A fixture for many years as an element of the AACA Fall Hershey, PA car show, RM Sotheby’s Hershey auction is conducted at the Hershey Lodge, a few miles away from Hersheypark. There, they have ample room to erect several tents, and the vehicles can relatively easily be driven (or pushed) in and out of the building as each one’s turn comes up to cross the block.
In recent years, RM has specialized in offering American cars at Hershey, and a large percentage of those have been pre-war (before World War 2). Since concluding my week with the Glidden tour last month, I can’t seem to shake this exciting notion of pre-war machinery being used for touring purposes. I’ve also been keenly interested in taking some measure of the supply and demand (that is, selling prices) of these older vehicles.
Some in the hobby continue to cling to the notion that collectors’ interest in any particular era of cars directly correlates to the age of the collector. Put another way, there are those who believe that there is greatly diminished collector interest in vehicles over 70 years old, as those who would remember them as new vehicles from their youth are all but gone from this earth. (This is also why some believe that automobiles from the ‘50s and ‘60s have diminished in value, as the oldest of the Baby Boomers who remember them from their own youth have begun to pass.)
My own observations discount this theory. I’ve rambled on before about the possibility that collectors are starting to view cars from the earliest days of the automobile as similar to paintings and furniture, meaning that they are being collected as much for their intrinsic and historic value as they are for their value as driving machines.
This year’s RM auction was a two-day affair, as has been the custom. As I was in town for only one day, I was witness only to Day Two at the Hershey Lodge. The vehicles on the ground were all due to be auctioned that evening; it appeared that the Day One auction cars had already been moved elsewhere. Of the ten cars mentioned below which caught my attention, six are pre-war, and five of those six sold, some for hefty amounts. (Vehicles which were offered at No Reserve are noted below.) Full results from Hershey can be found at www.rmsothebys.com. Prices shown below include buyer’s premium of 10%. I have sorted the lots this time in model year order (except for the Fiat which did not sell, covered at the end).
Lot 340, 1902 Oldsmobile Model R curved dash runabout
Black with red trim, black upholstery, wire wheels, blackwall tires. Website claims half-century with current owner’s family. Car was pushed into and out of the building for the auction.
SOLD for $38,500
I had incorrectly presumed that this was a re-creation, as every “curved dash” Olds I’ve ever come across has been such. If this is truly a 1902 automobile, then it’s 120 years old, and that alone is remarkable. Given its historical significance, I’d say that under $40,000 sounds like a bargain.
Lot 353, 1903 DeDion-Bouton
Yellow body and wheels, wood fenders, black upholstery. One year newer than the Olds, yet has a steering wheel as opposed to the Olds’ tiller. Car is smaller than it might appear in photos. Website claims that DeDion-Bouton was the world’s largest car manufacturer in 1900.
SOLD for $46,750 (no reserve sale)
“Only” 119 years old, but looks to be in great shape. What is it worth? On this day, it was worth just under $50,000. I’d fathom a guess that it would fetch more at a European auction.
Lot 385, 1914 Thomas K-6-90 Flyabout
Red paint, wheels, and upholstery, black folding top. Brass trim in and out, wicker basket out back. Dual unmounted tires on right side. Big car on 140-inch wheelbase. Website states that “6-90” in model name indicates 6-cylinder, 90 horsepower engine, also claims that car was rebuilt with custom coachwork in the 1980s.
SOLD for $594,000
Who says no one will pony up for a 1914 Whatever? Not I. Of course, Thomas is a brand with a significant early history. Six-hundred large bought this one, which, compared to modern supercars which sell in the 7-figure range, might make this one understandable. Everything’s relative.
Lot 352, 1921 Napier T75 Speedster
Green paint, yellow wire wheels, black upholstery. Swoopy open body with two rows of seats. Website states that this is one of only 120 cars built between 1919 and 1924.
SOLD for $52,250
I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of this brand before. In researching the car, it should come as no surprise that I have not. It’s a British marque which only built cars for six years, and only churned out 120 units at that. Like the DeDion-Bouton, I would imagine that the Brits would have paid more had it been auctioned across the pond.
Lot 408, 1934 Ford
Dark green body, black fenders, light green wire wheels, wide whitewall tires, tan interior. Rear-mounted spare tire. Website claims upgraded to 12V electrics, and same owner since 1984.
SOLD for $36,500 (no reserve sale)
A very attractive closed-body Ford which appears to have been restored close to its original appearance. This was the second-to-last car to cross the block on Thursday, which may have depressed the price a little.
Lot 364, 1956 Continental Mark II
Green metallic paint, full wheel covers, wide whitewall tires, green and white interior. Green steering wheel is a shade which clashes with the rest of the interior. Immaculate engine compartment. Difficult to find fault.
SOLD for $96,250
Compare this to the Mark II I spotted in the Hershey Car Corral just a few short miles away, and you begin to understand the difference in value based on the costs associated with doing a complete and correct restoration on one of these. Price paid was fair for the condition, but driving it will devalue it.
Lot 401, 1956 VW Beetle convertible
Brown paint (sign on car calls it “Sepia Silver”), VW wheel covers, whitewall tires, dark brown top, tan interior. An old Bug, as distinguished by the low-mounted front signal lights and small rear window. Website claims 23,666 miles shown are original.
SOLD for $71,500
This was one of those over-the-top restorations that looked better than new. I was around plenty of new Beetles in the ‘60s and ‘70s and none of them ever looked this sharp. In today’s market, there are plenty of deep-pocketed individuals willing to spend this kind of money for an example of the People’s Car.
Lot 384, 1959 Chrysler 300E convertible
White paint, wire wheels, wide whitewall tires, tan top, tan leather interior. Sign on car claims that of 140 built, this is 1 of only 27 which survive.
SOLD for $75,000
Some call the 300 Letter cars the original muscle cars. I disagree, because I think the definition of “muscle car” encompasses a smaller (intermediate) body with a big engine. Rather, these 300s are often called big brutes. By 1959, the Chrysler styling had gotten a little fussy, but there was a lot to like here. It’s difficult to refer to 75 grand as a good deal, but for the Mopar enthusiast, this was.
Lot 391, 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupe
Blue metallic, M-B wheel covers, blackwall tires, light brown interior. 3.5L V8, automatic, factory sunroof. Sharp looking Benz with prominent grille, wraparound rear glass, vestigial fins.
SOLD for $88,000
A beautiful and rare Mercedes, for about the same amount of money as a mid-sized Mercedes-Benz SUV would cost new today. The difference is that this one will hold its value.
Lot 377, 1912 Fiat Type 56 Touring
Dark blue, blue wooden wheels, brass radiator and headlights, wood windshield surround, black leather interior. Website claims this car was built by American Fiat, a subsidiary of the Italian parent company, and was actually manufactured in Poughkeepsie, NY! The website further claims that the car was restored in the 1990s, including an upgrade to hydraulic brakes.
NOT SOLD (high bid not recorded; pre-sale estimate was $700,000 to $900,000)
Photographs cannot convey the impression that this vehicle had on me. It’s huge, and so full of small details that one could spend an hour just constantly circling it, taking it all in. I was smitten with it, maybe because it’s a Fiat, maybe because I’ve never seen such a large Fiat! Whatever one’s interest is in collector cars, this one could easily serve as a centerpiece, whether the collection’s focus is pre-war, American-built, or European-branded. I loved it, but even if I could afford it, it wouldn’t fit in my garage!
All photographs copyright © 2022 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.