Enough digital “ink” has been spilled regarding our current global pandemic’s effect on the collector car hobby that I don’t need to rehash it here. (The more serious human toll certainly puts our hobby into some perspective.) So why am I mentioning it at all? I bring it up only because there have been some rays of hope for those of us still looking for ways to enjoy it. Classic car auction companies, at least some of them, have found a path forward by switching from live events to online formats.
One cannot discuss web-based car auctions without first acknowledging the success of Bring a Trailer (www.bringatrailer.com, aka BaT). The website, which started as nothing more than a place to repost links for interesting cars found elsewhere online, began to auction vehicles several years ago. Fed by a mostly-positive and very enthusiastic comments section, they have changed the rules of engagement. One element of their business which is now blatantly copied is their two-minute anti-sniping provision. A classic complaint about eBay has been bidders with sharp reflexes (or clever computer programs) placing bids with one second remaining on the clock. Bidding would close, the so-called “sniper” would win the item, and anyone who had been willing to bid higher was shut out.
BaT, wanting to level the playing field, was I believe the first online auction company to change the game: any bid placed with two minutes or less on the clock resets the countdown clock to two minutes, giving others a chance to still bid.
Of course, when the year started, none of the major auction houses were expecting the shutdown. The pandemic’s message was: either find a new way forward, or spin your wheels while waiting out the crisis. As 2020 unfolded, with news only getting worse, one auction company in particular led the pack in switching from in-person to online, and that was RM Sotheby’s.
I’ve attended many live auctions. Whether it’s the boisterous volume of Mecum, or the understated elegance of Bonhams, there’s excitement in the air. You can touch the cars, watch them drive across the block, and feel the tension in the room as the auctioneer implores the audience to bid higher. The crowd may be milling around the block (Mecum) or may be patiently parked in their seats ready to raise paddles (Bonhams). Emotions are running high, causing some bidders to bid with their hearts and not their heads. Consigners are counting on that! Yet all that is lost in the online setting. Still, RM Sotheby’s knew they had to try, and motivated in part I would guess by BaT, they embraced this new business model by doing things they’ve never done before.
On RM’s website, the number of photographs of each vehicle has expanded, with photographers emphasizing flaws (paint chips, upholstery tears, oil stains) to avoid any post-sale surprises. Any available repair or restoration receipts are scanned and posted as PDF files. Finally, for almost every car, RM provides a condition report which lists the condition of the paint, engine, upholstery, and undercarriage using the traditional 1-to-5 scale. I’ve read a few of them, and while they’re brief, they’re also refreshingly honest. RM’s online auctions also use the two-minute extension a la BaT.
August has always been Monterey’s month: the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the multiple car auctions, and myriad number of special car shows. This week-long event in northern California is one of the biggest car-centric extravaganzas in the world, and like almost everything else this year, it’s been cancelled. RM Sotheby’s, though, is holding its “Shift/Monterey” online auction this week. Bidding opened on Monday August 10, with lots scheduled to close either on Friday the 14th or Saturday the 15th. I’ve been anxious to test the waters with RM, as I have my sights set on a future auction, so I took the plunge: I registered to bid at “Monterey”, and actually placed a bid!
The registration process was too easy: I scanned my driver’s license and a recent bank statement, provided a credit card to be used for a hold, and submitted those docs. About 15 minutes later I got an email message: “Congratulations! You’re registered to bid.” Unlike some previous auctions I’ve watched, there was no bidder’s registration fee.
There are 109 vehicles (107 cars, 2 motorcycles) and some automobilia online at Shift/Monterey. (Note that despite its name, vehicles are physically scattered around the country, an advantage for sellers who avoid transport costs; the website indicates the vehicle’s location by city and state). By RM standards, it’s not a big auction. Since I don’t intend to actually purchase a car but want to experience the process, I sought out something with a high pre-sale estimate and with a very low current bid. I found a 1947 Chrysler Town & Country sedan, listed at no reserve, with a pre-sale estimate range of $90,000-$120,000. The current bid was $3,600.
In spite of the numbers, I was still nervous. What if I won? (Sure, I’m going to get a woody Chrysler for under $5,000.) RM provides the minimum bidding increment, in this case, $100. I keyed in “$3,700”, clicked on the green “place bid” bar, and the screen changed: “Your high bid!” I got a confirmation email informing me that, for now, I was high bidder on the Chrysler. Did I mention this is a no-reserve auction? That means if NO ONE ELSE BIDS, THE CAR IS MINE. The euphoria lasted for four minutes. A new email popped in: “You Have Been Outbid”. I was further informed that the “new asking bid is $3,900”. At least I knew where I stood. As tempted as I was, I stopped.
Everything considered, the RM online bidding experience is perhaps the best it can be when you can’t be there in person. I’m frequently asked “do people really buy cars sight unseen?” Yes they do. RM’s online closing ratio is around 60-65%, which is very respectable, if not as high as it’s been at live shows. Still, I think that RM has set a fine example for conducting honest and transparent business in an online format under particularly difficult circumstances. I’ll have more to say about RM Auctions in future posts.
In the almost seven years since I sold my Isetta at an RM auction in October of 2013, I occasionally scan the automotive classifieds, both in print and online, wondering if I will come across my former car for sale. Up until a few weeks ago, that search had turned up blank.
Checking out an email I received for an upcoming RM Sotheby’s auction, I was drawn to what appeared to be an outstanding collection of Italian cars: the expected Ferraris and Alfas but also Autobianchis, Isos, and some rarely-seen Fiats. That’s when I saw it.
An all-red BMW Isetta was part of the sale. Clicking on the photos, I looked for tell-tale signs, the kinds of things that I, having owned the beast for 35 years, would recognize. (I’m fond of an expression picked up from a hobbyist friend, who says of his own car: “I know where the bodies are buried”.) Checking the chassis number was the final proof. I called my wife into the room and showed her the photos.
Wife: “How do you know it’s yours?”
Me: “It’s the chassis number. I have it memorized.” (Oh, and still on the package shelf is the ‘50s-era suitcase covered in travel decals which I picked up in an antique store for $10.)
The auction, billed by RM Sotheby’s as “The Elkhart Collection”, is scheduled to take place on October 23 & 24 of 2020. Those are the rescheduled dates; initially the auction was supposed to run in May, and it’s presumed that the coronavirus was the proximate cause of the postponement. At this writing, it’s listed as a “live” auction, however, all RM Sotheby auctions since the global shutdown have been online only. While I’m long out of the business of predicting the future, I would venture to guess without too much risk that this one will revert to the online-only format soon enough.
Here’s how the RM Sotheby’s website describes the collection:
OVER 240 CARS AND WIDE SELECTION OF COLLECTIBLES OFFERED ALMOST ENTIRELY WITHOUT RESERVE
The result of decades of judicious and targeted collecting, The Elkhart Collection – Offered Almost Entirely Without Reserve comprises the most exceptional marques and models in automotive history. The focus is at once broad but highly selective from sporting British and Italian cars to microcars, classics, supercars, modern sports cars, ‘50s convertibles and coachbuilt icons. Stay tuned for the digital catalogue coming soon. To view lot listing, click here.
It didn’t take much snooping to get the rest of the story. This is from AutoWeek:
There’s something for everyone in the RM Sotheby’s Elkhart Collection catalog—and with the sale moved to October, you’ve got plenty of time to browse it.
The gist of the AutoWeek story is that this 240+ car collection was amassed by one person, an Indiana businessman named Najeeb Khan, who has now been accused of fraud, although the author is also quick to note that he has not been charged with a crime. But his collection is being liquidated so that he can pay back his creditors.
Personally, I don’t really care about this guy’s personal problems. He has excellent taste in cars, especially of the Italian variety, although the remainder of the collection is also worth a gander. I’ve asked myself if Mr. Khan is the person who purchased my car at the 2013 Hershey auction. While it’s impossible to make that determination from the auction company’s website, I checked the mileage on my car on the date that I sold it, and the mileage shown in the current listing. The Isetta has been driven exactly one mile in the previous 6.5 years. Which is a shame, really, because the car runs well and it’s a blast to drive!
To the new owner, whoever you are: get some new tires. I bought those Michelins in the early ‘90s.
There’s more to discuss about the Elkart Collection Auction in future posts. The discovery of my old car will also spur me to resume the Isetta Saga. There’s lots more to share, and I want all those bidders to have the entire story!
G. Potter King (GPK) held its 2020 Atlantic City collector car event over the weekend of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, February 7, 8, and 9. According to their website, this mid-winter automotive extravaganza has been a February feature for forty years. I can recall attending this show in the 1980s and 1990s when it was held in the original Atlantic City Convention Center. A new building at a new location went up sometime in the early 21st century, and along with that came improved parking, lighting, and other amenities. Because February weather is unpredictable, I didn’t commit to attending until several days prior; luckily, two good friends came along and agreed to share the long drive down. We made a day trip of it on Saturday.
Perhaps because there is a recognition that the hobby is changing (i.e., the old guard is dying off), GPK expanded the scope of this year’s show beyond the traditional auction, car corral, and flea market. Inside the Convention Center were two static displays: a non-judged array of late-model exotica, both stock and modified; and a judged show including five different classes of cars. The latter show in particular took up significant floor space, a possible sign that there weren’t quite enough auction and corral vehicles to fill the available real estate.
But wait, there’s more! As part of our $25 admission fee, we were granted tickets to the Showboat casino where there were even more show cars! I declined the jaunt over there, because my primary interest resided with the auction. The little time I did spend looking over the display n cars in the Convention Center only proved once again that most modern exotics look too much alike. I guess I’m not the target audience.
Conspicuous by absence was Kerbeck Chevrolet, the Atlantic City new car dealer who claims to be the world’s largest retailer of Corvettes. There has never been a year that I haven’t seen Kerbeck bring in dozens upon dozens of new and slightly used ‘vettes. I can no longer say that because it didn’t happen in 2020! A sign of the times, but I’m not sure yet of its significance.
On to the auction: the announced 11am start time was 11:30 in reality, and, it began with “automobilia”, that made-up hobby word which encompasses everything from oil cans and gas pumps to neon signs and artwork. Today’s feature was just that, “framed art work”, and we decided that it was a good time for an early lunch, but not before hearing the following (and this is close to verbatim):
“Up next is this ‘Raging Bull’ picture, and, it’s signed by Robert DeNiro! Now, the owner HAD the certificate of authenticity for the signature. But, he lost it. But trust us, it’s authentic! I was there when he bought the picture!”
Would the auctioneer lie to you? I didn’t think so. The picture sold, and I didn’t record the amount. It was around $100. However, the DeNiro autograph claim only reinforced that infamous phrase “caveat emptor”, Latin for “buyer beware”. Many of the “all original” or “low mileage” claims made during the day begged for verification.
From my casual observation, the sell-through rate was poor, below 50%. While there is general agreement that it’s a soft market at present, that does not mean that quality cars aren’t fetching fair prices. Unrecorded but observed by me were several late ‘60s/early ‘70s American muscle cars that hammered sold in the $50,000 range, plus or minus a few bucks. They seemed to represent good value, and such sales require a combination of sellers willing to let the car go for the “right number” and buyers willing to spend same. It’s the job of the auction company to bring like-minded buyers and sellers together at the same venue. It’s easier said than done, and it seemed to be somewhat lacking during my observations this past Saturday.
On the one hand, the longevity of the GPK auction scene is to be commended: the time of year is not favorable in the Northeast, the location is not a short haul for many in the metro NY/NJ area, and unless you’re a gambler, the local environment offers little incentive to hang out. On the other hand, there still is a “mom & pop” feel to the auction experience here, borne out by lack of attention to detail. Screens displaying current bid prices did not keep pace with real-time bidding, and “still for sale” cards on dashboards didn’t include high bids.
Competition in the Northeast has ratcheted up: Barrett-Jackson in CT and Mecum in Harrisburg PA are new as of a few years ago, and Carlisle Auctions in PA has made significant improvements to their spring and fall events. Lastly, unless the Convention Center has a jam-packed calendar, we continue to fail to understand why this event isn’t moved to late February, which incrementally improves the chances of better weather (or has global warming removed that concern?).
The cars covered below are the ones that struck my fancy. Since only a few of my picks met reserve, I am also including some cars that didn’t sell, along with my pithy comments about why or why not. As is always the case in my auction reports, vehicles are arranged in SALE PRICE (and bid price) order.
Lot #1725, 1972 Triumph TR6, red, black top and interior
Crossed the block and declared “no sale” at $8,000; GPK website shows car SOLD for $9,000
A quick look showed no obvious defects; this is potentially a good buy for this 6-cylnder sports car.
Lot # 1720, 1993 Jaguar XJS convertible, green with tan interior (top was down & not inspected)
SOLD for $9,250
Paint looked substandard, headlight lenses opaque. Better cars have sold for slightly less.
Lot #1724, 1987 Olds 442, dark blue, blue cloth interior
SOLD for $10,750
A late ‘80s RWD intermediate from GM. Condition seemed to agree with low mileage claim. A bit above book, but fine if you want an affordable 442.
Lot #1770, 1967 Plymouth Sport Fury coupe, green, rare manual transmission
SOLD for $16,000
I always thought that Chrysler did a stunning styling job with these full-size ’67 Plymouths. This car was in nice shape, and not something that comes up for sale often. Well-bought for a MoPar fan.
Lot #1725, 1960 MGA, black, red interior
SOLD for $23,500
A very attractive car, could be a local show winner or fair weather driver. Sold slightly under market; a few thousand more would not have been unreasonable.
Lot #1743, 1968 Chrysler 300, green on green
SOLD for $28,500
Similar body shell as Lot #1770, the ’67 Fury. The 300 was even cleaner. Only issue were wide whites, but that’s an easy fix. A big beautiful Chrysler, and a car I’d be proud to own.
Lot #1815, 2001 Ferrari 360 spider, red, black top, tan interior, F1 transmission
SOLD for $62,000
At first glance, seems cheap for a ‘late model’ Ferrari. F1 tranny not to everyone’s taste; holding out for a 3-pedal car will cost more money. Just budget for maintenance; oh, you forgot about that part?
Lot # 1802, 1966 Mercedes Benz 230SL, white, dark blue interior
NO SALE at $37,500
Hardtop on car; manual gearbox (many were auto); white steering wheel a ‘50s throwback. It was announced on the block that it would take $60,000 to sell. Car seemed honest and solid, but $60k might be a bit rich for the 230 model.
1793 1956 Continental Mark II, black, white & grey interior
NO SALE at $45,000
Appeared to be a slightly older restoration, and it was holding up well. Paint was excellent; leather upholstery showed slight wear. Engine compartment very good. Even hard-core car guys seem to know little about these Mark IIs, so potential audience may be limited. Bid was probably light by $10,000 or so.
Lot # 1800, 1970 Mercedes Benz 280SL green, tan interior
NO SALE at $45,000
Hardtop on car; stick shift; possibly same consignor as lot #1802. The 280SL is the most desirable of the 3 Pagoda SLs (230, 250, 280) as it has the largest engine. Block announced that this car will need to reach $60,000 to sell (same as white 230SL). I would have declared this bid as light, but, this car spewed blue smoke from burning oil as it was driven away. Budget $10,000 for engine work before the first rally.
Lot # 1792, 1935 Packard 4-door sedan, burgundy, tan cloth interior
NO SALE at $50,000
I loved this car, from the grille to its straight-8 engine to its enormous back seat to its rounded backlight. I watched it drive up to the block and you could not hear it running. I have little notion of the values of pre-war Packards, but I’d like to think that we were close with this bid.
Lot #1797, 1974 DeTomaso Pantera, yellow, black interior
NO SALE at $56,000
You forget how small these are until you see one next to almost anything else. It was one of the lowest vehicles at the entire auction. Price seemed light to me; I’ve seen these sell on Bring a Trailer for closer to $70-75,000.
Lot # 1738, 1974 Jaguar E Type Series III OTS, silver, black top, red interior, stick shift
NO SALE at $60,000
First, this car was cosmetically stunning; it was a strong #2 condition car, and the color combo was one of my all-time favorites. As a Series III car, it has the V12, loved by some, loathed by others, and it rides on the longer 2+2 wheelbase, which changes the original gorgeous proportions. The block announced that it will take $75,000 to sell; in this market, something in between high bid and declared need should get the job done.
Lot # 1759, 1969 Jaguar E Type Series II OTS, dark red, beige interior
NO SALE at $70,000
Another stunning E-Type, this one a Series II. Bid was a bit light by $10-20,000, but these cars are off their highs of a few years ago. Only Series I convertibles are breaking into six figures.
Last week, I chose three collector cars that I found interesting, which were scheduled to cross the auction block during what’s known as Scottsdale Auction Week. All three were European sports cars, and all were offered at no reserve.
(Note that all three auction companies charge a 12% buyer’s premium, and that inflated number, with premium, is what’s shown on their websites. This makes the sales results appear higher than they really were. I backed out that 12% to show the actual hammer prices.)
Bonhams: 1978 Porsche 928, Lot #11, sold on Thursday
HAMMER PRICE: $67,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $75,040)
Ahem…. Not only did I miss the hammer price by a country mile; this car blew right past the high end of its pre-sale estimate. Undoubtedly, its original condition and low mileage contributed to giving the seller a grand slam, funky ‘70s colors be damned. And to those who continue to maintain that 928s are not collectible, I now have this piece of evidence in my arsenal.
Gooding & Co: 1969 Alfa Romeo 1750 Spider Veloce, Lot #010, sold on Friday
HAMMER PRICE: $64,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $71,680)
I was a little closer with this one, but my guess was still under the hammer by $14,000. Auction fever can infect bidders in many ways, and someone caught the fever and stepped up for this cute little roadster. While this Alfa sold for 50% more than what similar cars have brought recently, note that its hammer price was still well under the auction company’s unreasonably optimistic estimate.
RM Sotheby’s: 1970 Jaguar E-Type roadster (OTS), Lot #168, sold on Thursday
HAMMER PRICE: $75,000 (plus 12% premium for final price of $84,000)
Last week’s post stated in part: “… the Series II cars have become the affordable E-Type….”. Given that the hammer price was $20,000 under my seemingly reasonable guesstimate, and $35,000 under the auction company’s low-end estimate, it’s not going out on a limb to call this one a good buy. The new owner got a beautiful E-Type OTS (Open Two-Seater) with 80% of the charm of a Series I car at a 50% discount.
These cars represent such a small fraction of the hundreds and hundreds of collector cars sold in Scottsdale. Can we draw any conclusions from just three sales? I maintain that we can:
No Reserve cars are, by definition, guaranteed to sell. A theory I’ve heard about no-reserve sales, disproven here, is that they always favor the buyer. Sometimes, when the audience knows the high bidder gets the car, a bidding war erupts. Both the Porsche and the Alfa sold over their high estimate, so the consignors in both cases should be delighted with these results.
Another theory we can try to debunk based on this minuscule sample is that the hobby is in poor health. The Alfa and the Jaguar are blue-chip collectibles; the 928 less so, but it’s still a Porsche. Each of these cars appeared to be in very nice shape. I’d venture that all three buyers, if a modicum of care is taken with their new prizes, will not lose money in the long-term when it’s time to sell. Were these cars affordable? It’s a relative term. For a large segment of the Scottsdale audience, vehicles under six figures are affordable, and return on investment was not a primary purchase factor. The hobby is far from dead.
Are auctions a good place to buy cars? There is no simple answer to that. It would be misleading to look at these results and think it’s not. Instead, I would postulate that these examples highlight the need for bidders to educate themselves before raising the paddle. You cannot make good judgments from pretty online photos while sitting 2,500 miles away. Learn all you can about the model you’re interested in, make direct contact with the auction company, seek out the seller if available, and bid with your head, not your heart.
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.