What constitutes a “bargain”? Is it always limited to an “on sale” price? Does a bargain happen when a seller is unsure of an item’s value and lets it go for a lowball offer? Is it possible that when an entire category (think housing) is deemed expensive that anything which sells below market, no matter its condition, is perceived as a bargain?
The definition of a bargain has been discussed a lot lately in the superheated collector car market. Starting sometime in 2020, soon after the Covid pandemic shutdown, prices of special interest cars skyrocketed. In some cases, certain cars saw their values double and triple compared to one or two years prior. Vehicles that were previously deemed uninteresting were bringing silly money, especially at online auctions. It has gotten to the point where some collectors have opined that “any running, driving collector car for under $15,000 is a ‘bargain’”.
There’s that word again. When I attended Day 1 of Mecum’s 2022 Harrisburg auction (their first time back in PA since before the pandemic), it was because I knew from past experience that any potential bargains happen early in the proceedings. My auction report below covers the sale of 11 cars which I found interesting, 10 of which sold on Wednesday, and one on Thursday. All the cars below sold between $5,000 and $22,000. Not all were bargains (looking at you, 2002). However, as I’ve heard myself repeatedly state, if you are looking for a collector car, have between $10k and $20k to spend, and most importantly are open-minded about make and model, there are indeed some bargains to be had.
Vehicles are listed in ascending sale price order. Listed sale price is the HAMMER price and does NOT include the 10% buyer’s premium.
Lot #W67, 1937 Pontiac 2-door sedan. Black paint, plaid seat covers over very worn tan upholstery. Red wheels with newer looking whitewall tires. Six cylinder, 3-speed. Much of the exterior glass is cracked and/or delaminated. No reserve sale.
SOLD for $5,000. We had a long talk with a bidder was fiddling with the car the entire time. (I thought at first he was the owner.) He claimed that the car was in good shape and that he was going to buy it, however, we saw a young man, perhaps in his early 20s, who was the winning bidder. Hope he has fun with it.
Lot #W132, 1991 Honda Civic Si, 2-door sedan, red, black interior. 108 HP 4-cylinder engine with 5-speed manual gearbox. Odometer shows 119,131 miles. Looks clean for its age and mileage, and more strikingly, appears unmodified. May have been painted at one point to a less than professional standard.
SOLD for $8,500. Miles are low for a 30-year-old Honda. Aside from sketchy repaint, there were no glaring faults. Let’s hope the new owner drives it and avoids any temptation to make mods, which thankfully all previous owners were able to do.
Lot #W36, 1971 BMW 2002 2-door sport sedan, dark blue, black vinyl interior, odometer shows 84k miles. Windshield label claims “in climate-controlled storage since 1987”, but must have lived a rough life prior to that. Extensive rust throughout body and engine compartment.
SOLD for $9,000. A shockingly high result, even in this overinflated age. I had pegged it at 5 grand max. I thought I heard the auctioneer state that it was sold to an online bidder, who may have thought the car looked good in photos.
Lot #W57, 1982 Chevrolet El Camino, two-tone tan and beige, tan interior. 350 V8, automatic, A/C. Sign states recent repaint. Little to fault cosmetically.
SOLD for $10,500. El Caminos will always have a following, although it’s the Chevelle-based ones from the 1960s and early ‘70s which generate the most interest. Still, given the popularity of pickup trucks of all sizes and ages, and the behemoths which pass for full-size trucks today, it’s easy to look at something so reasonably sized like this one from 1982 and understand the attraction.
Lot #T130, 1970 Lincoln Continental Mark III, pale green, dark green vinyl top, black interior. 460 V8, fully equipped with all the luxury features of 1970.
SOLD for $10,500. This sold on Thursday, so while we didn’t see this one cross the block, we got the sale result from Mecum’s website. The right people weren’t in the room. This was a #3+ condition car which sold for #4 money. I can only guess that the green colors held it back.
Lot #117, 1986 Jeep Comanche pickup truck, dark blue, tan interior, V6 and automatic. Sign claims 58k miles. Factory A/C, power steering and brakes, radio, and not much else.
SOLD for $13,500. Might seem like a lot for an ‘80s pickup truck, but given what Chevy and Ford versions are selling for, this price seems fair. Besides, if you like having something different, this is the ticket.
Lot #W106, 1960 Ford Thunderbird 2-door hardtop, bronze, white painted top, bronze interior, wire wheels, whitewall tires. Sign states “Special Edition”; not sure what that includes, but this car had factory air, super rare sliding sunroof, and porthole windows. No reserve sale.
SOLD for $18,000. Last year of the Squarebirds, of which I’m not a big fan. However, the color combo, condition, and perhaps most importantly, options on this one made for an appealing package. This might have been a bit of a bargain at this price.
Lot #W147, 1963 Buick Riviera, black on black. First year for GM’s first “personal luxury car” to compete with Ford’s Thunderbird. Appears done to correct original standards except for unattractive aftermarket wheels, but they should be an easy fix. Well-equipped from factory, except lacks A/C.
SOLD for $20,000. Imagine that it’s 1963, you have about $5,000 burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re in the market for a new car. Your choices include 3 new cars introduced this model year: the Riviera, the Corvette Sting Ray, and the Studebaker Avanti. Oh, and although it was introduced in 1961, let’s throw in the Jaguar XKE. If you needed yours to be a 4-seater, and you (correctly) had doubts about Studebaker’s longevity as a manufacturer, the Riv wins. It’s amazing these first-gen Rivieras aren’t worth more. This one sold a little under current market.
Lot #W107, 1965 VW Beetle 2-door sedan, red, grey/white interior. Appears freshly restored to decent standard. Sign claims upgraded from 6V to 12V electrics (necessary to power those LED headlights which were added). Cheeky little thing.
SOLD for $20,000. When I was a younger man and first started going to car shows, I swore that VW Beetles would never become collectible. I was very wrong. The world will never forget the Beetle.
Lot #W87, 1968 Mercury Cyclone GT (sign states Fastback, but car is notchback). Burgundy, black vinyl top, black interior, gold stripe, full wheel covers, whitewall tires. 302 V8, 4-speed manual, bucket seats and center console. Exterior and interior in good to very good condition, engine compartment could use a detailing.
SOLD for $20,500. As we have seen time and again, it’s the Fords that bring the bucks while similar Mercurys, which cost more when new, don’t perform as well. This was a rare model in a rare body style. The 4-speed was the big attraction. A sold deal for the FoMoCo fan looking for something a little different.
Lot #W146, 1929 Ford Model A roadster, green body, black top and fenders, yellow wire wheels with whitewall tires. Appears to be an older restoration. We spoke briefly with the owner who claimed that the car “runs well”.
SOLD for $22,000. It’s unusual to see pre-war cars at a Mecum auction, but this was one of several that crossed the block, and that was just on Wednesday. Interest in these old sleds is far from dead, even though anyone who would have bought this new has long since gone to the great salvage yard in the sky.
All photographs copyright © 2022 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.