Hot Rod Car Auctions - Going Once, Going Twice ... Sold!
Want To Bid On A Hot Rod, Custom Car, Or Muscle Car At An Auction? Here's What's Happening Out There, And What You Need To Know To Buy The Right Car At The Right Price.
May 13, 2011
By Ken Gross
Photography by Bonhams Co., Courtesy Of RM Auctions Inc., Mecum Auctions
A former Hot Rod cover car,...
A former Hot Rod cover car, the ex-Chrisman Brothers hammered Model A coupe, sporting a distinctive nose made from two '40 Ford hoods, sold in the high $600s at the Joe MacPherson Auction. It was a no-sale at $475,000 at Mecum's Monterey Auction in August.
With the U.S. economy slowly emerging from a recession, the jobless rate pinned at a dismal 8 to 10 percent, new car model sales off by millions of units, capital gains tax regulations about to change for the worse, and our enthusiast population inexorably aging, is this any time to buy a hot rod, custom car, or muscle car?
We think the answer is yes. But, consider these caveats: The state of the vintage car market is continually changing. The annual Father's Day Weekend L.A. Roadster Show has long been a barometer. This year, the swap meet was the largest anyone remembers. The annual SO-CAL Speed Shop open house was packed with newly built cars. Attendees speculated about the August Monterey, California, auctions, held in conjunction with the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, and the largest concentration of cars for sale in mid-year anywhere in the United States.
Last year, the August Monterey sales totaled $120-plus million. This year, with five auction houses vying for competition over three days, and several choice rods in play-like the legendary Chrisman Bonneville coupe, Ed Roth's "Tweety Pie" roadster, the restored, ex-Charles Marr/Jerry Huth chopped '40 Mercury, a stunning green Carson-topped convertible that was built before World War II, the chopped-and-channeled ex-Art Lellis '39 Ford, a Hot Rod magazine feature car in the '40s, a cherry black deuce three-window with a built flatty and Kinmont brakes-guys were waiting for records to be broken.
"Big Daddy" Ed Roth's bizarre...
"Big Daddy" Ed Roth's bizarre sense of humor was never better illustrated than with his pinstriped, purple altered-wheelbase and truly trick T. Russo and Steele sold it a few years ago for over $200,000; at Mecum's it was a no-sale at $175,000. You can't fault the auction; historic hot rod prices have slipped in this tough economy, but they'll be back.
It didn't hurt that while celebrating its 60th year, the Pebble Beach Concours featured a superb class of dry lakes and Bonneville racers-and the paddock at the Monterey historic races was dotted with hopped-up coupes, roadsters, and woodies. The fact that historic hot rods and sports racers are welcome at these premier events encourages buyers to seek them out and restore them, driving prices upward further still.
At Monterey, as auctioneers like to say, the money was in the room. When the last hammer fell on Sunday, August 16, Sports Car Market magazine's preliminary estimate was an astonishing $172 million in cars sold! Selected vintage-street and competition Ferraris, as well as classic Delages, Delahayes, and Duesenbergs, were routinely multi-million-dollar sales. A sleek '38 Talbot-Lago T150 brought $4.6 million and a Ferrari LWB California Spyder went for $7.3 million. At Mecum's lively Hyatt Regency sale, a thundering '66 427 Cobra, built for Le Mans with very interesting history, was hammered and sold for $700,000; a '67 L-88 Corvette brought $1.2 million; and Reggie Jackson sold a four-cam 275 GTB for $1.6 million. Obviously, there are still a lot of discretionary dollars available in the rarified world of the top car collectors.
The ex-Ray Fahrner "1850"...
The ex-Ray Fahrner "1850" Boothill Express is a holdover from a period of truly "Silly Showcars," as Pat Ganahl called them in his book American Custom Car. Somebody stepped up to the tune of $88,500, probably because the Hilborn-injected 426 Hemi is such a treat to view. E-T spindle mounts in front, Cragar SS in the rear, this odd rod was a Monogram model subject in the '60s, and it was re-issued in 1994. It's probably best shown in a Museum ... or a funeral home.
But a lot of hot rods and custom cars stalled. The Chrisman coupe, which brought over $660,000 at the RM Joe MacPherson estate sale, was a no-sale at Mecum at $475,000. Ed Roth's Tweedy Bird didn't fly, nor did the Art Lellis Ford, which went to $80,000 (failed to meet reserve, did not sell). John Mumford stole RM Auctions' little black deuce coupe, which was loaded with period speed equipment, for only $115,000. One ray of hope was the ex-Gerry Huth chopped '40 Mercury Custom, Bonhams' impressive $166,500. And that, in our opinion, was a steal, considering the high quality of workmanship on the car.
Posies "Extremeliner" brought $137,500-decent money for an older custom-while John D'Agostino's "Golden Star" '58 Olds went to a new home for just $60,500. The biggest surprise was the '34 Packard "Myth" custom, a design by the late-Strother MacMinn, built by noted restorer Fran Roxas, for an astonishing $407,000. If you wanted Ed Roth's "Road Agent," you could have had it for $154,000.
Muscle cars were erratic. At Mecum a rare '71 Corvette ZR2 brought just over half a million dollars, and a '71 AMC Javelin Trans Am racer notched $770,000, but many other nice examples, including several deuce roadsters, attracted just average bids and a lot of sellers were disappointed.
Here's the kicker: a '61 Ferrari 250GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta, known as a "SEFAC Hot Rod", because it was one of less than 20 examples fitted with a lightweight body and a hopped-up V-12 engine (Bruce Meyer owns one of these), brought a world record $6.1 million. It took an Italian hot rod to show the way.
Experts predict this may be just the beginning for an even more dramatic increase in auction interest and car prices. Why? Because the stock market is terribly erratic; interest rates have tanked; even real estate is iffy; gold is boring; and investors are putting their money into tangible, collectable items like paintings, sculptures, and yes, collector cars and even hot rods and customs.
Not exactly a hot rod, but...
Not exactly a hot rod, but built by Italmeccanica, who manufactured an early version of the S.Co.T. blower in Torino (Turin) Italy, this Flathead V-8-powered, Farina-built coupe, from the collection of Clyde Ensor, Sr., had a Ford Flathead V-8, an aluminum body that resembled an early Ferrari and a three-speed tranny. Estimated at $60,000-$100,000, featured in Speed Age in December, 1952, it brought a heady $143,000.
Considered one of the inspirations...
Considered one of the inspirations for the Plymouth PT Cruiser, Posies' "Extremeliner" knocked the custom car world on its ear in the '90s. Still stylish, totally unique, and a head-turner wherever it's shown, this Studebaker chassis-based icon sold for "just" $137,500 at RM. It could be a while before fine customs like this one are fully appreciated again.
Sedan deliveries are among...
Sedan deliveries are among the rarest Deuce models with only 400 built. This original example, the John Deats Ford parts shop truck, was straight as a stick, and had a dropped axle, a Winfield-equipped four-banger, and hydraulic brakes. Reportedly, this was the first time it had been seen in 45 years. It sold without reserve for $48,400. Another good reason to go to the auctions ... you just might get an amazing deal.
Here's a heartbreaker. This...
Here's a heartbreaker. This Deuce roadster, on a gennie frame, built originally in the '70s, finished in gray with gray leather, topped with a repop DuVall split windshield, packing a 286-cid H&H Flathead, a '39 three-speed Ford gearbox, buggy springs, and drums all around, and a '40 Ford rear, was estimated at $75,000-$100,000, with no reserve. It went for $55,000 and someone got a helluva deal.
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.
Chopped before World War II...
Chopped before World War II when it was a brand-new car, stored for years, period-perfectly restored by Tom Black, the ex-Gerry Huth '39 Merc was so fine. Bonhams' Auction sold it for an impressive $145,000 plus commission. We'd call it a steal, considering its history, rare parts, and workmanship.
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.
Built in 1952, an HRM feature...
Built in 1952, an HRM feature car in 1954, and a multiple award winner in period car shows, originally called the "Lil Beau T," it was renamed the "Black Widow" by Rodding & Re-styling magazine, it ran a 274-cid four-carb bored and stroked Flathead. Hot Rod Deluxe chronicled this car's restoration in 2008. Sold in Monterey, $89,100 seemed a low price for a car with so much documented history.
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.
A beautiful restoration, this...
A beautiful restoration, this Dearborn Award-winning '50 Merc was part of the famed Nick Alexander Collection until it was sold in 2009. This year $101,750 was all the money this summer. Add a set of pipes, drop it a tad, and you're ready to cruise.
The late Duncan Emmons was...
The late Duncan Emmons was a racing enthusiast. His chopped '70's era, 3-inch chopped '32 three-window with a 350/350 combo, was an original all-steel Deuce. The consignor was hoping for as much as $90,000 for this old California hot rod. He couldn't have been happy with $55,000. But we bet the buyer was delighted.
Not long ago, great customs...
Not long ago, great customs with show history sold for at least as much as they cost to build. Not so for the barris and Bailon award-winning John D'Agostino-built, chopped and air-suspended "Golden Star" '57 Olds. Although estimates ranged as high as $100,000, the hammer price, with commission, was just $60,500.
3. Obtain expert help
If you liked this old '55...
If you liked this old '55 Jag XK140 custom, you could have taken it home for a mere $38,500. Built by Joe Wilhelm, Jag six-powered, with a Paxton supercharger for a dyno-proven 312-bhp, it won Pebble Beach trophies half a century ago, reportedly turned a 14.9 second, 98.68 mph, and it'd been stored for years.
It's OK to bring a restorer or knowledgeable friend with you. If you can't, seek out authorities who know that car or model and ask questions. The man standing next to you may be an expert who's just waiting to talk about the car. Inspect a car very closely before it goes over the block. Read all the display material. Check the car mechanically. Many auctions have independent diagnostic services on site. For a fee they'll examine the car and give you an evaluation. Get to the auction a few hours before the sale begins so you can look at cars and select the one(s) you want. If you can talk to the owner,
do so. If he (or she) will start and run the car for you that's even better.
Jay Leno, who has an impressive collection of cars and motorcycles, says, "Buy the owner, not the car." Leno tries to establish a rapport with a seller, evaluates what he says about his car, and can prove it. Then Leno judges the individual (as well as the car, of course) and makes up his mind.
Not long ago, decent stock...
Not long ago, decent stock Model 18 Deuces were $65,000-$75,000 all day long. Then you disassembled it, sold the unusable parts, and built a highboy. This DeLuxe roadster, a lovely restoration by early Ford expert Homer Ladd, brought $99,000. It's too nice to hot-rod (bet you never thought I'd say that). Both the buyer and seller made out fine.
Testdrive the car, if you can, and note any visible problems. If you don't feel qualified, retain an expert to help. Make a fair offer, bearing in mind any work that's needed. If you're bidding at a vintage car auction, know your limits and the car's real value so as not to overbid. Arrange for shipping with a reliable specialist transporter. When the car is in your garage, examine it closely again, and make any needed repairs before registering it and taking it on the road.
4. Always have a number in mind
Once you've made a bidding decision, know when "your" car is going to be offered for sale. Know what you want to pay and be ready to bid. Remember to add in auction company commissions and fees to get the full selling price. Stay within your limits. Use pre-bid time to pick up tips, talk with other bidders, and examine the car from every aspect. Remember, when a car is actually on sale, everything happens very fast. Look to see who's bidding. If you spot one of the high rollers discretely raising a paddle, consider bidding on another day.
There's a palpable tension in a live sale, so if you've never bid at major auction before, learn what it's like by bidding at a smaller auction, even a charity event, or on eBay at sale's end, so you've had practice bidding under pressure. With bid paddles waving, tensions mounting, the auctioneer shouting, and the price rising rapidly, it's no place for on-the-job training.
5. Work With the ringmen (and women)
Duke Hallock, a Fullerton...
Duke Hallock, a Fullerton High School student in the '30s, developed his own design V'd, split windshield, modeled after an Auburn Speedster. Molded and cast in Duke's high school shop class. They were used by several pioneer rodders.
Top auctions have ringmen (and women) stationed strategically in the bidding area. Find the closest one and identify yourself. Tell him or her the car you want to bid on. Be near them when "your" car comes up. Their job is to ensure your bid is recognized and to keep you on top of what's happening. They know who's bidding, they'll coach you on when to bid, and when to wait. They're wired into the auctioneer's platform, so if you don't hear the bid, or need a clarification, they'll get it. They WANT you to buy the car, so they're "sort of" on your side. Don't ever reveal how high you're prepared to go, but be alert and ready to bid. The ringman will tell you when it's your turn. Know where you want to start. Stay cool.
If the car fails to sell on the block, try to find the owner right away, along with an auction company representative, and negotiate a deal. (Tip: the owner is usually that sad-faced guy walking after his car). Both parties would prefer to sell that car, right there, right now, rather than ship it home, so both sides are willing to compromise on price and commission. And you'll be the winner.
Built by the Hot Rod Garage...
Built by the Hot Rod Garage in Denton, MD, this 350 Chevy-powered chopped Tudor, with Moon EFI, a 700-R4 Cinnamon metallic paint, 460-watt Sony stereo, and Halibrand-style wheels was estimated at $50,000-$75,000. The low $52,800 selling price wouldn't have been enough to build it. Another great deal at RM.
Have fun, but be prudent. Vintage cars have vintage brakes and steering, very few safety devices, and they may have long-distance limitations. Until your "new" car has proven itself on the road, be cautious.
With the strong interest we currently see in building and driving rods and customs, and the eligibility of hot rods and custom cars for Concours classes, SRP believes it's only a matter of time before prices begin to head upward again. Learn successful auction techniques, do your research, and be ready.
(Editor's note: If you need to ship your car to an auction company location, or you've just bought a car and want to ship it home, SRP has worked with and has had success with Intercity Lines (800-221-3936, www.intercitylines.com) or Reliable Carriers (877-744-7889, www.reliablecarriers.com).
Genuine '37 Ford roadsters...
Genuine '37 Ford roadsters (with snap-on windows) are scarce as hen's teeth. Ford made just 1,250 examples (and only 12 survived) before offering the car with roll-up windows. Restored years ago by Don Critesor, of Portland, OR, this green beauty should have brought much closer to its $100,000-$125,000 estimate. Instead, it found a new home for $74,800, which was probably less than the restoration cost. I'm amazed the owner let it go!
This delectable Deuce was...
This delectable Deuce was built from a Dearborn-winning original. Solid Henry steel, Stewart-Warner instruments, rare Kinmont disc brakes, Columbia two-speed rear, mohair interior ... you couldn't build this car for the $115,000 that John Mumford paid at RM's Monterey sale. Don't you wish you'd been there?
Chuck Daigh and Marvin Panch...
Chuck Daigh and Marvin Panch drove this Experimental Class Battlebird at Daytona in 1957. Packing a 400-bhp, Hilborn-injected 312 Y-block, mounted 6 inches rearward, a Jaguar four-speed, Halibrand quickie, modified everything, built by Jim Travers and Frank Coons (C-T Automotive), it was campaigned by ex-Indy winner, Pete DePaolo. A second Lincoln-powered Battlebird was destroyed, so if you wanted it, you needed $280,500. That was the low end of the estimate, but it sold.