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Classic Car Corner: AUCTION TIME

  • Written by Tom Berg, Windermere

The first weekend of June brought about the second annual Mecum Classic Car Auction in Seattle at the CenturyLink Expo Center.

One of the local car clubs was asked to provide drivers to drive the cars through the auction block and they couldn’t come up with enough drivers themselves so they asked me to help out for both days.

mecumThe Mecum auction is, of course, a profit venture for Mr. Mecum and his family. I found out that the car club would be receiving a donation for their efforts but for some reason I would be working two 12-hour days for a t-shirt and a hat, which of course advertise Mecum auctions. After I volunteered I realized that I would be missing the annual Big Rock car show in Duvall and the annual Windermere Community Service day, both of which I always participate in. I had made a commitment, though, so of course I followed through.

Mecum runs at least a dozen auctions a year throughout the country and sells by far the most cars of any other auction company. Seattle had about 600 cars and in their Florida auction they run through almost 3,000 cars. At a brisk pace of two minutes per car, it takes a long time to get through them all. Mecum brings 75 of their own employees, three huge semi-trucks and seven semi-trailers to Seattle for this auction and its broadcast on NBCSN. It’s a major production and runs like clockwork. I was very impressed.

Some of the cars sell for whatever someone will bid for them but many have a reserve price on them, a minimum that the owner will accept, and that amount is not known to the bidders. If the bidding reaches the reserve price it is announced that the reserve is off and it sells to the highest bidder.

The bidder and the seller both pay a 10 percent premium to the auction house when a sale is made and the seller pays the auction house a set sum whether it sells or not. On Friday I was told that 51 percent of the cars sold and I don’t think the Saturday results were much better. Auctions strive for at least 60 percent, so hopefully Mecum made enough to come back next year. I drove through an amazing ’57 customized Ford convertible that the owner had put $135,000 into and it sold for $35,000. He told me he had once turned down $70,000. An outrageous ’55 Chevy with $430,000 invested in it went for $125,000. Most of the cars went for less than the owner had spent on them. We always say the first offer’s the best offer.

Driving the cars through the auction block was fun but since it was indoors they were towed and pushed most of the way (as per the fire department.) When we finally arrived at the auction block we were told to start the cars and drive up (about 70 feet) to the stage. Since we had not previously started the cars, every car starts differently, and it was really loud up by the stage, and we didn’t know if they would start or not. At least one of mine didn’t start (which of course bums out the car’s owner, since who wants to bid on a car that won’t start) and it had to be pushed on stage. When we finally got off stage we could start them up and drive back to their parking spot. On Saturday I got to tow the ones that wouldn’t start or were just plain too loud back to their spots.

This event was a lot more work than most of us anticipated but by next year I suspect that all of us will sign up again to work for free.

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