RM Sotheby’s Auction, Hershey, PA, Oct. 2022

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are These the Auction Cars That Got Away?

It can be entertaining to reminisce about “the one that got away”. Whether it’s the big fish that broke loose from your hook, or the college flame you think you should have married (and admit it, it wouldn’t have worked out), we occasionally think about the “almost” events from our past.

Those of us in the collector car hobby are particularly expert at this game. I haven’t met a single classic car fan who hasn’t cried on my shoulder about the one that should never have left the garage. A variation of that theme are the cars we could have purchased at auction and didn’t.

The recent release of Hagerty’s Bull Market List for 2022 provided something of a prompt for this post. I have no beef with their choices and have no plans to rebut them or offer my own. However, the list implies if not outright claims that certain cars will increase in value, some more quickly than others. We therefore swing back to the question of whether one can buy cars, especially at an auction, enjoy them for a while, and then sell them for a profit.

I decided to revisit my blog posts of five years ago, 2016, a year in which I attended auctions in Atlantic City, Carlisle, Harrisburg, and Hershey. Scanning the results, I spotted a few cars which seemed to sell on the low end of pricing compared to what they might bring today. (Let’s temper all this talk about “making a profit” by pointing out that the buyer must cover overhead such as auction fees, taxes, registration, shipping, insurance, maintenance, repair, and storage. Ownership of a car is not “free”.)

Below is my one pick from each of the five auctions I attended that year. The text and photo are carried over from my initial post, and I’ve added comments along with book values and an example of a recent sale.

FROM THE G. POTTER KING AUCTION IN ATLANTIC CITY NJ FEB 2016:

Here’s what I posted:

Lot #1542, 1995 Jaguar XJS convertible, champagne, brown cloth top, glass rear window, tan interior, 86,900 miles. Car looks very nice from the outside. Some driver’s seat bolster wear, otherwise clean interior. 6 cylinder, automatic, nice alloy wheels, paint looks great except for repainted passenger door (but it’s hardly noticeable). Sign on the dash said “not sold on Friday, but for sale at asking price of $9,500”. Online, the car was reported sold for $8,000. CPI values the car between $10,250 (#3) and $17,425 (#2). We would rate is at 3+ and call it very well bought.

Feb. 2016, G. Potter King Auction: 1995 Jaguar XJS
Here are my thoughts in 2021:

I remember this car well, thought it was very attractive, and thought it was a steal in 2016. That steal looks even better in 2021. CPI values the car in Dec. ’21 between $12,400 (#3) and $22,800 (#2). Bring a Trailer (BaT) sold a very similar one in October ’21 for $23,050. That eight grand sale is looking good.

 

FROM THE CARLISLE SPRING AUCTION IN APR 2016:

Here’s what I posted:

F464 1991 Chevy Corvette coupe, VIN 1G1YY2386M5104468, white, smoke glass top, 5.7L V8, automatic, 24,000 original miles, just serviced. Corvette alloy wheels are unmarked. Nose shows no paint chips or scrapes. Door seals in good shape. Interior is blue/gray, automatic, with slight carpet wear. Interior supports mileage claim. Paint looks original, all looks presentable. Glass OK. This car was very late in crossing the block, but bidder interest was high, possibly because of the low miles. Car was still sold within the CPI “good” range, so we’ll call this one well-bought.

CONDITION: 2-

HIGH BID: $9,200 SOLD!

CPI: $9,000-15,000

Apr. 2016, Spring Carlisle Auction: 1991 Corvette
Here are my thoughts in 2021:

This was when I started noticing how inexpensive C4 Corvettes were. To me, this car was a trade-off between the low miles and the auto gearbox. Since then, I’ve noticed that C4 values have been flat, as evidenced by the CPI numbers in the Dec. ’21 book: good-to-excellent values are between $7,000 and $13,500, meaning they’ve actually dropped in the last five years. On BaT, almost all the C4s are either ZR-1s or convertibles, and all have low mileage. The closest comp is this ’91 with 16k on it which sold for $15,000. The buyer of this white car would only be ahead if the car remained parked, and what’s the point of that?

FROM THE MECUM HARRISBURG AUCTION, JUL 2016:

Here’s what I posted:

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.

Jul. 2016, Mecum Harrisburg auction: 1977 MB 450SL
Here are my thoughts in 2021:

Awfully cheeky of me to write that, eh? Actually, R107 (platform name) Benzes have stayed hot, but particularly the final iteration, the 560SL models which were offered through 1989. Values of older ones like this 450SL are highly dependent on condition. I rated this car as a 2+. The current CPI values these between $12,800 and $28,000 for a good-to-excellent car. So I’ll stand behind my words from April 2016 and state that you could sell this car in this condition today for “a little more” than you paid for it in 2016. Here’s a recent sale of a ’78 450SL for $20,500 on BaT which supports the value range.

 

FROM THE CARLISLE FALL AUCTION IN SEP 2016:

Here’s what I posted:

Lot #T131, 1978 VW Beetle convertible, orange, white top, white painted alloy wheels, black vinyl seats. Sold for $5,750. While I did not examine this car closely, it appeared to be solid, with good paint and a good top. The white painted wheels must go, but that’s an easy fix. Sold for about half book price, perhaps because this audience wants muscle cars.

Oct. 2016, Fall Carlisle Auction: 1977 VW Beetle convertible
Here are my thoughts in 2021:

Of all the cars from my youth, I confess that air-cooled VW Bugs were my guess for cars to least likely appreciate and become collector-car-worthy. Of course, I was wrong. Exhibit A as represented here are the final run of Beetle convertibles, especially the 1979 final-year ones. This ’78 is close enough to that. I did note that at $5,750, this car sold “for about half book price” making book price back then about $12,000. The Dec. ’21 CPI puts these drop-tops between $15,000 for “good” to $32,000 for “excellent”. Earlier this month, BaT sold a black-on-black ’79 for $15,000, so our orange Beetle owner would do ok if they sold it today.

 

FROM THE RM HERSHEY AUCTION, OCT 2016:

Here’s what I posted:

Lot #142, 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster, red with tan interior, pre-sale estimate of $900,000 – $1,100,000

SOLD for $750,000

This was another cosmetic stunner, even if its red-over-tan was a change from its factory blue-over-cream. Claimed to come from long-term ownership, I had every reason to expect the car to break into seven figures. These 300SL roadsters long ago achieved price parity with their Gullwing brothers. Therefore, it came as a total shock to watch the hammer fall at a number so far below the low estimate. Was it the color change, did the audience see something I didn’t, or is the market that soft?

Oct. 2016, RM Hershey Auction: 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster
Here are my thoughts in 2021:

Mercedes-Benz 300SLs, both Gullwing and Roadster, are true blue-chip collectibles, meaning that their values are better than money in the bank. While there may be the occasional backslide, the law of supply and demand (few cars exist, moneyed buyers are a-plenty) means that waiting out any blip is simply a matter of patience. Yet as I asked above, did this one slip through the cracks? The only fault was the color change, and as long as factory colors are chosen, there is no real knock to value. Today’s CPI puts this car between $1.2 and $1.5 million (if you have to ask….). If it was flipped for a profit, let’s hope the owner at least got to enjoy driving it a bit. As you might imagine, online sales are few and far between. BaT did sell a Roadster in July of this year for $1.4 million.


It’s easy to be the armchair quarterback and say “you shoulda bought that one, you coulda doubled your money!”. Sure, like I had three quarters of a mil hanging around. Even the least expensive car of these five, the VW, would have likely cost closer to $7,000 when one was done with the initial outlays, including replacing those ugly wheels. My close friends and I agree: the Number One rule is buy what you like because you like it. The speculation game is a gamble and relies on good luck as well as a good eye. It can and does happen, but my experience is that turning a profit on a resale can mean holding onto a car for a while.

All photographs copyright © 2021 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.