Can one collector influence a market? Yes, if he's the late John O'Quinn, a billionaire Texas class-action attorney who amassed over 1,000 cars and then died in a car crash before his plans for a museum could come to fruition. The market for historic hot rods was driven upward, for a time, by Ralph Whitworth, a wealthy enthusiast, who planned a museum in Winnemucca, Nevada, but was forced by the recession to divest of most of his cars at a $17-plus million RM Auction at the Petersen Automotive Museum just last year. None of us are getting any younger. SRP predicts we'll see more choice rods, customs, and muscle cars at auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, in January. Mecum, Barrett-Jackson, and RM will lead the way and some of this Monterey enthusiasm is bound to trickle down to the modified cars we like. But be wary.

There are very smart hot rod buyers out there-guys like Richard Munz, Kirk White, John Mumford, Ross Myers, Bruce Canepa, Bob Everts, and Bruce Meyer. They already own many significant cars; and they'll step up for the right one. So if you see them bidding, as the song goes, "you'd better step aside." That said, they can't buy 'em all.

Here are the insider auction tips and techniques you need to know, to be a successful bidder.

Collector car auctions are exciting, fast-moving, entertaining, and deadly serious events. But whether you're an experienced veteran or a first-timer, don't even think of bidding unless you ...

1. Always do your homework before the auction
Know what you want to buy before it's on the block. The more specific you are about a make and model, or a specific hot rod or custom car, the better. Check out auction websites to see if the car you want is listed. Find an auction calendar in Keith Martin's Sports Car Market magazine www.sportscarmarket.com or Hemmings Motor News www.hemmings.com, then order the specific catalog.

Got a Jones for a '68 Barracuda like you had in high school? Check out the latest value in Cars That Matter www.carsthatmatter.com. Go to auction websites to compare past sales. Consider past results just a guide however, not a hard standard. Buy a marque/model-specific reference book www.motorbooks.com), and decide which features, engine, transmission, etc., you want.

Know up front if you want a roadster, coupe, custom, or a resto mod (a muscle car with modern upgrades like disc brakes, radials, improved shocks). That way, you don't get your purchase home and wonder, "what was I thinking?"

Join Goodguys, NSRA, the HAMB, Hotrod Hotline, and KKOA (if you want a kemp). Their classifieds will give you a few choices and prevailing asking prices. Sign up with the relevant marque club, like National Corvette Restorers (NCR) or the Pontiac GTO Club before you hit the sales. Their monthly newsletters/magazines are packed with information. (For club listings, seeHemmings' Collector Car Almanac).

2. Target the nicest car you can afford
Restoration is always more expensive than buying a car in good to excellent condition. The auction catalog description is only as valid as the information the owner volunteered. Read between the lines. Catalogs often ramble on about the glorious history of the model or hot rod being offered. Somewhere in the text, you may discover this particular car is a re-body, or its engine numbers don't match the chassis, or they aren't correct, or the engine isn't the original. Any of those factors drive the value down. Be wary. As Ronald Reagan said, "Trust, but verify."

Ensure there's a clear, valid title with no liens. If you're unsure, have a knowledgeable friend or an expert technician thoroughly examine the car. Review service and restoration records if they're available. Never bid impulsively or spontaneously on a car on the block that simply catches your eye. You'll regret it.