Volume II, Issue 2, Page 3


AUCTION TRAVESTIES -- The real danger of auction fever

This time I'm bugged. I was watching the NBC News with Brian Adams, something I rarely do and was about to switch channels from the standard worldly mayhem when a teaser hook line about muscle cars did its job and kept me tuned through the Vonage and Burger King ads.

Sure enough back from commercial, the breaking story was about the Barrett-Jackson Auction and the huge sale prices many of the cars had generated. Front and center was the twin supercharged Cobra of Carroll Shelby. The $5.5 million sale price was the news of the day…some two weeks after the final gavel had sounded. It made be wonder about the currency of the rest of the news. Was it all two weeks after the fact?

What bugs me about the report was that it was very superficial – nothing new. They even missed the two big noteworthy items. First there was the controversy surrounding the expelling of a journalist for bad mouthing the auction at the media tent. Second, the on-line chat room attendees were accusing “auction promoters” of floating out cars for sale that they in fact owned, running up the bids and buying back their own cars to raise the perceived value (and their commission) of like cars. It should be noted that I am in no position to take sides or make accusations on either of these points – just things I have heard, wrong or right.

That NBC could be so blind as to run such a nothing story surprised me. Knowing the wealth of folks trying to "Catch a Predator,” NBC reporters could have easily laid in the front rows of the auction audience and picked off those folks who deserved to be sedated for their ridiculous bids. While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is clear that most of the bidders have no real interest in the cars beyond the buying and selling of commodities. Like pork bellies or orange juice futures, these folks are running up the tickets on these cars to the detriment of those who really enjoy driving the classics. How far do you think that guy with the $5.5 million Cobra will drive that beauty?  He could have saved himself a lot of money by purchasing the car half done in 1988 when it sat at Mike Fennell’s Auto Body Shop in Santa Clarita. At that time I remember seeing the car wrapped in a big baggy, waiting to be completed. According to a conversation I had with Mike in January 2007, the car sat in his shop for 18 years until the IRS repossessed it from the current owner (not Shelby – he had sold it previously for $10,000 according to Fennell) for some nefarious reason. As I have found over the years, it’s all a matter of timing.

The same crazy then-versus-now deal can be said of one of my personal Chevys, a ’68 L88 Corvette, silver-on-silver convertible. In 1968 only 80 L88-equipped cars were built making this a very rare Vette. I had purchased the car in 1988 and set about using it in various magazine articles in Car Craft and Popular Hot Rodding. I enjoyed driving the car, having purchased it from Al Maynard in Detroit earlier that year. I can remember rolling it out of my garage and down the block before I would start it so as not to disturb my immediate neighbors, driving it around town just for cruise night fun, taking it to both Willow Springs Raceway and the LA County Raceway drag strip for some quarter-mile exercise. I still have the time slips: 13.08 at 112 mph on the Polyglas tires (altitude corrected). For the record, that was in the top of third gear at 7200 rpm – with the top down!

The fact is, folks aren’t apt to do that with such as rare a car today. You just aren’t going to take a machine that could be in the realm of $300,000 and bang gears through the quarter mile. If there is one major travesty to the auction situation, that is the biggest. Not only will these new “non enthusiast” owners not drive the cars, they will curse them for the attributes that made them special: raw power, slow unassisted steering ratios, no air conditioning, hard biased ply tires, etc.

Eventually they will sell them for a loss. Or auction them off to another poor commodity broker. Frankly, they deserve it. A piece of advice for those with car-buying money burning a hole in their pocket – Go buy a Range Rover and stick to the stock market. 


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