When we heard a few months ago that Mecum Auctions would be holding a collector car auction at the Anaheim Convention Center (located literally across the street from Disneyland), we were beyond stoked. Yes, we’ve been to a couple of Barrett-Jackson auctions before, and have watched countless Barrett-Jackson and Mecum auctions on TV, but we were curious to experience a Mecum sale in-person. Also: We rarely turn down the chance to check out hundreds of cool cars and trucks all in one place.
So behind the Orange Curtain we ventured, and into the main hall we walked (The auction occupied three of the convention center’s four sprawling ground-floor halls.). Immediately, we saw row upon row of gleaming sheetmetal (and, in the case of the scores of Corvettes on offer, fiberglass). And much of the content of many of those rows was really high quality. The paint, panel fitment and other indicators of how much time, money and effort were spent on a restoration on dozens of cars was terrific.
Of course, not all the pressed-out automobiles were restored to stock condition. There were oodles of hot rods and customs, including two historically significant hot rods. The first was the 1936 Ford 3-Window Coupe seen in the lead image, which was originally customized by one Jack Calori. This low, black and handsome hot rod (which made it onto the cover of the November 1949 issue of Hot Rod Magazine) sold for a colossal $300,000 before buyer’s premium and other taxes and fees. The second was the 1932 Ford Roadster seen above, which was once owned by Tom McMullen, who went on to become a publishing magnate. This famed-and-flamed “Deuce hiboy” was hammered away to a new home for an outrageous $700,000 plus commission and fees, making it the priciest sale of the auction (The Calori ’36 was the third highest; a 1930 Duesenberg Model J Limousine sold for $370,000 to split them.).
However, you didn’t have to bring six-figures to go home with a new toy. There were numerous cars, trucks and motorcycles, both old and nearly new, that were picked up for prices in the low five-figures and, in some cases, the high four-figures. Late model Mercedes-Benz SLs, 1994-’96 Chevrolet Impala SSs, and vintage American pickup trucks were just some of the vehicles people with last surnames other than Slim, Buffett or Gates would consider affordable. Granted, not all of the classics at this price point were restored or maintained to the same level as the high-dollar cars, but on the upside, you wouldn’t be afraid to park it next to the cart return at the supermarket.
But how do you go about buying a car at an auction like the ones put on by Mecum? Well, after doing your due diligence beforehand (looking at the car inside and out in the display area, talking to the consignor if possible, researching the sale prices of similar ones and coming up with a maximum you want to spend, etc.), the vehicle in which you are interested rolls onto the block – or in the case of Mecum, the red carpet – and the auctioneer starts asking for bids. Once you or someone else hears the auctioneer call out a number somebody is willing to pay, the bidding begins. When you place a bid, a bidder’s assistant like Mecum’s “Chicken George” Boswell (above, whom you might recognize from various seasons of Big Brother) makes a beeline for you to signal to the auctioneer that you are the high bidder. If someone outbids you, the bidder assistant asks you if you want to raise your bid, and communicates your intentions to the auctioneer via hand and verbal signals. If no one else wants to bid and the reserve has been met (more on that in a minute), the auctioneer drops the gavel and you’re the new owner!
If the bidding doesn’t meet the reserve, or the minimum price set ahead of time by the seller, one of three things can happen: The seller can choose to lower or remove the reserve, the auction company can offer to waive some seller fees to make up the difference, or the reserve can be left in place and the vehicle is rolled off the block as a no-sale. However, most auction houses will work with the seller and bidders to try and reach a monetary middle ground where the vehicle will be sold after the fact; at Mecum, this is known as “The Bid Goes On…” Interested parties can either head over to a booth stage left of the auction block or check a sticker placed on the vehicle windshield to see what the highest bid was. They can then consult with Mecum personnel, who will then bring the seller into the discussion and try to come up with a number that’s acceptable to both buyer and seller.
It’s this dedication to pursuing every possible opportunity to get a vehicle (be it a car, truck, motorcycle, boat or even a tractor) or piece of memorabilia sold that has helped Mecum grow in the 25 years since its founding, and has earned company founder and president Dana Mecum (who enjoys working as a bidder assistant himself as much as he enjoys hamming it up for the bidders, sellers, his employees and the audience) the nickname “The Dealmaker.” The company holds auctions all across the country virtually year-round, many of which are broadcast live on the Velocity network. Even if you go to an auction and don’t buy a single thing except an admission ticket, you still get to stroll around what is effectively a car show where all the rides are for sale. Plus, you also get to experience firsthand the human drama that can only come from two or more people wanting the same thing. Car show and theater: How can you beat two activities for the price of one?