSX coupe
Sold for $6,500
Laugh if you want, but this is a real Shelby. Misleadingly listed as a “Dodge”, this was one of, if not the last car that ol’ Carroll developed for his buddy Lee at Chrysler. It was the first production car to use a variable-vane turbo, which didn’t need a wastegate, and eliminated turbo lag. FWD, 2.2L 4, 5-speed manual. In 1989, only 500 were built, all of them red with grey interior. No visible rust, one decent repaint, and it has avoided being modded to death. This one was missing its front spoiler and side skirts, but they are available. Interior with optional factory Recaro seats was well preserved. Mecum sold the same ’89 CSX 3 times in 2014, between $4,000 and $5,000. I thought this one, the 19th car across the block, might fly under the radar. Someone got a very unique and fun Shelby for very little money.
$8,000 to $9,000:
Lot T28.1, 1998 Jaguar XK8 convertible
Sold for $8,000
The mileage wasn’t noted, but many of these seen at auctions have close to 100,000 miles on them. This one, in a nice color combo, looked clean overall. Interior wasn’t shot, which is about the best thing that can be said for this 2nd year example. Cheap fun until the first big repair bill comes due.
Lot T109, 1993 Chevrolet Corvette coupe
Sold for $8,500
When we first entered the main hall at 10am, we saw lots T12 and T13, two C4 Corvettes, apparently being sold by the same owner. I overheard him telling a prospective bidder: “I need to get my reserves, or these are coming home with me”. His ’88 sold for $7,750, and his ’95 sold for $9,000, so his reserves were reasonable. Lot T109 was arguably the nicest of all the C4s at the event. The aqua paint, which looked blue in photos, was more attractive in person. Whether original or a repaint, there wasn’t a mark on it. The white interior was a nice contrast, and unlike most C4s, the seats weren’t beat. The mileage was reasonable at 78,000. The only thing holding this one back was the automatic, but on a Corvette, that may not be as much of a factor. When this one hammered for $8,500, I declared it one of the best buys of the day. C4 Corvettes continue to be performance bargains; good for buyers, not great for sellers.
Lot T235, 1956 Packard 400 2-door hardtop, No Reserve
Sold for $9,000
The ‘56s were the last “true” Packards, as the ‘57s were restyled Studebakers. The 400 coupe rode on a 127” wheelbase, 5 inches longer than the Cllipper and Executive coupes. The 400 also had the larger 374 c.i. V8 making 290 horsepower. This car appeared to be all there, with nothing obvious missing or modified. The paint could charitably be called tired. This one was fun to watch, as all the action took place literally two seats away from me. A man in the row in front of me was holding the high bid of $8,000. When the auctioneer asked for $9,000, the man behind him (and next to me) raised his hand, and seconds later, the car was declared sold. This was a lot of car for $9,000. Having driven one, a ‘50s Packard is on my bucket list.
$10,500 to $13,500:
Lot T227, 1984 Porsche 928
Sold for $10,500
With classic Porsche 911 prices climbing so that only one-percenters can afford them, those who want to scratch their Stuttgart itch have turned to other models: 914, 924, 944. A few years ago, the 928 was the laughingstock of the lot. Overweight, overcomplicated, 80% of them saddled with automatics, the word on the street was to run away. The few which crossed auction blocks had crazy high mileages (150,000 was not unusual), or lacked any maintenance records. How things change over the course of a few years. Today, asking prices for 928s are 50-100% higher than they were about 5 years ago. However, there is still quite a pecking order, driven by year, equipment, and condition. This ’84 had the automatic, was in decent colors, and unlike many 928s, had an interior that didn’t need a complete re-do. The mileage wasn’t recorded, but the hammer price got you entry into the Porsche club at a number that’s hard to duplicate with any other model.
Lot T138, 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Monza coupe, No Reserve
Sold for $13,500
Most car guys I talk to see the Corvair as an anomaly. “Yeah, I like Chevys. Give me a mid-sixties Impala coupe, or any Malibu from ’68-’72. Corvairs? They’re for weirdos.” And even those who appreciate its quirky engineering prefer the 2nd generation cars from ’65-’69. But there was no denying the appeal of this 1st gen coupe. The sign on the car stated that it has 20,000 original miles, a believable statement based on its condition. Except for several chips on one rear quarter, the paint was unmarked. So too was the interior, with its buckets and automatic shift lever sticking out of the dash. The sale price was high for a Corvair without a folding top, but its originality and condition made it a good deal for those who like their Chevys weird.
$22,500 to $24,000:
Lot T127, 1957 Ford Thunderbird, No Reserve
Sold for $22,500
Two-seat T-Bird values have gone nowhere in the last, oh, twenty years or so. Sale prices are completely driven by condition, and perhaps there’s a dwindling audience for these faux sports cars. On the other hand, if you want one, attend an auction and be patient. Of the 3 model years from 1955-1957, the ‘57s have their fans (this writer included). This one, in bland colors, looked like an older restoration. On the positive side of the ledger, it had PS, PB, and the engine dress-up kit. But the engine compartment needed a good detail. The no-reserve price was a bit light, so let’s hope the new owner drives it and enjoys it rather than worries about future values.
Lot T303, 1964 Buick Wildcat convertible
Sold for $23,000
As one buddy of mine learned, it’s the Fords and Chevys, and not their fancier stablemates, which tend to bring the big bucks. It seems counter-intuitive, but higher-priced marques such as Pontiac, Buick, and Mercury are less desirable simply because fewer of them were sold new. Case in point: this ’64 Buick. Here was a full-size sixties American convertible, in nice shape, in desirable colors, selling for 2/3 what a similar Chevrolet would hammer for. This one sold for the exact same number as shown in CPI for an “excellent” car, so I’ll call it fair to buyer and seller.
Lot T107, 1956 Ford Thunderbird
Sold for $24,000
At first glance, this one looked nice: Fiesta red (almost flamingo) with red & white interior, decent engine compartment with dress-up kit, and both tops. But looking past the ’56-only Continental kit (making it my least-favorite of the ’55-’57 Birds), the paint was simply shot. There would be little choice but to expend for a complete strip and respray. This one was expensive, especially compared to the ’57 covered above.
In the world of collector car auctions, Barrett-Jackson is the juggernaut: the biggest, loudest, most sensational extravaganza of classic and special-interest cars bought and sold in a public space. Or so you would be led to believe, based on the extensive TV coverage that the brand has managed to manipulate to its maximum advantage.
Mecum may hold a greater number of events; Bonhams may sell more high-dollar cars; Russo & Steele may run multiple auction blocks simultaneously; but Barrett-Jackson has captured and held onto the public’s imagination as THE place to go for ultimate auction thrills.
Aside from video exposure, a factor which has added to this allure is B-J’s no-reserve policy. Almost 100% of their lots are sold without reserve, meaning that the high bidder gets the car. (Very recently, B-J did begin to allow a small selection of reserve cars.) Of course, this only increases the drama when you KNOW the car is going to sell. None of this “whaddaya mean it didn’t meet reserve”. It’s always good for the buyers, and given the unrelenting supply of consigned vehicles, one would presume that sellers are satisfied too.
Phoenix has been B-J’s home for decades, and they’ve expanded from there into Las Vegas and Palm Beach. Three years ago, they launched their Northeast Auction, situated at the Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort in CT. By all accounts, this first foray into New England was hugely successful, and the Barrett-Jackson crew was back for the third consecutive year in June of 2018.
The actual auction dates were Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, June 21-23. The entry-level (read: cheapest) cars would be crossing the block the first day, so that’s the day I chose to attend. Purchasing tickets online (a 45% discount if bought in advance) meant buying them through Ticketmaster, an indication of how big they’ve gotten. Once that lovely organization was done tacking on its handling and service fees, I was out-of-pocket an additional 9 bucks. My final ticket cost totaled $35. A bidder’s pass would have cost many multiples of that.
Aside from morning rush hour traffic, getting there was easy enough, and as this was my first visit to Mohegan Sun, the initial impressions were favorable: the sprawling complex is well laid-out, with ample garage deck parking, clear signage, and a spotless infrastructure. A 9:30 a.m. arrival was well ahead of the crowds, and there was no waiting for my ticket to be scanned, granting me access to the auction building.
You would be forgiven if your initial impression was that you ended up at the wrong show. New-vehicle displays from Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge are your first sightings, along with booths selling everything from Meguiar’s to mattresses. Apparently, association with B-J makes it worth your while to display your automotive and non-automotive wares to the expected throngs.
But where are the cars? A long walk toward the rear of the complex finally brought me to the auction vehicles, arrayed in a multi-level parking deck as well as in a pitched tent outside the garage. Next question: in what order are they? Unlike almost all other car auctions I’ve attended, these cars and trucks were NOT in run order. Instead, some of them were thematically placed so that similar vehicles were grouped (Corvettes here, Mustangs there, ‘50s custom cars back yonder). While it might make for pretty pictures, it didn’t help you find the Thursday cars starting with car #1, which was my goal.
There certainly were some very nice cars on display. There were also the aforementioned “custom” cars (not my cup of tea when you take a ’65 Riviera and completely rip out its factory interior for 21st century electronics), along with late-model used cars. One such newer vehicle was a 2001 Volvo V70 T5, and I climbed in, looking for clues as to why it might be here. Suddenly, a booming voice was directed toward me: “Sir, get OUT of the car! You are NOT allowed to TOUCH, OPEN, or SIT in ANY of the AUCTION CARS!” The hired hand, a security guy wearing a “CSC Staff” shirt, made it all too clear that I had broken the law according to Barrett-Jackson.
Indeed, only then did I notice all the signs stating “Please do not touch any of the auction cars”. This rule applied to bidders too, which then begged the question: if you’re here to buy something, how do you check it out? Other auctions allow bidders to open hoods, check odometer readings, and in some cases, start the cars and turn on accessories. Not B-J. What’s up with that?
With wrists appropriately slapped, the on-site survey continued (hands behind back). Again, I asked myself, what order are the cars in? I had finally found Thursday’s car #1, but hadn’t yet spotted #2 through #10. After 90 minutes of pacing the parking areas, it was time to head to the auction block itself. The automobilia auction had started at 10am, and the cars were due to begin at 1pm. I wanted to find a seat and leave time for some lunch.
It was a longish walk, first outside, then into the bowels of the complex to get to the stage. Unbeknownst to me, the actual auction was being held in the Mohegan Sun Arena, a 10,000-seat multi-level indoor stadium usually used for sporting events and concerts (upcoming in July: Barry Manilow and Britney Spears, on different nights, thank you). Now it was time for the next surprise: ground-level seating was strictly for those with bidder’s passes – general admission ticket holders, i.e., me, were directed into the nose-bleed upper tier. From there, the auction block looked like it was several hundred feet away, because it was. So much for walking anywhere near the cars. But hearing was no problem, as the auctioneer took advantage of the 110-decibel house sound system. At least from that vantage, I could look down at the skyboxes, where the high-roller bidders had buffet tables and adult beverages as part of their several-hundred-dollar premium package.
It was time for lunch. A sandwich, bag of chips, and a soft drink for $9 wasn’t a bad deal, and there was no line at all. The cars began to cross the block. The magic number of the early afternoon was $7,500; that was the hammer price for 8 of the first 20 lots. The pace was similar to Mecum, in that cars spent an average of two minutes in the spotlight, so they moved at 30 cars per hour. Vehicle descriptions were lacking in detail; mileages were announced only if it was something favorable (“this car has 43,000 original miles!”).
Of the first 25 cars, only 9 of them broke into five figures, so if your goal was to buy a car for less than $10,000, there was ample opportunity. The flip side of that is that, to this eye, there were rather few bargains. No-reserve sales can cut two ways: a consignor is taking a chance that his car slips through the cracks and sells too cheaply. Sellers know that the car is going home with someone. But it only takes two determined bidders to push the hammer price to a level that favors the seller, and my overall impression was that the majority of Thursday’s sales did indeed favor the seller. Hey, who needs to know the service history if you can be shown on TV pumping high-fives after spending twenty grand?
I had seen over 40 cars sell, and ninety minutes is my personal limit for remaining in one place, so it was time to wander back to the garages. Cars which had crossed the block were all slapped with SOLD stickers, and conveniently, the sale price was noted on the windshields. A few more strolls back and forth between the staging area and the arena, and it was time to bring this long day to an end.
It’s very easy to look casually at the Barrett-Jackson experience and understand the attraction. There’s automotive variety; everything sells; the side shows keep even the most bored folks entertained; and it’s pumped up like it’s going to be on TV because it is.
I watched about 80 cars sell; the highest hammer price I personally observed was $42k; my guesstimate is that Thursday’s average selling price was in the $15k-20k range. If your interests lie with resto-mods, Jeeps, late-model exotics, or running projects, this could be your venue. At any auction, you’re buying a pig in a poke. At B-J, the inability of bidders to take a hands-on approach made it more so. As a non-bidder, the limited access was a bit off-putting, as that is not the case at other auctions. I’m glad I went. I can say that, yes, I’ve experienced a Barrett-Jackson auction. It’s likely that I’ll not feel the need to make a return appearance.
A sampling of Thursday’s auction cars are below, and as always, they are arranged in SALE PRICE order (dollar amounts are exclusive of the buyer’s 10% commission). Apologies for the poor picture quality; I didn’t want to carry my SLR and brought a cheap digital camera with me that did a poor job in the fluorescent lighting.
$3,000 TO $7,200:
#1, 1990 Chrysler Maserati TC convertible, sold for $3,000
Mitsubishi V6 and 4-speed automatic. An American-Italian-Japanese mash-up; I’m sure that any FCA dealership can service it for you.
#15, 1989 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, sold for $6,700
This 6-speed car wore newer Corvette wheels. Sign claimed that most of its paint was original, and listed a host of recent maintenance. This was one of the few really good deals from Thursday.
#24, 1964 MG Midget convertible, sold for $6,800
An affordable way to get a British sports car. Just check to make sure your girth lets you fit.
#25, 2002 Jaguar XK convertible, sold for $7,200
An average used exotic which sold for an average price.
THE $7,500 BUFFET TABLE:
#1.1, 1966 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, sold for $7,500
Driver’s seat upholstery worn, looked OK otherwise.
#18, 1966 Ford Thunderbird Landau hardtop, sold for $7,500
A lot of style, luxury, and fuel consumption for not much money.
#6, 1972 Plymouth Satellite, sold for $7,500
Both A-pillars bubbling with rust. Rear quarters not much better. Rebuilt 440, perhaps only good for parts.
#19, 1985 Chevrolet Corvette coupe, sold for $7,500
A clean-looking 2nd year C4 in attractive colors. No explanation why this car would have fetched more money than Lot #15, which is 4 years newer and has a drop-top.
#12, 1985 Toyota Supra, sold for $7,500
A potentially good deal on a rising Asian collectible.
$11,500 TO $14,500:
#30, 1964 Ford Falcon convertible, sold for $11,500
This six-cylinder drop-top sold for half what a comparable Mustang would have brought.
#23.1, 1986 GMC Sierra 4×4 pickup, sold for $12,000
The first of 2 GM pickups to sell for this price. Perhaps B-J is the place to buy your pickup truck, because these sell for twice this at Mecum in Harrisburg.
#37, 1987 Chevrolet Silverado pickup, sold for $12,000
Pickup trucks of all flavors were relative bargains today. Aside from its wheels (easy fix), truck looked to be done to a good original standard.
#60.1, 1953 MG TD, sold for $13,000
Worst repaint I’ve ever seen on an auction car. Literally looked like it was pulled from a garage and painted with rattle cans over dust and dirt.
#19.1, 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Hurst W30, sold for $13,000
A model infrequently seen these days, interesting RWD Hurst/Olds package looked to be all there.
#35, 1965 Plymouth Barracuda, sold for $14,500
A survivor, as most of these were long ago consumed by the tin worm. Plain exterior offset by nice interior.
$18,000 TO $20,000:
#32, 1965 Fiat 500, sold for $18,000
Got a lot of attention in the garage pre-sale, sold for more lira than most of the domestic iron that preceded it across the block.
#33, 1963 Austin-Healey Sprite roadster, sold for $18,500
The good news: the restoration work looked to be top-notch. The bad news: the 1955 Dodge LaFemme color scheme didn’t look good here. I met the winning bidder while he photographed his new toy. A 30-something hipster, he told me that he always wanted one. Hope he drives it and enjoys the attention.
#66.1, 1966 Chrysler Newport, sold for $19,000
Sign claims “rotisserie restoration” of body, rebuilt 383, and original interior. Big stylish cruiser for Mopar fans.
#58.1, 1988 Porsche 928, sold for $20,000
This was a $10,000 car five years ago. This one claimed to have 43,000 original miles.