RM Sotheby’s again used the backdrop of Fall Hershey to conduct a successful collector car auction at the Hershey Lodge on October 5 and 6, 2017. With cooperative weather, this scribe spent a pleasant Friday evening loitering in the staging tent immediately adjacent to the building entrance.
The catalog fee, which grants admission for two, is up to $200 (my first Hershey RM auction in 2008 cost me $80). Once inside, one is constrained to one’s seat. I find it more rewarding to be outside, wandering among the lots, watching them be driven into the building, and taking in the auction block action courtesy of the outdoor loudspeakers. It’s also free.
Recent RM auctions have shown a focus on prewar and immediate postwar domestic iron, and Hershey ’17 continued that trend. Another trend, which we are guaranteed to see escalate, is the sell-off of estate collections. Two such groups of cars were sold on Friday: The Don Gibson collection, six Fords from 1938-1951, and a dozen cars from Thomas F. Derro, the majority of which were Chrysler Corporation vehicles from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Let us pause for a moment and discuss this. It’s not difficult to understand what is happening. Collectors are dying. In these cases, the “estate”, whether it be the widow, the offspring, or the dictates of the will, has decided that the family does not wish to deal with the vehicles. Perhaps the interest is not there, or it’s seen as too much work for relatives. Maybe the thoughtful collector prearranges this to make it easy to turn metal and glass into cash.
Enter the auction company. A representative swoops in and states “dear family: you need to do nothing. We will take the cars, clean them, prep them for auction, photograph them, market them, and sell them. We will take our commission, and at the end of the process, you will receive a healthy check.”
While the Gibson collection of Fords may have had reserves attached, all cars sold. By contrast, the Derro collection was conspicuously advertised as being sold “without reserve”, so they all sold too. (As I was not present for the sale of the Derro cars, please check RM’s website for those results.)
The no-reserve sale is a win-win-win. The auction company is guaranteed to get its commission. The estate is guaranteed 100% liquidation. And the bidders, knowing the cars will be sold, have a shot at obtaining something for a bit of a bargain, or at least a fair deal.
These collections, plus many of the other Friday sales, also bust open an oft-repeated myth: “the market for prewar and high-end immediate postwar cars is dying”. This auction showed it to be rather healthy. Is everyone doubling their money on cars they’ve owned for only a few years? Of course not, and that’s not the point. The point is, quality continues to sell.
During the first several dozen sales on Friday, some really nice cars from the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s were bid to high five-figure and low six-figure numbers. Most of them found new homes. Don’t doubt for a moment that there isn’t value in a supercharged Graham, or V12 Lincoln, or even a Metropolitan convertible. Read on and see what happened at RM Hershey 2017.
NOTE: All “sold” prices shown below are exclusive of 10% sales commission.
LOT #211, 1917 DODGE BROTHERS ROADSTER
SOLD FOR $10,000
These early Dodges were known as finely-engineered cars, and considered quite road-worthy. This one looked complete, and appeared to be a very serviceable older restoration. It started and ran into the building without issue.
LOT #212, 1958 MORRIS MINOR CONVERTIBLE
SOLD FOR $22,000
This cute Minor convertible looked like a recent restoration, done to a correct standard. No obvious modifications from original spec were noted. The car ran well for the short distance it needed to drive.
LOT #219, 1931 DE SOTO ROADSTER
BID TO $39,000 AND NOT SOLD
This DeSoto oozed charm, and looked so much more appealing than the more frequently-seen Ford Model A roadsters of the same vintage. Another advantage for the DeSoto: its straight-six engine. The pre-sale estimate was optimistic at $50-70,000, and the bidding stopped at $39,000. One would like to think that it was close.
LOT #221, 1970 TOYOTA FJ LAND CRUISER
SOLD FOR $38,000
These FJs have become an auction staple, even at a prestigious RM event. This one looked freshly restored. It sold for about the going rate, but my question is, what do you do with it? After paying 38 large plus commission, are you going off-roading?
LOT #222: 1941 GRAHAM SUPERCHARGED SEDAN
SOLD FOR $77,500
If the body style looks familiar, it’s because Graham used the body dies from Cord to build the Graham sedan. This was a simply elegant prewar car, especially in its rich looking dark blue. Proof that collectors will step up and buy these unique and classy automobiles.
LOT #225, 1936 LINCOLN V12 CONVERTIBLE SEDAN
SOLD FOR $110,000
Representing true American luxury at a time when many families could not afford a car, this Lincoln V12 competed with the best from Packard and Cadillac. The 4-door convertible body style was about to die, which only adds to the allure of this fine automobile. I could not hear the engine as the big brute motored past me.
FOUR 1951 FORDS, FROM THE GIBSON COLLECTION
LOT #227, CRESTLINER, SOLD FOR $29,000
LOT #228, RED CONVERTIBLE, SOLD FOR $26,000
LOT #230, VICTORIA COUPE, SOLD FOR $35,000
LOT #231, BLUE CONVERTIBLE, SOLD FOR $44,000
Do you like 1951 Fords? Don Gibson did. By ’51, the Ford car was in its 3rd and final year of a styling cycle that debuted to great fanfare in 1949. Ford was also a pioneer among low-priced cars with special rooflines and trim options, such as the Crestliner and Victoria 2-doors seen here. All these cars appeared to be in strong #2 condition. None were steals, but all sold for a fair price, and have lots of life left in the show or cruise circuit.
LOT #233, 1961 AMC METROPOLITAN CONVERTIBLE
SOLD FOR $67,500
That is not a typo. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I, and a number of spectators around me, were speechless as the result was announced. As the kids would say, WTF? The only explanation I can muster is that this car was indicated to be one of only 116 Canadian-spec Metropolitan convertibles. But if that is supposed to explain this unrepeatable price, it’s lost on me.
LOT #234, 1934 LA SALLE CONVERTIBLE
BID TO $127,500 AND NOT SOLD
Of all the Friday auction cars, this is the one that stole my heart. I can’t say that “LaSalle” was ever on my radar before, but the styling of this elegant two-door, one of Harley Earl’s earliest efforts, was perfect in every way. It didn’t sell, but the auctioneer said after taking the final bid, “we are close”. I’d like to think that you could not overpay for such an outstanding automobile.
LOT #236, 1937 CADILLAC V8 CONVERTIBLE SEDAN
SOLD FOR $87,500
Another 4-door convertible, this “lesser” Caddy was competing with V12 and V16 models in the same showroom. Again, we see evidence that well-restored, yet usable, prewar luxury cars continue to find an appreciative audience.
Part 3 of my 2017 Hershey coverage will highlight the Saturday car show.
All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.