Auction Report: Mecum, Harrisburg PA, July 2016

Mecum Auctions came back to Harrisburg PA for the third consecutive year, and held its auction event at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex on July 21-23, 2016. Your correspondent was in attendance, also for the third year running, and while external appearances were roughly the same, the men and women of Mecum have been hard at work on incremental improvements.

Mecum builds the same set at every auction
Mecum builds the same set at every auction

Two years ago, parking was confined to off-site lots which required shuttle buses to usher attendees back and forth. Food was only available from counter service inside the building, with limited menu choices. Signage everywhere was poor, leaving many to wander and wonder which way to turn.

YUGE video screens always give you current bid
YUGE video screens always give you current bid

This year, ample parking was available within the Complex parking lot itself, allowing one to be inside within minutes. Food trucks lined the back parking lot, offering the traditional burgers and chicken, plus crab cakes, po’ boys, pizza, and Greek gyros. Not only were large signs posted everywhere; upon entry, all who paid admission (NOT just bidders) were handed run sheets, maps, and daily programs. The improvements were palpable, and it reinforced the juggernaut that Mecum has become in the collector car auction business.

Good crowd, plenty of seating, and A/C
Good crowd, plenty of seating, and A/C

The quality of the consignments seemed rather consistent each of the three years, although this year, there were fewer of the vehicles that light my fire (original and/or unrestored American cars, and European sporty cars). The field was heavy with hot rods and resto-mods, and of course, the always-expected Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes (as my friend Larry said of them, “the backbone of the hobby”). The latter three models easily comprised about 20% of the total offerings.

The queue on its way to the block
The queue on its way to the block

Sitting through two complete days of across-the-block auction action, the room was almost constantly abuzz. Real bidders were bidding, and most cars generated a high level of excitement. When that seemed to wane, Mecum seemingly just turned up the volume on the already-blaring PA system to make sure you were awake.

A recent distasteful trend: well-restored cars with modern wheels
A recent distasteful trend: well-restored cars with modern wheels

Sell-through rate appeared strong (SWAG: 70%), helped by Dana himself arm-twisting owners on the spot to drop their reserves and close the deal. Are some prices off their highs of one to two years ago? Yes. Is everything selling at distress-sale levels? Absolutely not. To those who think that the collector-car hobby is in a slump, I hold up Mecum Harrisburg 2016 as Exhibit #1 that it is not. And if it was slumping, it has bounced back with a vengeance.

Mecum staff excellent at organizing cars in staging tent
Mecum staff excellent at organizing cars in staging tent

Below, in lot number order, are my thoughts on an varied group of cars and trucks which were interesting to me. You, no doubt, would have chosen 14 different vehicles to profile. Let me know which of these, if any, you would have bought for the price.

 

 

LOT T41, 1977 MERCEDES BENZ 450-SL

Condition estimate: 2+

SOLD for $15,500

This generation SL is hot right now, especially the 450-SLs from the late ‘70s like this one, and the final 560-SLs. Many of the ones we see at auction are dogs; this one was decidedly not. Price was not a bargain, but fair for a very presentable Benz. This car can likely be enjoyed and then sold in several years for the same or a little more.

 

 

T114.1, 1985 BUICK RIVIERA

 

Condition estimate: 4

SOLD for $2,000

The scene on the auction block was something I’d never witnessed before. As the car came up, “auctioneer A” could not get a single $1,000 opening bid for it. He asked, begged, cajoled, screamed, and pleaded, all in vain. There was a long pause, and (this was the novel part) Jimmy Landis, Mecum’s well-known town crier, grabbed the microphone and said “let me try”! But still no bids. Jimmy turned to the owner, and into the microphone, said “sir, nobody wants your car!” Finally, someone in the crowd, recognizing that they could buy a running, driving, V8-powered American automobile for cheap, bid $1,000, then $1,500, then $2,000, at which point Jimmy screamed SOLD!!! This entire process took the better part of 10 minutes.

We checked out the car later. The sides were laser-straight, but the black paint on the roof was a little sketchy. The interior was not trashed, and it all seemed to be there. Someone got a driver for very little money.

 

T136, 1972 GMC PICKUP TRUCK

 

Condition estimate: 3-

SOLD for $12,500

There were a large number of GM pickups from this generation (’67-’72) at the auction, most of which were either restored to #1 condition or were rodded. This was one of the few that appeared to be original and unrestored, and the truck had an honest vibe to it. The price seemed to favor the buyer; a few thousand more would not have surprised.

 

 

T140, 2002 JAGUAR XK8 COUPE

 

Condition estimate: 3-

SOLD for $7,000

Jaguar XK8 convertibles outsold their coupe counterparts 10 to 1. Coupes are therefore thin on the ground, and it was nice to see one. However, as I sat in the driver’s seat, “crumbs” appeared on my shirt. Looking up, I saw…. that the car had no headliner. This selling price (no reserve) seems fair, but don’t forget to factor in the parts and labor for a headliner.

 

 

T142, 1993 CHEVROLET CORVETTE COUPE

 

Condition estimate: 2

SOLD for $13,500

Green over tan is popular on MGs and Jags, but not to everyone’s taste on America’s Sports Car. The car was clean and purportedly very low miles. Price was a bit higher compared to what we saw at Carlisle just 3 months ago; are C4s on the way up?

 

 

 

T154, 1984 PORSCHE 944              

 

Condition estimate: 2

NOT SOLD AT $15,000 HIGH BID

As Porsche 911 prices climb beyond a reasonable level for the average collector, other Porsches gain interest. Several years ago, there was no such thing as a five-figure 944. This car, from the model’s third year of production, was highly optioned, and in an attractive and rare color. But it’s the later 944s which are getting bucks in the mid-teens. This car should have sold at this number.

 

 

T172, 1995 JAGUAR XJS COUPE

 

Condition estimate: 2

NOT SOLD AT $10,000 HIGH BID

The 1991 redesign of the XJS actually improved its looks, at which time, the introduction of a 6-cylinder engine and a full convertible meant most were built that way. That makes this late 12-cylinder coupe rare, but as we know, rare does not always equal valuable. The bid price seemed close enough to me, but not to the owner. One would guess we were no more than a few grand away from the reserve.

 

 

T263, 1968 CHRYSLER IMPERIAL

 

Condition estimate: 3-

NOT SOLD AT $7,000 HIGH BID

“I got me a Chrysler it’s as big as a whale” sang the B-52s, and it certainly applies here. This car was fascinating on many levels: its size, originality, color scheme, and details like a shrouded dash with hide-away radio panel. This car was American late ‘60s luxury at its finest (if only it fit in my garage). A weekend spent detailing the land yacht (especially underhood) might have garnered a sale price a thousand or two more than the high bid.

 

 

F25, 1959 AUSTIN-HEALEY SPRITE

 

Condition estimate: 4

NOT SOLD AT $13,000 HIGH BID

All my friends know that I like small cars, and I’ve always been smitten with Bug-eyes. Sitting in this one, I was appalled at the complete lack of attention to detail. The overall vibe was of a car that was quickly slapped together for resale. Bug-eyes routinely trade in the $10,000-20,000 range, depending on equipment and condition. I don’t know what shocked me more: that the bidding reached $13,000, or that the owner didn’t grab the money and run.

 

 

F33, 2000 PORSCHE BOXSTER S

 

Condition estimate: 2-

SOLD for $12,500

The color scheme, bright yellow with a BLUE cloth top and black interior, turned me off, as did the automatic transmission. There are too many other choices among used Boxsters to rate this as anything but on the expensive side for a late model play toy.

 

 

F38.1, 2002 JAGUAR XKR COUPE

 

Condition estimate: 3

NOT SOLD AT $8,000 HIGH BID

The XKR is the supercharged version, and this car (complete with headliner) deserved more. The miles were relatively high at 85k, but a mid-teens sale price would still be fair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

F80, 1965 FIAT 600

 

Condition estimate: 3

SOLD FOR $13,500

I fell in love again with an Italian redhead, but compared to last year’s 2-cylinder job, this girl runs a 4-banger and is water cooled. Thinking I might steal it if bidding stayed under $10k (hey, this audience is here for ‘murican muscle), bids quickly exceeded that and was hammed sold at what is admittedly a fair price. Just don’t take it on the Turnpike.

 

 

 

F140, 1957 FORD THUNDERBIRD

 

Condition estimate: 2-

SOLD for $34,000

The windshield decal claimed that the car has had the same owner since 1969, which seemed to play in this car’s favor, as it gave the appearance of a car that has been well-kept while still being enjoyed. Two-seat T-Bird prices are all over the place; as the final year of the first-gen car in an attractive color, I call this well-bought.

 

LOT F215, 1957 BMW ISETTA

Condition estimate: 1-

SOLD for $25,000

There’s one at every auction – this one was in the frequently-seen two-tone combo of red and white. It appeared somewhat over-restored, save for some orange peel on the door. I spoke to the owner, who acknowledged that he might be out of his element with this audience, then confided in me that he needed to get $30k for it. I guess Dana changed his mind, because the hammer dropped $5k light.

 

 

All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mecum Harrisburg PA Auction Report, Jul-Aug 2015

Mecum Auctions returned for its sophomore performance at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, PA on July 30-August 2, 2015. This is the only Mecum event held in the Northeast. (Their next closest auction is in Indianapolis.) Given the TV exposure they garner, combined with the number of shows held in all 4 corners of the contiguous 48, the name “Mecum” has risen above collector car stalwarts like Barrett-Jackson to become synonymous with “collector car auction company”. The crowds in attendance in Harrisburg bore that out. (Your author was on site for Wednesday’s preview, plus Thursday’s and Friday’s auction action.)

After last July’s inaugural run proved they had a market here, everyone came back for more. And could they have chosen a better locale than Harrisburg, centered between Carlisle and Hershey? Those of us in the hobby have been attending events in Carlisle since the mid-1970s. Hershey has hosted an AACA Eastern Fall Meet since the early 1950s, and that show has grown to become the single largest hobby car extravaganza in the country. The Farm Show Complex building, while not ideal because of limited on-site parking and air conditioning limited to the main hall, does allow lots of spread-out room.

Attending on Wednesday gave me the chance to see first-hand the huge logistical effort that is involved. Vehicles must be checked in, and more importantly, staged in lot number by day. We’re talking over 1,000 cars and trucks. There are also the motorcycles and the memorabilia, such as neon signs. Since this is a televised event, the stage and all its electronic accoutrements must be assembled. As we departed around 7pm on Wednesday, the Mecum staff was far from finished. Arriving at 8am the next morning caused me to conclude that they worked through the night, because everything was ready for show time.

My friend Larry (who was there to sell his 1963 Mercury Marauder) was with me. He has watched enough Mecum TV to know the auctioneers, TV commentators, and ringside “ushers” by name. Frankly, I was impressed. Of course, all the lights, music, and personalities in the world don’t mean a thing if bidders aren’t bidding. But people were there to buy cars. Like clockwork, the cars crossed the block in correct order; the auctioneers cattle-called in their unintelligible babble (thank goodness for the super-large display screen always showing the current bid); the “ushers” cajoled the last dollars out of anyone who dared to scratch their nose, ear, or elbow, signaling intent; and cars were either declared ‘SOLD SOLD SOLD’, or, as Mecum likes to say ‘the bid goes on’ for cars not meeting reserve.

This man just bought a car!
This man just bought a car!

Thursday’s offerings were a bit different than Friday’s. Because Larry was only offered a Thursday slot, we learned that Mecum holds Thursday’s lots to vehicles below a certain estimated value, likely around $25,000, based on observed results. While a good number of Friday’s cars sold below that too, the average price was higher, with more than a few sales approaching $50,000. Saturday is reserved for the crème de la crème. We missed it. I’m sure you can find it on reruns.

Not all cars left the tent under their own power
Not all cars left the tent under their own power

The sell-through rate was certainly better on Thursday. Counting only the 81 vehicles we personally watched cross the block, 53 cars sold, for a 65% success rate. Friday’s on-site observations totaled 51 lots, with 25 of those (49%) finding new owners. One would hope for everyone’s sake that the results got better as the weekend went on.

Presented below in lot number order is a small sample of the Harrisburg offerings, weighed heavily in favor of “cars I like”, mostly European stuff (which make up a very small percentage of the offerings). The “CPI Range” is the good-to-excellent values from the July-August 2015 edition. Note that the prices listed below (as well as those at http://www.mecum.com) do NOT include buyer’s commission.

Your comments, critiques, and questions are welcomed! CLICK ON THE PHOTOS TO ENLARGE THEM.

1. Lot #T55, 1999 Porsche Boxster, non-S (S did not come out until 2000), silver, black top and interior. 5-speed stick. 36k original miles. Original paint shows scrapes in front bumper, blemishes on hood, gouge in driver’s door. Wheels and tires look small (compared to all the 22”s at the show), but are factory correct. Black interior shows normal wear for age and miles. Rear spoiler stuck in erect position. Overall, a used car that looks OK but for lack of a detailing. CPI RANGE $10,000-15,000, SOLD FOR $11,000. Good used Boxsters are an inexpensive entry ticket to the Porsche ownership experience. This one needed someone to love it. Make sure the IMS (intermediate shaft) bearing has been done.

2. Lot #T68, 1967 Sunbeam Alpine convertible. Red with aftermarket Minilite-style wheels. Black interior. Odometer reads 43,000. Red paint is just average with lots of orange peel, uneven spray, ripples in front fenders. Talbot-style outside mirror. Outside chrome is good. Interior is fine except for missing dash pad. Top is down, so cannot inspect. Exhaust tip extends too far past rear bumper. While the wheels help with overall appearance, the car is a true 20-footer. CPI RANGE $9,000-20,000, SOLD FOR $7500. What, no V8? Most folks would look at this and mistake it for a Tiger. This is one way to get the look but not the performance at a steep discount. A fun and affordable way for someone to enter the hobby, while driving something a little different than what everyone else has.

3. Lot #T113, 2001 Mercedes Benz CL600 coupe. 12 cylinders, automatic. Silver paint with grey interior. 20” factory wheels. Very clean for a car with 102,000 miles showing. Nice overall condition for what is nothing more than a 14-year-old used car. CPI RANGE $13,000-17,000, SOLD FOR $11,000. Window sticker claims an original MSRP of $117,000. If you need 12 cylinders, might be worth waiting for the depreciation. Bring a gas card.

4. Lot #T126, 2000 Jaguar XK8 convertible. Silver paint with taupe interior. Odometer reads 126,000. Aftermarket oversize wheels and tires detract from overall presentation. Car is otherwise stock. Interior is decent for this mileage, but e-brake boot is torn, driver’s seat bolster is worn, as is steering wheel. Scratch on outside mirror cover. Probably original paint, car looks good considering the miles. Biggest improvement would be return to factory wheels. CPI RANGE $10,000-14,500, SOLD FOR $6,500. We’ve seen innumerable XK8 convertibles at recent auctions, and they all seem to sell in the $6,500-8,000 range. With supply outpacing demand, hold out and be picky if you want one. This might not be that one.

5. Lot #T153, 1979 MGB convertible with V8 conversion. Black paint, stripes, black top, tan interior with black piping. Odometer is 78,000. FMVSS label in driver’s door jamb gives it away as U.S. spec car, so was born with a 4-cylinder. Rover V8 engine swapped in. Black paint is OK, top is decent, interior is nice if obviously reupholstered. MG-branded alloys look good. Both front and rear bumpers fit poorly with large gaps. Engine install looks clean, but underhood wiring is sloppy. And why use blue electrical tape? Ran out of black? Would be fun to drive, as that V8 doesn’t weigh any more than the factory 4-pot. CPI RANGE $7,000-16,000, SOLD FOR $16,000. We watched this bid to $15,000 where it was declared “not sold”, and the house was told it would take $20,000. But the website shows it sold for $16,000. Your choice: a very clean and correct MGB, or this rough-around-the-edges one, for the same money. Sometimes you gotta date the wild ones, even if the maintenance is high.

6. Lot #T181, 1972 BMW 3.0 CSi 2-door hardtop, black paint and interior. Six cylinder with stick shift. BMW alloy wheels. Odometer is 85,000. Let’s start with the good: the interior is decent. The original design is stunning, and except for an aftermarket wheel, it appears to have held up. On the outside, the black paint is shot, especially on all the horizontal surfaces. Rust bubbles threaten to bust out of the paint and choke you. The car by design has no B pillar, but door and quarter windows on both sides fit so poorly that door windows overlap quarter windows by ½”. A true fright pig that needs a full restoration. CPI RANGE $31,000-59,000, SOLD FOR $24,000. The CPI values are for a car in good to excellent condition, which this car was not. I was floored by the final bid. If someone dares to undertake it, the restoration will cost more than today’s top value. It will be a long time before the restorer recoups his/her money. Or just drive it until the rusty front fenders fall off.

7. Lot #T274, 1978 Datsun 280Z, silver paint with black interior. Odometer reads 78,000. Inline 6 with 5-speed. Aftermarket alloy wheels nicely set off the car. Repaint looks good and glossy but paint is thick in places. Sign on the car claims original interior, and that is believable. Aftermarket racing pedals so out of place on otherwise decent interior. Dash pad cracked in several places. Rear hatch won’t open past half way. The 1978 was the last of the original Z cars, as the 1979 model was the ZX. CPI RANGE $8,000-18,000, SOLD FOR $15,000. While the hammer price is in the upper end of the book value range, the earlier 240Z’s are well above this, having accelerated beyond what many hobbyists can afford. This 280Z gives you the same look, with Japanese reliability and maintenance ease, in a package that can be enjoyed for years. You likely will not lose money down the road.

8. Lot #T301, 1999 Porsche Boxster, 5-speed, black paint, top, and interior. Shows 34,000 original miles. Wheels are 19” factory. Same year as lot #T55, the silver Boxster, but this one looks so much sharper, as paint is better, and Porsche wheels set off entire stance of car. Minor wear on driver’s seat, some hard plastics worn in interior. Otherwise hard to fault. Hot (in both senses of the word) in triple black. CPI RANGE $10,000-15,000, SOLD FOR $11,000. Sold for the exact same price as T55, but of the two, this was the one to have, provided you’re OK with driving a black convertible in the summer sun. Like the silver one, this is an inexpensive and reliable opportunity to enjoy a Porsche. 

9. Lot #F77, 1969 Fiat 500L, blue with tan interior. Air-cooled, rear-engined 2-cylinder motor, stick shift. Done up as some kind of Abarth replica, with 13” Abarth wheels, decals, requisite open engine lid. Fabric sunroof. Lots of “cute”, likely the cutest thing at the auction. Looks good, but not without some faults: steering wheel center button hanging by its wire, passenger seat upholstery torn, aftermarket gauges in dash look tacky, window moldings rough. What is replica and how authentic are these changes? THIS MODEL NOT IN CPI; EARLIER GENERATION CAR IS $12,500-29,000. SOLD FOR $17,500. Fiat 500s are hot in the marketplace right now. Jerry Seinfeld collects these (he also rolled one). If the Abarth mods added any useful horsepower, would be a blast to drive. Yes, I adored it, even with the (fixable) flaws.

10. Lot #F82, 1932 Essex Super 6. 3-speed. 2 door coupe with rumble seat. Dark blue-green with dark tan leather interior. White wall tires, painted wire wheels. Striking looking pre-war car. Sign claims former AACA award winner, but does not state which decade award was given. Looks like a slightly older restoration which has held up very well. Suicide doors, tight entry into tight passenger compartment, the governor of NJ need not apply for entrance. Paint, pinstriping, chrome look great. Hood not open, so no opportunity to view engine compartment. Lots of neat styling details like V-radiator and headlights. NOT IN CPI. SOLD FOR $24,500. This car drew me in because of its style and overall condition. Looked good enough to show, but not so perfect that you’d be afraid to drive it, which is what I’d do if it were mine. Price seemed fair just for the uniqueness (when did you last see an Essex at a car show?).

11. Lot #F110, 1984 Jaguar XJ6 1984 sedan, black with grey leather interior. Jag’s inline 6, automatic, sunroof, 56,000 miles. Black wall tires on chrome wire wheels. Not a single flaw in the entire black surface, not a single swirl mark. Interior presents well with minimal wear on driver’s seat. Side moldings detract from classic XJ lines, but may have saved it from door dings. It’s striking to see any 1984 Jaguar that sparkles like this. Cannot open hood. Trunk full of documentation going back to original sales order. Car from dealer in Kansas, alleged to be two owner car. CPI RANGE $4,300-8,500, SOLD FOR $10,000. I expected this car to sell in the $6,000-8,000 range like most ‘80s era XJs, but it exceeded book value, and was worth the premium. One of my favorite cars of the hundreds I looked at over three days.

12. Lot #F261, 1962 Triumph TR-4 (first year for this model, still on solid rear axle; TR-4a indicates IRS). Red paint, black top, black interior with white piping. Odometer reads 60,000. Chrome wires. Red paint is spotless, entire car looks great from a few feet away, but car is let down by some details, such as pitted door handles. Underhood looks good except for blue tape on harness (restorer borrowed roll of tape from owner of the MGB V8). Interior looks good, metal dash is painted white, as per factory arrangement. CPI RANGE $18,500-36,000, NO SALE AT HIGH BID OF $34,000. Like so many cars we saw at the auction, the restoration work takes it to 90% or 95%, and the final details get missed. Or the restorer burns out, or runs out of money, who knows. This TR was very nice, and should have sold at the top bid. Now owner gets to take it home and do what with it? Take it to Monterey?

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