Mecum Auctions, Harrisburg PA, August 2018

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).

 

Thursday’s crowd

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.)

Estate collections were gathered together under banners

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.

 

 

 All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

Mecum Auctions, Harrisburg PA, August 2017

Mecum Auctions came to Harrisburg PA for the fourth consecutive year and held its collector car auction in the Farm Show Complex on August 3, 4, and 5, 2017. A cursory glance at Mecum’s website reveals a litany of events held around the country. In all, 14 different cities play host to a Mecum auction throughout the year, but Harrisburg is the only one situated in the Northeast.

Mecum creates identical auction block set-ups at each venue

The general location is well-known to all fans of special interest cars, as the Pennsylvania capital is almost exactly half-way between the cities of Carlisle, home of Carlisle Events, and Hershey, home to the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) Eastern Fall Meet. The crowds turned out for the auction action, as your scribe was on the ground both Thursday and Friday and observed the standing-room-only scene.

Hardly an empty seat to be found

Mecum advertised that “1000 cars” would be auctioned over 3 days. Thursday’s show started at 10 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m., with about 270 cars crossing the block; Friday started at 9:30 a.m. with automobilia, but the vehicle count almost reached 300, and the final gavel fell after 7 p.m.

The mix of vehicles was truly eclectic – while one could count pre-war cars on two hands, there were some gems from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Foreign jobs, as Tom McCahill might have called them, were well-represented by such famous marques as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, MG, and Ferrari. The largest count, of course, consisted of ‘60s and ‘70s American muscle cars and resto-mods.

A trend that seems to be growing at Mecum Auctions is the inclusion of what I can only refer to as “late model” vehicles, defined as cars and trucks under 20 years old which can be found in abundance on used car lots around the country. Some are interesting, some are not, but most did sell.

In contrast to previous Harrisburg auctions, this writer didn’t see quite so many bargains. The trend this year favored the sellers. An exception may have been the Mercedes-Benz SLs from the early Seventies through the late Eighties (known by their platform name, R107). Prices for these seemed soft (compared to, say, BringATrailer), but so much depends on condition, maintenance, and upkeep.

The sell-through rate was also strong, guesstimated by me at around 70% for Thursday and Friday. (I was not in attendance on Saturday, which is when the premium lots are run, tempered by higher reserves and greater likelihood of not meeting same.)

Complete auction results are available at www.mecum.com.

Below are results for vehicles which I found interesting. Prices are hammer prices, exclusive of any buyer’s fees. Note that Richard’s Car Blog continues to provide multiple photos of each car, and, organize the sold lots in price order, the better for you, dear reader, to make note of what your dollar can buy.

Click on thumbnail photos to enlarge them.


T116 1982 Lancia Beta Zagato, red with black top and interior. The Zagato model has removable top and soft rear window. Odometer (5-digit analog) is 48,000 miles. Only rust is finger-sized hole in floor on left side. Lancia alloy wheels. Dash is cracked. NO RESERVE.

SOLD for $5,000. I wrongly guessed half this amount, thinking that no one in the room would know what a Lancia was. A Lancia fan got a good car in a rare body style.


 T58 1987 Nissan 300ZX, grey paint and grey cloth interior, 49,000 on analog odometer. Nissan alloys. Very marked up on outside, black marks on RF fender, alloys very marked, black on stainless trim is wearing away. Spoke with owner, he bought car from neighbor, claims that car was well maintained.

SOLD for $5,000. Good daily driver until it snows.


T169 1996 Jaguar XJR, 4-door sedan, supercharged. 4.0L inline 6. British Racing Green non-metallic paint, tan interior. Cosmetically shows very well. Interior particularly spotless. Sunroof, full power accessories. Some paint scratches around fuel filler door, otherwise paint is good. Mileage reported as 70,000.

SOLD for $6,000. If no mechanical needs, may be a great deal in a car that can soak up the miles.


T15.1 1999 Jaguar XK8 convertible, dark red metallic paint, tan top and interior, paint unmarked, 74,500 miles on odometer. V8 and automatic. Condensation in left headlight, touch up of paint chips on right side door edge, staining on top. Doors shut well. Decent overall, but some swirl marks on horizontal surfaces, some scratches on rear quarter.

SOLD for $6,000. These cars have become an auction commodity.


T130.1 1998 Jaguar  XK8 convertible, light gold, tan top and interior. 79,000 miles on odometer. All alloys very pitted, driver’s seat bolster shows more wear than expected. Otherwise presentable. Originally a PA car. NO RESERVE.

SOLD for $6,500. Lot # T15.1 was the better deal, if only because the alloys were in better shape.


T155 1972 Mercedes-Benz 350 SL, 4.5 L V8, med blue metallic, with black interior. As a pre-1973 model, has small bumpers front and rear. Analog 6-digit odometer shows 051,545. Automatic transmission. Interior stock, driver’s seat shows minimal wear. Repainted to decent standard. Engine compartment filthy; a detail here would help immensely. NO RESERVE.

SOLD for $7,000. Nice buy of small-bumper R107 Benz.


T35.1 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450 SL, 4.5 L automatic, big bumpers. Dark blue, light cream interior, 169,000 on analog odometer. Driver’s seat bolster worn, and dye worn off, but not torn. Nardi aftermarket wood wheel, interior just looks old. Driver’s door rattles when shut. Chrome shows pitting. Car is a survivor at this mileage.

SOLD for $7,000. Good value if you plan to show it more than drive it.


F92 1988 Alfa spider Graduate, red, black top, tan interior. “Graduate” model was least-equipped of 3 available trim levels, with steel wheels and vinyl upholstery. Aftermarket alloy wheels and rub strips. Driver’s door very difficult to open. Series 3 with duck tail spoiler. Reads 70,751 on 6-digit odometer. Interior is OK as per ‘80s Alfa standards. Whole car could use a detail. NO RESERVE.

SOLD for $7,000.  No bargain for a Series 3 Alfa spider in so-so condition.


T5 2001 Mercedes-Benz SLK 230 – 2.3L supercharged inline 4, automatic, retractable hardtop, black with black and red interior, AMG wheels, paint nice, 119,800 on odometer. Bad rattle in driver’s door.

SOLD for $7,500. Cheap fun until something expensive breaks.


F22, 2006 Jaguar X-Type wagon, V6, automatic, AWD, medium red metallic, tan interior, odometer is 108,587. Interior design and execution is “down market” compared to XK8 siblings. Security cover, rear-mounted CD changer (remember those?). Jaguar alloys are unmarked. Paint is OK. Car has sunroof and factory roof rails. Odd duck of a car.

SOLD for $7,500. Great, now what do you do with it? Drive it, because re-selling it may be a challenge.


85.1 1985 Mercedes-Benz 380 SL , dark red metallic paint, tan vinyl interior 85,000 on 6-digit odometer. Drivers’ seat has a little bagging. Floor mats in red look odd, interior has sun-faded to different shades of tan, photo of black soft top shown, so car has two tops.

SOLD for $8,500. Some life left in it at this price and mileage.


T31 1999 Porsche Boxster, non-S model, flat-6, stick shift, red, black top, black interior. Outside looks decent, headlights are foggy. Odometer is 084,558. Driver’s bolster shows some wear. No indication if IMS bearing done.

SOLD for $8,500. Another commodity, sold for what seemed to be market-value.


F8 1979 VW Beetle convertible, silver, black top and interior, 63,814 on 5-digit analog odometer. Wide whites add nice old-school vibe, doors shut well. Some stone chips in front. Car has been driven and maintained, which is refreshing. Very attractive car compared to many other ‘79s for sale.

SOLD for $9,000. A win-win for both buyer and seller. Lots of fun left.


T65 1995 Chevrolet Corvette coupe, 350 V8, automatic, 33,000 original miles, white, smoke top, black leather interior. No second top. Factory wheels are unmarked. Spoke to owner, told me that car has lived in his garage, and he just doesn’t drive it anymore. Car is unmarked and unmodified.

SOLD for $9,000. At lunch, I ended up sitting next to the seller and his wife. They seemed pleased with the result, and he remembered me when I had looked over his car. The couple on the other side of the lunch table from me overheard us, and said they were the BUYERS of this car! The whole table had a good laugh at the incredible coincidence.

 


T69.1 1949 MG-TC, 4-cylinder, 4-speed, older restoration. Painted non-original bronze, top and interior are tan, engine is red, painted wire wheels. Owner’s son had car here, dad restored car in 1960s, driven 700 miles since. Dad is now deceased, car being sold at NO RESERVE to settle estate. RHD as all TC’s were. Car has nice original vibe, owner claims that car runs well.

SOLD for $11,000. Lots of charm at max of 45 mph. Try to find another running TC at this price.


T96.1 1979 Mercedes-Benz 450 SL, V8, automatic, claimed to be California car. Brown metallic with tan interior, hardtop on car, photo of soft top shown. Odometer reads 110,812. Nardi aftermarket wood wheel, doors shut well, no discernable wear on driver’s seat. Trunk is clean.

SOLD for $11,500. Good value for final year of the 450 SL, possibly held back by color.


T87 1983 Pininfarina (Fiat) 2000 spider, Red, black top, black interior. Claimed 12,600 original miles (possibly), claimed original paint (no way). Giveaway is bottle of body shop touch-up paint in center console. No rust anywhere. Looks like cosmetically well-done restoration of solid car. Engine compartment not up to same standards as paint and interior. New Ansa exhaust.

SOLD for $14,500. One of the nicer Fiat spiders out there, but still highly shocking (and shockingly high).


F42 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL500 retractable hardtop-convertible, “rare launch edition”, warm silver with black interior. Both doors rattle. (What has happened to Mercedes quality?)  Odometer reads 63,875, paint is unmarked. Factory alloy wheels. With top down, almost all trunk space is pre-empted.

SOLD for $16,000. There were easily a dozen of these in Harrisburg. All sold for about the same money. This was one of the more attractive ones, in both color and condition.


NOTABLE NO-SALES:

 T40.1 1994 Jaguar XJS convertible, 4.0 inline 6, white, tan top and tan interior, outside has add-on gold badges, alloys with fake wire wheel look, tarnished alloy gas filler. Top is worn along edges. Gold badging on back. Stress/heat cracks in tail lights. 85,000 showing on six digit odometer. Could use a good detailing.

NO SALE AT $7,000. How far could we have been from the reserve?

 


F20.1 2006 Jaguar XK8 coupe, 4.2 V8, automatic, BRG non-metallic, tan interior. 75,450 miles on odometer. Headliner is OK (known weak spot for these). Minimal driver’s seat wear. Paint is nice, except for hood, which shows blotching in numerous spots. Either something splashed on it, or there was poor prep on a repaint. Both doors shut well. Jag alloys are attractive and unmarked. Car only let down by hood, which doesn’t affect driving experience.

NO SALE AT $8,000. Based on hood paint, seller should have taken money and run to bank before high bidder changed his mind.


FINAL THOUGHT:

Fakes have been called Clones, Tributes, Recreations; now MIRROR IMAGES???

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

Larry Moves The Mercury At Mecum

“A roller coaster”: Those three words, direct from my friend Larry, summed up his experience as a first-time seller of a vehicle at a public auction. But this was no ordinary car, and certainly was an extraordinary auction. The car was his 1963 Mercury Marauder, a one-family car previously owned by his late aunt. (Regular readers of this blog have likely seen the coverage of this gem of an automobile. For those who may have missed it, you can find the story here.) It was Larry’s decision to liquidate it via his chosen venue, the Mecum auction in Harrisburg PA.

We’ve known for months that the vehicle would cross the block on Thursday July 30, the first of three selling days. We’ve also known that the lot number, T75, ostensibly meant that his would be the “75th car” to sell that day. Initial concerns about the car going up too early in the day evaporated when The Selling Day arrived. More about that in a few moments.

Larry had previously arranged for the car to be transported to the auction site via truck. Our plan was to arrive on Wednesday, do a final prep of the car, and check out the other cars for sale. We would be back early Thursday to stay with the car during its final roll under Larry’s ownership, and Friday would be our day to return to the auction in a more relaxed mode. Most of that went according to schedule.

After the requisite stop for a road-trip breakfast of Dunkin’ Donuts bagels and coffee, we were at the Farm Show Complex by 11 a.m. Wednesday morning. Credentials were quickly issued (registering ahead of time has its perks), and our lanyard-mounted badges allowed us access to the entire building. Your author attended this auction last year, but never left the main auction room. Much to my surprise, we found that there are many additional rooms throughout the complex. This is where all the cars and trucks (and tractors) sit waiting their turn. Finding the Mercury meant wandering among these rooms, although we were helped by the “Thursday”, “Friday”, and “Saturday” signs providing direction. As the Complex is used primary for animals, these back rooms are not air-conditioned (the main hall is), and have a musty, dingy feel to them. It’s not the most appealing arrangement for classic cars and trucks.

The Merc as found in Thursday's holding pen
The Merc as found in Thursday’s holding pen

The Merc was in the Thursday room, and looked pretty good after its journey. In fact, we decided based on the conditions in the holding pen that any final detailing would best wait until early Thursday morning. This was our excuse to spend the rest of Wednesday checking out the merchandise! By late afternoon we learned that drivers would be restaging Thursday’s cars from the pen to the tent immediately outside the main hall’s entrance. At around 5 p.m., “our” driver arrived, and suggested that we hop in for the ride, which of course we did. This was my first time in the Marauder with it moving under its own power, and it was Larry’s last time. As we coasted into our parking spot, I saw that we had a good location: the fourth row, near the front of the tent, very close to the main room’s entrance ramp.

Under the big tent
Under the big tent

The Big Day arrived soon enough. We were on site by 8 a.m. in order to secure a close parking spot for the daily driver, detail the ‘63, and chat up any potential prospects. Fears that we would not have an audience due to our rather early time slot were allayed when we saw A) the mob lined up at this hour to get into the building, and B) all the attention the Mercury was getting under the tent. Of course, there were about 150 other cars sharing the tent with us, many of them real beauties. But surreptitious listening to observers’ comments reinforced what we already knew: this was a nice car. Most onlookers told each other (or us) that it was great to see such a rare car; that the car’s condition was “fantastic” for an unrestored vehicle; and that it was one of the more striking cars in the tent that morning. We were feeling good! One gentleman in particular lingered long enough that he asked for the car to be started, and he was the only one to peer into the trunk. He told Larry that he would be bidding.

Detail bucket deployed for final time
Detail bucket deployed for final time

Mecum’s schedule said that automobilia would be sold starting at 9:30, with the first automobile crossing the block at 10 a.m. We do not know why cars did not start rolling out of the tent until about 10:45. However, once they started to roll, they moved quickly. Official drivers, distinguished by their neon green Mecum caps, were staged at the top of each row, and dispatched to the cars in plenty of time to start them, warm them up a bit, and begin the parade.

DSC01050
In case his green hat isn’t obvious enough, his badge says DRIVER

A few digressions: perhaps it’s me, but wouldn’t you think that if YOU had a classic car that you planned to sell at auction, YOU would make sure that the car would start at its appointed time? When I say “start”, I’m referring to “crank”, as in “have a charged battery in the car”! To my utter amazement, I saw not one, not two, but THREE cars ahead of us in the tent require the services of the jump-start cart in order to become motorvated (Chuck Berry’s word). In at least one of those cases, the jump attempt failed, and the good ol’ golf-cart-with-a-tow-rope was deployed. Once inside and on the smooth level ground, the white-gloved pushers move the car along with the engine off, and most of the bidding audience is never the wiser.

Golf cart doubles as tow truck
Golf cart doubles as tow truck

One of the volunteer drivers, a middle-aged woman assigned to move the ’67 Dodge next to us, chatted me up about the Merc, saying that while she liked it, she and her husband collected Pontiacs. I used the opportunity to inquire how she landed this prestigious job, and she told me that their club, the Susquehanna Valley GTO Club, volunteered their services to the auction company. So these drivers knew each other, and were on site primarily for the fun of it. She then confided to me that she did not drive a manual transmission, and she was quite nervous hopping into these “strangers’ cars and figuring out the controls”! Having worked for years at car dealerships, I told her that driving many different new and used cars every day becomes second nature.

It was time. Even with the late start, we had predicted that Larry’s car would cross the block between 12 and 12:30, and here it was just a few minutes before noon. The driver assigned to the Marauder asked Larry if there was anything special to the starting procedure. “Hop in and she should start right up” was the reply. He did and she did.

In the building at last
In the building at last

The Mercury cruised effortlessly up the ramp and into the queue. Once in the main building, the excitement level for both of us jumped up several notches. First, the car looked even more incredible under the neon lights. Second, the inside crowd mobbed this car (in truth, they mobbed every car in line). We got the sense that these folks were the more serious potential bidders, rather than the tire-kickers outside. The car got a more thorough going-over during these brief moments than it had at any point prior. Third, this line was moving fast! It felt like less than a minute before the Marauder was about to make the 90° right turn toward the block.

Then…everything stopped. A charity appeal began, in order to raise money for childhood cancer. This was a truly noble cause; and while $10,000 was raised, it gave us a chance to catch our breaths.

Mecum Man talks to the owner
Mecum Man talks to the owner

Like a light switch on at full brightness, then turned off, it was switched on again. I couldn’t tell you a thing about any of the cars that crossed the block ahead of us, whether they sold or not, and if they did, for what amount. My eyes were glued to that Merc, headed to a new destiny. The auctioneer’s voice was suddenly clear enough for me to understand every word: “Lot T75, 1963 Mercury Marauder, 45,000 original miles, unrestored barn find, one family since new, do I have 20,000, 20, 20, who will bid 20? Can I have 15, 15,000, anyone? 10,000, 10,000 for this Mercury? Do I have 5?” Finally, a bite. While I knew he would start high, there was a slight sinking feeling when I heard the opening bid drop all the way to 5,000. The auctioneer continued: “6,000, I have 6, 7,000, who will bid 7? 7, now 8,000?” And so on, as it quickly jumped to $10,000. “Eleven thousand dollars, who will bid 11? 11? 11?” Nothing. It stalled at 10,000. Larry, in the “batter’s box” as they call it, directly below the auctioneer’s podium, was getting pressure from the Mecum man to lower his reserve from $12,000. Larry would not. It was over. The car did not sell. It was 12:15 p.m.

We had 10; asking for the 11 which never came
We had 10; asking for the 11 which never came

Shock. Disappointment. Dismay. We could only repeat “I can’t believe it!” to each other over and over. The car missed Larry’s reserve by $2,000. It got a “The Bid Goes On” sticker stuck to its windshield, and was relegated to one of the back rooms normally used by horses and cows. Our cell phones went into overdrive, but instead of broadcasting success, our emails and texts informed our friends that Larry still owned the Mercury. Which brought up this realization: it would be Larry’s responsibility to move the car back home, on his dime. Time to stop thinking about it so much. Time to take a break and not worry about it for a while. We decided to have lunch.

After eating, we convinced ourselves that watching and enjoying the auction proceedings was a good thing to do, so we did. A calmness settled in, combined with an acceptance of the outcome. Larry would do what needed to be done, and I would do my best to support him through this.

Close to 5pm, almost 4 hours after the car failed to sell, Larry’s cell phone rang. It was a brief conversation. The Mecum rep who called told Larry that they had just gotten a bid from an absentee bidder (phone or internet) for the reserve price of $12,000. The car was sold. There was nothing he needed to do. Relief, not joy, was the emotion of the moment. We could talk all day and all night about how the car was worth more; about the lack of real interest among the in-person bidders; and about the sale going to someone who presumably didn’t even see the car in the metal. Finally, the goal was achieved, and a real sense of “done” settled over us. The beers with dinner that night tasted especially good.

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We returned bright and early on Friday morning to watch more of the auction without the pressure of the Mercury hanging over us, but we were tired. We hung around until right after lunch, when it seemed our best course of action would be to get on the road and ahead of the upcoming weekend’s traffic. The trip home gave us a chance to review everything that went down over the preceding several days.

There were some lessons learned about the entire auction process. Much of what occurs on the block is not predictable. While some nice cars sold for strong money and a few poor cars sold for cheap prices, good cars were not always bid up to a fair value, and some junk sold for what seemed like crazy high dollars. With all the effort we put into representing the car on Wednesday and Thursday, it ended up selling to someone offsite. Mecum’s cars and trucks tend to be all about the sizzle, whether they are bondo-filled quickie repaints, 100-point restorations, or dolled-up restomods. The Mercury was none of these. Did that affect its outcome? Who knows, because we don’t. Would the car have found a more receptive audience on Friday or Saturday? Again, perhaps, but perhaps not. Finally, would it have done better somewhere else? If so, where? One attraction about Harrisburg is its closeness. Taking it to another locale would have raised the costs of doing business for shipping and accommodations.

The collector car hobby is immensely fulfilling in so many ways. Auctions are only one part of it. At times, they’re a necessary element to help us continue with our passion. In this case, after the ups and downs of the roller coaster, the ride ended, and the players got what they needed to get out of it.

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

Larry’s 1963 Mercury Marauder

A while back, my good friend Larry mentioned to me, almost in passing, that his uncle owned a 1963 Mercury. Larry went on to say that the car actually had belonged to his aunt who passed away a few years ago, and with his uncle getting on in years, the uncle wanted to give the car to Larry.

Larry, in his understated way, made it sound like the Mercury was “nothing special” even if it was purportedly a one-family, low-mileage car. The implication was that the car was a true barn-find: left in a garage for years, unkempt, uncared-for, and likely in need of some deferred maintenance.

His uncle wanted Larry to keep the car. The problem is that Larry is like many of us in the hobby: there were already more cars than available garage spaces at his house. Over a period of time, Larry and his uncle came to an agreement that Larry would sell the car on the family’s behalf. He decided to list the car with Mecum Auctions, scheduled to cross the block at their Harrisburg PA event in late July.

This is where your scribe enters the picture: Larry wanted to dedicate an upcoming Saturday to get the car primped and primed, and requested that I be the official photographer for the submissions needed by Mecum. I also offered to assist in the primping/priming. On a sunny and warm Saturday in early May, we did just that.

The Merc's VIN.
The Merc’s VIN.

Upon first seeing the car, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this was no ordinary 1963 Merc: in fact it is the 2-door fastback “Marauder” model, with a 390 cubic inch V8 and automatic transmission. The car is metallic beige with a black vinyl roof and black vinyl interior. It started right up, and Larry backed it out of the driveway so we could give it a bath. That is when I saw just how preserved an original car this is.

Everything on the car appears as it did from the factory. There are no signs of any paint work anywhere; sighting down each side of the car shows not a ripple. The vinyl roof and interior are in similarly unblemished condition. The carpet on the driver’s side shows some entry/exit wear, only because the full-size floor mats did not extend to the door sill. All 4 full-size wheel covers are in place. Underhood, with the exception of some service items like hoses and clamps, the engine compartment is likewise original. All of the factory decals and labels are there (as is the trunk label). A really neat discovery was the “390 W” crayon marking on the firewall.

The glove box was a treasure’s trove of discoveries. A brown-paper bag with various small bits of hardware threw me for a loop until Larry identified it as the unused license plate hardware! We also found an almost-unbroken string of insurance cards going back to the 1980s to help support the one-family-ownership claim.

With an odometer reading just over 45,000 miles, we scoured the car in search of supporting evidence.

Original miles.
Original miles.

This is some of what we found:
• Owner’s manual shows 12k service done on 10/1/65 at 9,993 miles
• Hand-written note: on 9/7/66, car had 13,199 miles
• 11/25/79: lube sticker shows mileage of 40,055.0

After a wash and wipe, with a really thorough cleaning given to all the glass, vinyl and chrome, we were both surprisingly shocked how great the Marauder looked. The photos do bring out that the car has survived, and survived well. For Larry, if I can make this statement on his behalf, this is bittersweet: on one hand, he would love to keep the car as it was his aunt’s; on the other hand, he knows that he does not have the space or time needed to keep the vehicle, and moving it to the next owner is in many respects the best thing to do. His uncle reluctantly agrees.

The 1963 Mercury Marauder basking in May's afternoon sunshine.
The 1963 Mercury Marauder basking in May’s afternoon sunshine.
In 1963, before mid-sized cars took over the muscle-car spotlight, this flag helped identify the Marauder as a "performance" car.
In 1963, before mid-sized cars took over the muscle-car spotlight, this flag helped identify the Marauder as a “performance” car.

The car will cross the block in Harrisburg on Thursday July 30. A link to the car’s listing on the Mecum website is here:

https://www.mecum.com/lot-detail/PA0715-216423/0/1963-Mercury-Marauder/

All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.