A personal highlight of the annual October sojourn to Hershey is the RM Sotheby’s auction, held just a few miles away from the showfield at the Hershey Lodge. I’ve reported extensively about previous RM Hershey auctions on this blog, and even though my 2021 visit was a one day in-and-out, I still found time to scoot over to The Lodge to take in the cars and some of the auction action.
RM Sotheby’s, at least at this location, prides itself on mainly featuring American iron, much of it pre-war (that would be World War II, which serves as a handy demarcation line, since no vehicles were produced in this country from 1942 to 1945). There continues to be much discussion about the relative value of these older pieces of machinery. For the most part, those who drove them when new have departed; and those who bought them as old used cars right after the war are also quickly vacating the premises.
The standard argument goes: “If those who had them in their younger years are no longer here, then their value has plummeted”. The reality is a bit more nuanced than that. Car collectors, at least many that I know (and I put myself in this category) have an appreciation for ALL vehicles. One respected observer of this scene whose acquaintance I’ve made told me that the cars of the nineteen teens, twenties, and thirties are gaining a new audience as collectors have learned to appreciate their styling, engineering, and standing in automotive history. As my pictures below will show, some of these cars have an undeniable stately presence that would be an appropriate fit in any collection, no matter how narrow or diverse. Values for pre-war cars may be off their highs of the early aughts, but they’re not selling for twenty cents on the dollar either. As further evidence, nine of the top ten sales at this auction were pre-war, with prices ranging between $170,000 and $1.5 million.
According to RM’s website, the two-day auction achieved a phenomenal 98% sell-through rate. Granted, many of them were no reserve, but many had reserves (for the cars I’ve reported on, the reserve status is stated). The tremendous sell-through can be chalked up to a combination of quality wares, reasonable reserves, and a continued hot collector car market.
A big part of the fun is sitting outside the entrance / exit door and watching these cars run under their own power. The crew handling that job was working non-stop to get some of these old jalopies started and keep them running (and hope that the brakes worked). By the time darkness fell, I was on my way, but it was a glorious way to end my 2021 Hershey visit.
The cars below are listed in ascending sale price order; sale prices were taken from the RM Sotheby’s website, and the 10% buyer’s premium was backed out, so the “sold” price shown is the hammer price.
Lot #285, 1973 Volvo 1800ES, 4-speed manual. Pre-sale estimate $25-30,000. No reserve. Sold for $30,000.
This was the final year for the 1800, and only the ES (station wagon) model was offered. Sold right at the high end of the estimate. CPI values a #2 car at $44,000, which this wasn’t, but 1800s continue to be popular at the moment. Fair price.
Lot #152, 1948 Alvis drophead coupe, 4-cylinder, 4-speed manual. Pre-sale estimate $45-70,000. No reserve. Sold for $34,000.
Alvis was never a big seller on this side of the pond, but I’ve seen a greater number of them come up for sale recently. The two-tone brown and tan wasn’t the most attractive, and the RHD is either a fun factor or a pain. Sold well below estimate. I hope it runs well, because I know nothing about parts availability.
Lot #305, 1958 Edsel Pacer convertible. First model year of Ford’s Fifties flop. Attractive two-tone white and red. Pre-sale estimate $40-50,000. No reserve. Sold for $34,000.
The risk of no reserve is just that, there is NO reserve. This car missed its low pre-sale estimate by eight grand. CPI values these between $44,000 and $84,000, which sounds generous. Still, this is a unique and historic fifties car that should be easily serviced and maintained. It could be a challenge to find another decent ‘50s American convertible at this price. I hope the new owner drives it.
Lot #291, 1957 Chevrolet Corvette, fuel-injected 250-horse 283, 4-speed manual. Pre-sale estimate $70-90,000. With reserve. Sold for $65,000.
Apparently there were two different f.i. horsepower engines, and this was the lower of the two. This sounded too cheap to me, but CPI shows a value range between $53,000 and $100,000. I still think it was well-bought.
Lot #184, 1963 Jaguar E-Type FHC (fixed-head coupe). Red over black, looked great from afar, but a closer inspection revealed rough areas. Pre-sale estimate $90-110,000. With reserve. Sold for $65,000.
This is an early Series 1 car, with the 3.8 six-cylinder, 4-speed with non-synchro first, and low-back bucket seats. Many refinements were added to the ’65 and newer Series 1 cars with the 4.2 engine. See the photo of the rear window: the glass seal was completely hardened, there was paint overspray on it, and the window trim was missing. CPI has these at $88,000 for a #4 (fair) car; $130,000 for #3 (good), and $195,000 for #2 (excellent). Even with the defects, this was a bargain for a Series 1 XKE.
Lot #193, 1956 Jaguar XK140 roadster. 3.4 six, 4-speed. Pre-sale estimate $100-120,000. With reserve. Sold for $77,500.
Another possible Jaguar bargain which sold well below estimate, as CPI has a #3 car at $112,000. This car may have been a little better than that. Try it before you buy it though: the one time I sat in one required lower body contortions to get in and out.
Lot #150, 1939 Alvis pillarless two-door saloon. A unique and never-seen-before body style (and the 2nd Alvis at this auction). Pre-sale estimate $90-130,000. No reserve. Sold for $102,500.
This was one of the more striking pre-war designs at this auction, and certainly rare in the States. The bidders recognized this, and knowing it was a no-reserve sale, they stepped up to a final sale price which was mid-estimate. Guaranteed to be the star at the next all-British car show.
Lot #272, 1934 Packard Eight Coupe. Elegant two-tone light and dark brown. Pre-sale estimate $90-120,000. With reserve. Sold for $105,000.
I’ve been infatuated with almost all Packards I see these last few years, and this one stopped me dead in my tracks. It was stunning, and in close to perfect condition. While it sold mid-estimate, a higher number would have still been reasonable. That’s a lot of Packard for just over six figures.
Lot #274, 1933 Packard Eight Roadster. Dark red, tan convertible top. Looks like the sister car to Lot #272. Pre-sale estimate $120-140,000. No reserve. Sold for $105,000.
I have no explanation for this result. This car, a convertible, sold for the exact same price as the Packard coupe which was just one year newer. Honestly, I did not look at these two cars that closely to discern any condition differences. Maybe the same person bought both cars and now has twin Packards in the collection.
FUN TIMES WATCHING THE CARS DRIVE IN AND OUT OF THE HERSHEY LODGE
For the first time since October 2019, I attended a live collector car auction last week when I found myself at the two-day extravaganza known as the Spring Carlisle Auction. The coronavirus pandemic shutdown, with but one exception, had slammed the door on in-person hobby activities in 2020 for me. What changed? A combination of my being fully vaccinated along with the option to spend much of this auction out of doors encouraged me to accept what seemed to be a reduced risk. As an aside, while the Carlisle Auction website “promised” adherence with certain pandemic protocols such as mask-wearing and social distancing, sadly, much of the audience ignored them. I was prepared for such flouting of the prescribed requirements and adjusted my behavior accordingly.
With that said, the Carlisle Events staff did their usual fine job: registration was smooth, run sheets were available early in the a.m., cars were arranged in lot order, the action started promptly at noon, about 25 cars per hour were run across the block, and they drove, pushed, or dragged about 200 cars on Thursday and another 175 on Friday into and out of the Expo Center. Sell-through rates seemed high, helped by a number of no-reserve lots, and while there were few bargains, prices seemed fair if a bit closer to retail (this is still very much an auction dominated by dealers here to buy and sell).
While it’s easy for me to look at the entire consignment list and opine that it consisted of the usual suspects (GM and FoMoCo products of the ‘50s, ‘60s, & ‘70s), I was struck by the number of pre-war, meaning 1942 and older cars, offered here. While a few were “rodded and modded”, many were either unrestored or restored to original spec. These included a 1931 Chevy, a 1925 Nash, and a 1942 Studebaker. The two documented below, the 1931 Pontiac and 1939 Packard, sold between $10k and $15k, so this segment of the hobby remains both accessible and of interest to some.
Do you like the final-generation Thunderbirds? There were four, and all sold, at prices between $7,500 and $12,500. What about orphans? Seven Studebakers ran across the block, although only two met reserves. Pontiac GTOs did well, with 4 out of 5 selling for numbers ranging from $38,500 to $56,000.
Twenty-two of my choices are detailed below; all these cars sold. There were many more which I found interesting, however, I am omitting coverage of cars which did not meet reserve. As always, sold cars are presented in sale price order, and multiple photos are supplied, including interior and engine compartment shots when access was there.
Note that EIGHT of my choices hammered at $10,250 or below (and there were many more not included in this report). For the umpteenth time, to those who maintain that the collector car hobby is no longer affordable, I again provide Exhibit A and remind you to be open-minded about the type of car you’d welcome into your garage.
$3,500 TO $10,250:
Lot T109, 1972 MG Midget, red, black vinyl convertible top, black vinyl interior, 4-cylinder, 4-speed manual, clock shows 63,823 miles (who does that in a Midget?), MG Rostyle wheels are rusty, blackwall tires. Car is somewhat rough all over, but at least shows no rust-through, and appears to be all there. Sold at no reserve.
SOLD for $3,500. I got to speak to the owner as he cleared the snow from the car early Thursday morning. He was a young guy, perhaps early 30s, and said he had several other cars in the auction. This MG was not his usual “flip”, and he, over 6 feet tall, barely fit in it. I ran into him later and asked if he was ok with the result. He said yes, as he had about $2,000 into it. Postscript: walking the Carlisle fairgrounds Car Corral on Friday, I saw this car there with an ask of $7,900. Quick flip attempt indeed.
Lot T103, 1983 Porsche 944 2-door coupe, 2.5L 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual, green, light brown interior. Odometer shows 18,552, likely on its 2nd orbit. Black & silver Porsche alloys, blackwall tires. Underhood condition crusty. These Porsche interiors from the 1980s did not hold up well, and this one shows it, with cracked dash (hidden by dash toupee), worn steering wheel cover, various faded beige and brown bits. Sold at no reserve.
SOLD for $3,500. Porsche is just one of several brands about which it is said “there is no such thing as a cheap one”. Even if it runs well, figure on the need to catch up with postponed maintenance. But it does grant you entry into the PCA (Porsche Club of America).
Lot T104, 1993 Pontiac Grand Prix 2-door coupe, white, grey cloth interior, 76k miles, white wheels, blackwall tires, sunroof, 3.1L V6/automatic, rear spoiler, door-mounted 3-point seat belt in lieu of driver’s air bag. No obvious faults, just a ‘90s used car. Sold at no reserve.
SOLD for $3,800. For under 5 grand, someone got a car which at least in NJ is eligible for antique plates, does not require state inspection, and qualifies for showing at any AACA event in the country.
Lot T110, 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLK230 retractable hardtop-convertible, 2.3L 4-cylinder w/supercharger, automatic, red metallic, two-tone beige & black interior, Mercedes alloys with blackwall tires, 6-digit electronic odometer shows 79,901 miles, interior clean for age and mileage. Sold at no reserve.
SOLD for $6,500. Presuming that the hardtop retracted properly, this could be a fun daily driver, and was slightly well-bought, about two grand below book for a “good” condition car.
Lot F471, 1968 Morris Minor Traveler “woody”, RHD, dark red paint, red interior, 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed manual transmission, hub caps on cream-painted steel wheels, whitewall tires, driving lamps, headlight eyelids, dual outside mirrors, wood-framed rear quarters and tailgate.
SOLD for $7,000. Another LBC (little British car) that could be had for under five figures, this one looked great, with the only strike against it its RHD (about which I’ve read that you get used to it in about 10 minutes). You’re guaranteed to have the only one at the next Cars & Coffee.
Lot F443, 1966 Ford LTD 2-door fastback, beige paint and interior, Ford wheel covers with narrow whitewall tires, 352 V8/automatic, Ford blue engine looks like it was dipped in a vat of paint, no A/C and no power brakes, cloth upholstery shows some dirt and wear, steering wheel cover color clashes.
SOLD for $8,000. In the earliest days of the hobby, when only pre-war cars were collected, Ford’s Model T and Model A were two of the most popular affordable collector cars. When baby boomers entered the hobby, interest in the full-size Chevys of the ‘50s and ‘60s surged past similar Fords. Most car people don’t think of this ’66 LTD fastback when considering something from that decade, so it was refreshing to see one that survived. This particular example had a number of demerits against it, including blah colors, lack of A/C, and poor attention to detail. However, if Ford Blue runs through your veins and you wanted a full-size car, you could enjoy this one. Fitting an aftermarket A/C system would probably not detract from its value.
Lot T183, 1963 VW Beetle 2-door sedan, red & black paint, red & white interior, VW hub caps on white-painted steel wheels, blackwall tires, 1.6L flat four, four-speed manual, black dash, white wheel, white seats, red & white door panels. Engine compartment clean if not totally original, with open air filter and painted cooling fan.
SOLD for $9,000. Beetles long ago moved up and away from being cheap auction cars. This price seems on the low side, but I didn’t care for the colors (I don’t like this non-original two-tone treatment), and the interior colors seemed wrong (did the door panels fade to orange?). Hopefully the mechanicals check out.
Lot T113, 1939 Packard 4-door Touring Sedan, flathead inline-6, 3-speed manual transmission, black paint, brown mohair interior. Packard hub caps on steel wheels, wide whitewall tires, possibly bias-ply. Odometer reads 29,000 miles, handwritten note inside car claims original miles, and looks believable to me. Black paint is mostly ok, but buffed through along some sharp body creases. All exterior fittings are in place. Interior looks unrestored. Gas ration sticker in back window, service station sticker in driver’s door jamb shows 24k miles in 1977. Some wear on driver’s seat bottom and door panel, but rest of interior looks like it has survived the last 82 years quite well. Sold at no reserve.
SOLD for $10,250. This was one of several cars at the auction which captured my complete attention because of its believable alleged originality. First, it’s a Packard, albeit a “Junior” one with the six, but still a brand that continues to command attention among collectors. Next is it original condition (the car wore an AACA HPOF emblem). Third, it’s a pre-war car that looks like it could potentially complete some tours. It was bought by Country Classic Cars, a collector car dealer in IL, and they obviously see some upside to it at this price.
$11,250 TO $19,000:
Lot T184, 1972 Honda Z600 coupe (incorrectly ID’d as “CVCC”), dark olive green, black interior, black wheels, blackwall tires, 2-cylinder air-cooled engine, 4-speed manual, FWD, shows 42,664 miles, appears repainted and I won’t swear this is an original color, spartan interior shows no defects, tach redlines at 6,000 rpm, and that 600cc twin must scream at those revs.
SOLD for $11,250. The Beetle parked next to this emphasized how tiny this Z600 is. Hammer price fell right between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ in my price guide. If you’re ok with the color, then it was a fair price; besides, if you want one, when will the next one show up on the block?
Lot T144, 1947 Dodge Deluxe 2-door coupe, black, brown interior, Dodge hubcaps on steel wheels, wide whitewall tires, flathead inline-6 with 3-speed Fluid Drive, sign on car claims 48,000 miles, not impossible to believe. External sun visor looks like an air foil that would keep top speed to 45 mph. Cheap (and easily removed) steering wheel cover detracts from what is otherwise a clean and original interior.
SOLD for $11,500. This immediate post-war Dodge still wears pre-war styling, and this one was in great shape overall. My reference books tell me that this straight six had 230 cubic inches and put out 102 horsepower, just enough for it to get out of its own way. This was a good buy for the few people who might be looking for a ‘40s Dodge.
Lot F424, 1952 Triumph TR2, red, black top & side curtains, black interior, Triumph hub caps on grey steel wheels, blackwall tires, dual fender-mounted outside mirrors, inline 4-cylinder, 4-speed manual transmission, “Pittsburgh Grand Prix” decals on doors, sign claims 59,000 miles.
SOLD for $12,000. While TR3s are seen relatively frequently, it’s rare to spot one of these “small mouth” TR2s. The lack of outside door handles means gaining ingress is accomplished by reaching through the unzipped side curtain to tug at the door pull; that worked fine on the passenger side, but the pull strap was broken on the left side. Paint, which appears too thick to be original, is cracked in various spots, possibly from body flexing during rigorous driving. Based on the decals, it’s nice to know the car has seen use as intended. This was a great buy of an unusual car, and a nice way to get into the British sports car scene.
Lot F451, 1982 Alfa Romeo Spider, cream paint, black convertible top, dark tan interior, 2L inline 4-cylinder, 5-speed manual transmission, aftermarket alloys with blackwall tires, 6-digit odometer reads 35,083, engine compartment clean but not detailed. The model year 1982 Spiders are a sweet spot: Bosch fuel injection replaced the Spica system, yet the cars kept the Series 2 “Kamm tail” rear end styling. Only two minor faults noted: remote trunk release lever loose in its bezel, and battery hold-down lying next to the trunk-mounted battery.
SOLD for $13,000. My photos fail to document the incredible level of originality, correctness, and supremely fine condition of this Alfa. I spent well over 30 minutes crawling on top of, inside of, and under this car, and aside from what is mentioned above, could find no faults with it. My former car-dealer buddy was with me, and he, with his much more critical eye, agreed with my assessment of the car. Paint was original and near perfect, interior showed no wear, top and tires looked new (tires had 2020 date codes), and upon popping the trunk, we found a manila folder full of service receipts going back over 20 years. The only “rust” was a minor scrape on the front belly pan where a curb impact chipped away an inch of paint. Simply put, this was the absolutely cleanest unrestored Alfa spider I have ever seen at an auction. It truly looked like a 4- or 5-year-old used car. Full disclosure: I was prepared to bid on this car, hoping that the American-car-leaning Carlisle audience would ignore it and allow me to steal it for under $10k, but it quickly sailed past that, ending at a somewhat high $13k. Whoever got it has a car to cherish.
Lot T202, 1950 Packard Deluxe, taupe grey, tan cloth interior, Packard hub caps, blackwall tires, straight-eight engine, 3-speed manual with overdrive, odometer shows 56k miles, service stickers on door jamb support mileage, nice woodgrain paint on dash, seat upholstery shows little wear and appears to be unrestored, Packard rubber mats protect carpet, original radio in box in trunk.
SOLD for $13,250. Was consigned by the same owner as Lot T109, the 1972 MG Midget. He told me the Packard came out of dry storage in Kansas, where the owner had put “dozens” of cars up on blocks. This Packard looked like an honest survivor. I’m personally not a fan of the so-called Bathtub Packards, of which this is one, and I preferred the ’39, but this ’50 would be the more usable car of the two.
Lot T186, 1931 Pontiac Custom 2-door sedan, blue & black paint, grey cloth interior, yellow painted wire wheels with wide whitewall tires. Straight six engine, 3-speed manual transmission, spare tire out back. A handsome car and a nicely-done restoration.
SOLD for $15,750. The auctioneer announced at $14k that the “reserve is off”, and with just a few more bids, it sold. This early ‘30s car has the advantage of being enclosed, which makes it more inviting and practical for touring use. This was one of the more attractive pre-war cars here.
Lot T154, 1955 Ford Thunderbird, red, red non-porthole hardtop, red & white interior, full T-Bird wheel covers on red-painted wheels with whitewall tires, 292 V8/automatic, power steering, power seat. Sign on car claims car came from estate. While looking good from 20 feet, a closer inspection shows that much of the paint is crazed, cracked, and flaking in spots. Possibly original paint. Interior is presentable.
SOLD for $16,500. Prices on the 2-seat Birds (Baby Birds) are all over the map, as so much depends on condition, colors, and options. A few years ago, I noted at Hershey that prices seemed to have bottomed out around $20-25k for decent cars; values have since headed up, but only slightly. This may have been cheap for a Baby Bird, but you would need to live with the paint as-is; any attempt to restore it at this price would put you underwater.
Lot F510, 1966 Ford Mustang coupe, emberglo paint, beige interior, 289 V8/automatic, Ford styled steel wheels with whitewall tires, underdash A/C (sign indicates A/C inop), wood steering wheel, aftermarket center console. VIN indicates that car left factory with a 2-barrel carb, now has 4-barrel.
SOLD for $17,500. Car looked very sharp in person, helped by emberglo color, a personal favorite. I did not spend much time looking over this car, but if it’s solid underneath, this was a good deal for a 1st gen Mustang coupe; many of them from my observation trade closer to $20k in this condition.
Lot F480, 1969 Buick Riviera, brown metallic, tan vinyl roof, tan interior, Riviera wheel covers, whitewall tires, V8/automatic, sign claims 84k miles, front cornering lights, bench seat, column shifter, detailed engine compartment. Car appears to lack A/C: can’t see a compressor, and dash controls don’t show a “cool” choice.
SOLD for $19,000. This one’s a frequent flyer: I spotted this same car at the RM Hershey auction in 2018, at which time it sold for $16,000. Two and a half years later, and it sold for three grand more, but with consignment fees and transportation costs, it was likely a wash or even a slight loss for the consignor. Overall, an attractive car with nothing extraordinary about it. These are nice looking Rivs, but it’s very disappointing to see an American luxury car from this era without air.
$23,000 TO $27,250:
Lot T142, 1967 Mercury Cougar XR7 2-door hardtop, white, black vinyl top, black interior, Cragar chrome wheels with narrow whitewall tires, aftermarket side body molding and trunk-mounted luggage rack, 289 V8 with C4 automatic, some chrome upgrades underhood. Allegedly a Texas car, clock shows 34,597, could be first or second time around, but either way, car looks clean and straight, if a bit boring in these colors. I hope that side molding is glued and not screwed into place.
SOLD for $23,000. While not a steal, was a fair price for a pony car that looked like it needed nothing to begin enjoying. The strength of Cougars is that they are still undervalued compared to Mustangs of the same vintage and condition, and I’d argue that the ’67-’68 Cougars are slightly better-looking than the same generation Mustangs.
Lot T175, 1965 Chrysler 300 “L” convertible, light blue, white convertible top, blue interior, full wheel covers on steel wheels, narrow whitewall tires, factory a/c, 413 V8, automatic, final year for the famed letter-series 300 models.
SOLD for $24,000. I originally thought this to be quite a bargain, but my price guide shows this price to basically be retail. It’s the 300 letter-series cars from the late ‘50’s to very early ‘60s which can command numbers approaching $150k. Yet this car still has an air of exclusivity to it, with its 360 hp engine (up from 340 in the New Yorker) and subtle styling touches. When new, pricing started at $4,716 (only the New Yorker station wagons were pricier) and only 400 ’65 droptops were built. This was a nice buy in a powerful and exclusive full size Chrysler.
Lot F435, 1967 Plymouth Barracuda 2-door fastback, silver, red interior, aftermarket wheels, raised white-letter tires, 340 V8, automatic, sign claims “full restoration”, but also notes that interior and undercarriage are original and untouched. Cheap steering wheel cover detracts from what is otherwise a pretty interior. Open air cleaner element dirty, engine compartment could use a detailing.
SOLD for $27,250. While the 1970 and on E-bodies get most of the attention among Barracuda fans, the 1967-1969 cars, available as coupe, fastback, or convertible, have their admirers, your scribe included. This was a nice car that had been taken about 80% of the way toward “excellent”, yet it earned a sale price several thousand above what my price guide shows for an excellent car. Well sold.
$34,500 TO $44,250:
Lot F433, 1957 Ford Thunderbird, grey, white hardtop, red interior, chrome wire wheels with wide whitewall tires, 312 V8, automatic, unable to open hood, but interior shows power brake pedal and add-on A/C unit hanging under dash. Online photos show black soft top and engine dress-up kit.
SOLD for $34,500. This was a cosmetically stunning Baby Bird, helped by the unusual but factory-correct gunmetal grey paint. The colors and condition warranted the price for a car that would be equally at home on a showfield or on a tour.
Lot F546, 1991 Acura NSX coupe, red, two-tone red & black interior, aftermarket alloys with blackwall tires, odometer reads 73,234 miles, mid-mounted V6 with 5-speed manual, car not detailed, interior looks somewhat garish, gives the vibe of “just a used car”.
SOLD for $44,250. After seeing one at the 2013 New England 1000 rally, I briefly considered getting one when prices were around $30k. Of course, they quickly shot up after that, with very clean and low mileage cars almost touching six figures. They have dropped back from their highs of a few years ago, but still command good money. This one had higher miles and didn’t show signs of extraordinary care, and sold for a fair price considering the unknowns.
“On Friday, October 10, stock markets crashed across Europe and Asia. London, Paris and Frankfurt dropped 10% within an hour of trading and again when Wall Street opened for trading. Global markets … experienced their worst weeks since 1987 and some indices, S&P 500, since the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
On October 10, within the first five minutes of the trading session on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 697 points, falling below 7900 to its lowest level since March 17, 2003…. Trading on New York Stock Exchange closed for the week with the Dow at 8,451, down 1,874 points, or 18% for the week, and after 8 days of losses, 40% down from its record high October 9, 2007…. The bonds of the bankrupt Lehman Brothers were auctioned on Friday, October 10. They sold for a little over 8 cents on the dollar.”
If you’re reading this and asking yourself, “when did this become RichardsFinancialBlog?”, no need to worry, as the story has a car connection. On the same day that Lehman Brothers’ bonds were auctioned, I was watching some high-dollar automotive machinery go up for auction at the annual RM classic car auction in Hershey PA. I paid a whopping $60 (!) for entry to the auction within the Hershey Lodge, and that included my own copy of the catalog (but not a bidder’s pass). This was my initial foray into the world of so-called catalog auctions, undertaken so that I could decide if this would be a reasonable avenue for selling my Isetta.
Prior to this, auctions I had attended were what I call the ‘carnival’ style: a vehicle rolls up onto the block, an auctioneer starts to chant so loudly and so quickly that he can barely be understood, and 45 to 90 seconds later, a gavel falls and the next car in the parade arrives. This is what you see on TV at the typical Barrett-Jackson or Mecum auction. They are boisterous, ear-splitting, lightning-paced, and ultimately mind-numbing experiences. I understood from reading auction reports that the catalog auctions were more, shall we say, mild-mannered and discreet, and I wanted to witness this first-hand.
On that Friday inside the Hershey Lodge, I immediately noticed the differences, starting with the voice and tone of the auctioneer. I could actually understand him; if anything, the New Yorker in me wanted him to speak more quickly! He was in no rush to get to the next car, meaning, he was putting 100% of his attention on the car in front of him. He would make little quips to the bidders, such as “sir, but what else are you going to do with your money?”, and “would the gentleman in the back like to bid again?” There was none, I repeat, none of the hyperbole one hears at other venues, such as “look at that fabulous paint job”; “restored using only the finest high-quality parts”; and “guaranteed to only go up in value”. B-J this was not.
Each car spent from 3 to 5 minutes on the block. When the reserve was met, the auctioneer, using the same level tone, would state “we are selling this car today”. (At Carlisle Auctions, the auctioneer SCREAMS “THE RESERVE IS OFF!!!” while a neon sign over his head blares the same message.)
Another difference: the bidders. Everyone sat calmly in their seats, with the very occasional bidder wandering up to the block for a close-up inspection. There was no yelling, jumping, fist-pumping, or showing off for the cameras (of which there were none anyway). The men bidding (and they were all male) would catch the eye of the auctioneer or one of the assistants (“callers”) and with the subtlest of head nods, place their bets.
Midway through the afternoon, a 1913 Locomobile reached the block. Resplendent in white with black top and interior and lots of brass, it was so long that it looked like it would miss fitting in my garage by about 10 feet. The bidding opened at $50,000, and moving in $25,000 increments, quickly reached $300,000. In the row in front of me sat a white-haired elderly man, perhaps 80 or 85. When the auctioneer asked for $325,000, the old gent raised his bidder’s pass like he was ordering a cheeseburger at Wendy’s, the gavel fell, and the brass beauty was his. It was at this moment that I had the epiphany: the Lehman Brothers collapse meant nothing to those who had discretionary funds to spare, and a catalog-type auction would be a classy place to sell my car.
The catalog cover car, and star of the show, was a 1933 Duesenberg phaeton. It sold for $1,535,000, again proving that those who have it can spend it. (The next day, while waiting to cross Hersheypark Drive to enter the AACA show, this same Duesenberg sailed past at about 60 mph. It sounded like a locomotive, and you could hear it from a quarter mile away.)
For the sale of my own car, I was in no great rush, and I had weighed the pro’s and con’s of such a move for much of the first decade of the 21st century. A few half-hearted attempts were made by placing some ads, most of which generated no response. A few years after attending this RM auction, I ran an ad in the national AACA magazine, and a man from Philadelphia showed up at my house, went for a ride with me, and told me he would buy the car (my ask was $30k, and I believe he said he was ok with the price). But the next day he called and said he changed his mind. That’s how it goes when trying to sell cars.
In the meantime, I also checked out the Bonhams auction, which had become an annual mainstay as part of the Greenwich Concours event in early June. The auction style was similar, however, the setup was in a tent, on grass, and Bonhams jammed as many cars into that tent as possible, with the remainder scattered outside along its perimeter. The ambiance was not as pleasing as RM which had the advantage of a large hotel conference room, with better sound and lighting. But still, both were within consideration, as both were within a day’s drive on the East Coast. Friends who suggested that I truck my car out to Barrett-Jackson in AZ were not calculating the overhead (fuel, food, hotels, time) that such a trip would entail.
In 2013, after much back-and-forth in my own mind about continuing to try to sell the car on my own (more control over asking price vs dealing with stubborn buyers) compared to an auction consignment (devoted in-person audience vs less control over bidding price), I decided to move ahead with RM. A few years back, I had reached out to RM and had communicated with Ian Kelleher. Since I had his email address, I picked up where I had left off with him. (It’s surprising to me to see that my first email of the year to him was sent on June 26, less than four months before the auction.)
Ian replied, and I was taken aback when he told me that while there was plenty of time to get my car on the docket for Hershey, it would need to be a no-reserve entry. He said that they would be willing to publish a pre-sale estimate of $30,000-40,000, but any cars valued below $50,000 are strictly sold as no-reserve. My heart sank. What if bidding only reached $20,000? I wasn’t willing to give it away. There were numerous email exchanges between Ian and me, during which I successfully negotiated for the following:
Vehicle listed as No Reserve, with auction estimate of $30,000-40,000;
Minimum of one full page in the auction catalog, desirably two pages;
Professional photography taken by RM for catalog photos;
Input and review by me of catalog write-up;
Vehicle will cross block on Friday (the 2nd day of a two-day auction)
RM will allow me to display various items alongside car during auction preview including photographs, posters, magazines, literature, scale models, and tablet.
As a balm for the no-reserve listing, and as a courtesy to me as a first-time consigner, Ian agreed to reduce my consignment fee from $1,000 to $500, and my seller’s commission from 10% to 7%. This made me feel a whole lot better about the no-reserve deal. RM sent me a consignment form, which included the requirement that I sign and send them the title to my car. Now it was getting serious!
You will note above that I told Ian that I wanted “input and review by me of catalog write-up”. Previous catalog write-ups I had read included flowery vehicle descriptions with 80% general history of the marque, and 20% specific detail of the actual lot. I wanted to reverse those percentages for my car, and be sure that the catalog text spoke to my car’s specifics. Still, I was sent a first draft and needed to make the following corrections:
Rear springs were described as semi-elliptic, when they are quarter-elliptic;
“Four-wheel drum brakes” was corrected to “front and rear drum brakes”;
“… ideal for the streets of postwar Germany” was changed to “… Europe”.
My suggestions were accepted without further discussion; RM was continuing to please me with their treatment of me as a consigner.
Quite a few acquaintances were taken aback with the fees, even at reduced rates. They would ask with incredulity: “what exactly are you getting for all that money you’re paying?” My first-hand experience allows me to report that my fees helped to cover:
The dispatching of a professional photographer to my home, where he spent about three hours taking photos of my car.
Display of those photos on the RM website, in the published catalog, and in several email blasts sent by RM.
A full maintenance crew on hand at the Hershey Lodge to assist with needs such as adding fuel, charging batteries, and maintaining cleanliness of the cars.
As an owner, I felt that the website, email, and catalog exposure was fairly extensive, and reached a level of marketing that I could not match. That still didn’t stop me from creating my own marketing efforts. Since test drives would not be possible on-site, I opted for the 2nd best thing and made two videos which would show prospective bidders that this car was no trailer queen, and did get occasional exercise:
Some final tidying up of the vehicle was done, especially in the interior. I resprayed the fiberboard interior panels, and added the underseat panel which had been missing all these years. Some minor adjustments were made to the horn and to the parking brake, and of course the car was detailed.
Hershey week arrived. The actual auction was scheduled for Thursday October 10 and Friday October 11, 2013. On the Tuesday morning of that week, I left my house, Isetta in tow, bittersweet at the thought that I would be returning at the end of the week with an empty trailer. Upon arrival, I got my car situated under the big tent in the Hershey Lodge parking lot. The Hershey area had significant downpours for much of the week (what we’re used to in that part of the world in October), but things stayed calm and relatively dry in the tent. Each and every weekday, I never left the car’s side, as I wanted to answer any questions from anyone who might be bidding. My heart sank again when I found a 2nd Isetta at the same auction, red like mine, but in a condition that was one or two steps below mine. Crossing the block on Thursday at no reserve, it hammered sold at $25,000. I felt that number established a value floor and made me more optimistic about my own car.
Finally, it was Friday, auction day for my rolling egg. When RM had told me that my consignment included two free entrance tickets to the auction, I had the nerve to request several more. Again, RM exceeded my expectations by granting that request without delay. Several friends from Volvo Corporate attended the big moment with me, and provided lots of emotional support (thanks Andy and Larry!).
The head of the RM maintenance crew had gotten to know me. RM’s procedure is to queue up the cars outside the entrance ramp so that the cars can be driven as close as possible to the block, at which point they’re pushed, to minimize exhaust fumes in the conference room. The crew chief pulled me aside, and likely knowing what he was about to offer wasn’t ‘by the book’, said to me “why don’t you drive your car up to the ramp? It’ll be the last time you’ll get to drive it”. I gladly took him up on that. I climbed in, started it, and as soon as I reached the entrance, shut it down. The crew on hand stopped it from rolling back; they would push it from here. I went in and sat with my wife and my buddies.
Max Girardo, the charming, eloquent and multi-linguistic auctioneer, was at the podium. As Andy pointed out to me later, Max spent more time extolling the virtues of my car than he did with any of the cars preceding or following my car. The bidding opened at $10,000, quickly climbed to $25,000, and then slowed somewhat, although it did reach $30,000. Max held on for me as long as he could, with the bid intervals dropping from $5,000 to $2,500. At a final bid of $32,500, the gavel fell. The car was officially sold. Although RM told me that I would receive payment in 6 weeks, they completed an electronic transfer of funds to me in 3 weeks, yet again exceeding my expectations.
The auction sale date was 10 days shy of 35 years from October 21, 1978, when Don Krech and I made the first of three 16-hour round-trip journeys from central NJ to Moscow VT for these funny-looking little bubble cars that Wesley Turner had for sale for $650. In October of 1978, I had never heard of AACA, or Hershey, or Carlisle, or car auctions. The rigmarole of transporting the cars back from VT, storing them offsite at cost, and figuring out how to perform a restoration on them had me almost walk away from the entire mess more than once. It’s very likely that I kept the cars all that time simply because they were so small and easy to stash somewhere (had I made my investment in a ’59 Caddy it would be a different story).
This is the final chapter of the Isetta Saga. Getting all this out on my blog was a process in itself. Chapter 1 of the saga was published on January 7, 2018, just shy of three years ago. Thirty-five chapters spread out over 34 months is an almost-perfect one chapter per month! Wish I could say that I planned it that way, but that would be a lie….
To those who have stuck it out and have read along as each chapter was published, a big thank you. To those who occasionally dipped their toes into the ups and downs of this Isetta’s story, you still deserve my thanks. I can only hope that my perseverance with this project (some would say insanity) may possibly provide some motivation should you be considering a similar journey. For me, it was great fun to relive it all!
On Saturday, October 24, at the RM Sotheby’s Elkhart Collection Auction, the 1957 BMW Isetta, chassis number 509090, formerly owned by me, sold at a hammer price of $31,000. When RM does post the result on their website, the published number will show as $34,720, as they will include the 12% buyer’s commission in the total shown. (This is a tactic that all auction companies engage in, as a way to display an even higher sale number than the hammer price. As they would argue, this is the more accurate representation of the dollars coming out of the purchaser’s pocket. But it’s still not the same as the hammer price.)
While it was no surprise that the car sold (after all, the auction was No Reserve), and even though I had previously estimated a hammer price of $30,000, I had begun to underestimate myself after watching Friday’s live stream, where the majority of cars met, or more typically exceeded, their pre-sale auction estimates. There was a sell-out in-person crowd in Elkhart, plus phone and internet bidding. With few exceptions, cars stayed on the block only for one to two minutes, and the bidding was aggressive and quick-paced. In the Isetta’s case, the pre-sale estimate of $35-45,000 was a tad optimistic.
I’m very happy for the new owner, whoever s/he may be. I hope that the car gets driven and shown a bit more than the previous owner managed to (not) do!
I’ve purposely held back the final few chapters of the Isetta Saga, pending this sale. Watch for the Saga’s conclusion to appear on this site in the very near future. (Then what am I going to write about?)
The time has come: the auction of the “Elkhart Collection” by RM Sotheby’s has commenced as I type these words. The auction began at 10 a.m. on Friday October 23, and will run through tomorrow. As most of these auctions do, the lots start with what is loosely referred to as automobilia (defined as automotive-related stuff other than vehicles), which here includes tools, shop supplies, books, and sundry collectibles. Once done with the automobilia, the cars will start to cross the block.
While I’m keen to watch what some of the more interesting Fiats and Ferraris will hammer for, the car of most interest to me is my former Isetta, about which I’ve spilled so much digital ink. It is Lot #2157, scheduled to cross the block on Saturday. (I’ve been asked by more than one person “how do you know it’s the same car?” The easiest way is via its chassis number, 509090. But there are also some tell-tale signs about the restoration that mark is as uniquely mine. Oh, then there’s that suitcase on the parcel shelf.)
I’ve also been asked if I knew who bought my car back in 2013 (no), if I knew the car had stayed in the U.S. (no), and if I knew how much the car has been used (yes). Checking photos of the odometer, I can attest that the mileage when I sold it was 29,529. Based on a photo on the RM Sotheby’s website, the current odometer reading is 29,530. One. Mile. Difference. The car probably gained that “mile” while being driven on and off transport trucks, which is a shame, because it IS fun to drive.
This also caused me to go back and verify how much I drove the car while it was in my possession. I found a photo of the odometer from 1995 showing 29,437 miles. So I drove it 92 miles, seemingly not a lot, but I also never ventured more than about four miles from home base either.
Most of the lots for this auction are no reserve (as this one is), meaning that they will sell to the highest bidder. And all of them have been assigned pre-sale estimates. For this Isetta, that range is published as $35,000 – $45,000. Nicely restored Isettas sold at auction within the last few years are off their high values of five-to-eight years ago; the more recent sales have hovered around $25-30,000. My best guess for #509090 is that it will hammer close to $30,000 (plus 12% buyer’s commission, which will be folded into the number that RM Sotheby’s eventually publishes).
I wish nothing but the best for the new owner, whoever that may be. And I know where you can read a long drawn-out saga about that car online.
All photographs courtesy of the RM Sotheby’s website.
RM Sothebys, the automotive auction company, recently concluded its Auburn Fall auction which was held September 3-5, 2020. Unlike many of RM’s recent previous auctions conducted online due to the coronavirus, RM allowed this one to be an in-person gathering at Auburn Auction Park in Indiana. However, being onsite was not a requirement for bidding, as telephone and web-based bids were still accepted.
Over 500 motor cars crossed the block, and while most sales were under the six-figure mark, several notable high sales included a 1935 Auburn Speedster which sold for $700,000, and a 1936 Duesenberg Tourster which hammered for $575,000. (Both these number are without the auction company’s 10% buyer’s premium added, so they reflect actual final bid when the gavel fell.)
Scanning through the results, I was amazed to see that over 60 of the automotive lots sold for under $10,000. True, many of these cars were projects, or unpopular pre-war vehicles in pedestrian body styles. But much of my amazement is simply finding so many cars available for an initial outlay of ten grand (or less). Frankly, I still hear the cries of “the hobby has gotten too expensive for me”, and again, those cries are originating from those who lament passing on that chance in the early 1970s to score a Shelby Mustang for $1,500. While those days are over, there are still plenty of affordable ways to enter the hobby.
A mantra of mine, which I chant to those looking for that first collector car, is “be open-minded”. If one is willing to consider brands, models, and body styles outside the typical collector’s purview, there are lots of choices, and there’s also lots of fun to be had.
Among the low-priced sales at RM Auburn, I selected six which struck me as interesting cars at fair prices. I’d be happy to have any one of these cars in my garage; some of them I might hold onto just for a few months so I could say “yeah, I had one of those once”; others might be worth hanging onto a little longer. While the selected six are personal favorites, I also made an attempt to select from a variety of body styles. You’ll find sedans, convertibles, trucks, and station wagons on my list. Undoubtedly, your six choices would be different. That’s the fun of collecting.
Let me know your thoughts: do you have a favorite among these? Is there one car which you think represents a best value? I’m more than happy to entertain a little back-and-forth about my picks. The results are arranged in ascending hammer price order (when you click on the link, please note that RM Sotheby’s shows a higher price because they always include the 10% buyer’s premium).
1988 Toyota Celica GT convertible hammered sold for $3250
The cheapest car on my list, it might also qualify as the most reliable. The bulletproof qualities of most Toyotas include this rare convertible variant. While not much to look at stylistically, this would be a fun car to take to cars-and-coffee events and cruise nights. I’d guarantee that you would have the only one there.
From a value perspective, Bring a Trailer (BaT) sold one in 2019 for $7,650. My Cars of Particular Interest (CPI) retail price guide puts this car in the range of $2000 to $5000 for a good-to-excellent value, so $3,250, while perhaps not a steal, seems a fair price.
1952 Kaiser Manhattan sedan hammered sold for $4750
Kaiser is a brand which I see at car shows so infrequently. It’s usually takes a National AACA show like Hershey for me to come across one. Kaiser production ended in 1955, so there aren’t many around, and therein lies the charm here. For under five large, you can have an almost “one of a kind”. One downside might be parts availability, but hey, the hobby is all about the adventure of scrounging for rare parts.
This price looks especially good when checking CPI, which publishes a range of $8,500 to $20,000 for cars in the good-to-excellent condition categories. And BaT sold one earlier this year for $8,800 , so buy this one and flip it if that’s your thing.
1988 Buick LeSabre Estate wagon hammered sold for $5750
Station wagons, known as long-roofs among collectors, have really taken off in just the last few years. While much of the interest seems focused on ‘60s and ‘70s American cars, this Buick wagon from 1988 is a little more modern, and a little more ready to be pressed into daily driver duty if necessary. The subject car even has the de rigueur reverse-facing rear seat (for when a minivan is just too ordinary).
The CPI values, at $1,500 to $3,600, surprise me, and frankly I think they’re low. Again, while older wagons have risen in value, snagging this ’88 puts you ahead of the curve. Compare this car to the one I found on Hemmings which is on offer for $9,000, and I think the RM car looks pretty pretty good.
Pickup trucks are hot: they’re hot as new vehicles (last I checked, which was earlier this year, average transaction price for a new pickup truck out the door was $51,000), and they’re hot as collectibles. Of my six choices, this one shocks me the most. Maybe I’m missing something; yes, it’s a long bed, and yes, it’s RWD. But still….
Of these six selections, this one is the project car, and for that reason, I hesitated in choosing it (I got over my hesitation). The aura exuded by this automobile is so overwhelmingly impressive that no matter its condition, it remains an object of desire. Now, even at a smidgen over seven grand, you’d need to pour in multiples of that to turn this into a reliable road car, never mind something show-worthy. And RM sold two other ‘56s, one of which, while over our arbitrary price break at $17,000 , was certainly the better deal.
Check out these numbers from CPI: $42,000 for “fair”, $68,000 for “good”, and $123,000 for “excellent”. Your choices are: park this one on your lawn as an ornament, or put $100k into a restoration, sell it for $120k, and net $3,000. I’m going to mull that one over and get back to you.
1976 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham coupe hammered sold for $7250
Tied for most expensive car on my under-ten-grand list, I think this might be the best choice in many ways: GM parts availability, orphan brand with huge hobby support, final year of the big GM full-size cars, roadworthiness as a touring car, and lots of creature comforts including air and cruise.
It’s difficult to find comparables, although Mecum did sell a ’76 Bonneville four-door for $10,500 way back in 2017. The CPI range is $6,000 to $14,000, which means this sale price is not a steal but not a rip-off. I’d need to blow a hole in the garage wall to fit it, but it might be worth it.
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.