Mecum car auction sells more than $26.65 million

As the auctioneers on stage aimed to persuade the nearly 1,000 registered bidders to outbid one another for the variety of muscle cars, Mecum High Performance Auctions was busy churning out enormous numbers at its Belvidere auction May 23-28 at Boone County Fairgrounds.

Mecum sold more than $26.65 million in muscle cars.

It had the aura of a fair. Families and friends would stroll and mingle through row after row of exclusive muscle cars. If they became hungry, they could purchase food at one of many stands and could even gulp down an ice-cold beer or other beverage if they so desired. People could also get autographs and talk cars with celebrity auto enthusiasts such as baseball’s Reggie Jackson, first lady of racing Linda Vaughn, and race car legends Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick and Mr. Norm Kraus.

“It’s interesting to see where all the cars come from,” Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins said.

“There is no pattern to how they will sell.”

The main attraction was inside a huge tent at the end of the aisles, where close to 1,500 cars were being auctioned for astonishing prices. A 1929 Duesenberg Model J sold for seven figures. “Quit raising your hands, or you’ll end up buying two Pontiac Tempests,” an attendant said jokingly to a friend.

“This is very big and exciting because it’s huge numbers,” said John Kraman, a Mecum sales representative. “There’s no way to predict how the buyers will evolve and adjust over the course of a year, five years or 10 years.”

The crew, like the cars, was a well-oiled machine, bringing on stage car after car, averaging about 25 cars for bid per hour. For the pricier cars, the auctioneer would give the bidders more time to make a decision, while consignors nervously waited, hoping to let the auctioneer know the “reserve is off,” meaning someone had bid high enough to buy the car. “Sold!”

That’s when the smiles, the laughs, high fives and fist pumps followed from Dana Mecum and his staff, who knew they would receive either a 4 or 6 percent commission from the seller and 5 percent from the buyer for each car priced $10,000 and higher.

“We are really the cutting edge in offering cars in a logical, deserving order,” Kraman said.

If sellers decide the bidders didn’t offer enough for their car, the auctioneer announces “the bid goes on,” meaning buyers can still contact the consignors to see how much it would cost to purchase their vehicles. If the car does sell, Mecum Auction pays the consignor immediately at the event.

“We stick our necks out, that’s what we’re known for,” Kraman said. “People know if you bring a car to a Mecum Auction, you’re going to get paid. It’s part of the cost of doing business.”

Kraman said the goal is usually to sell between 55 and 58 percent of the cars. Although this auction sold only 47 percent, Kraman said it was still a success because of its total sales.

John Banasek, 67, came to the auction because it was a short drive from his home in Huntley, Ill. He said he has owned more than 200 cars in his lifetime and was hoping to find an affordable car.

“I just moved and sold my antique car before I moved, so I’m just sort of looking around to see if I can pick something else up,” Banasek said.

Mecum Auction plans to have five more auctions this year: two in St. Charles, Ill.; one in St. Paul, Minn.; one in Des Moines, Iowa; and one in Kansas City, Mo. Kraman said the Belvidere auction was the biggest of the year.

Although it can be exciting, Kraman admits the auction industry is not cut out for everyone. “It is a high-stressed, high-speed, high-paced environment for both bidders and sellers,” Kraman said. “It is a competition. It is a sport. It is a strategy. It is a real-world chess game.”

Potential customers can research information and even profile their “dream car” on the company Web site, If the car becomes available at a future auction, the Web site notifies customers when they log in.

from the June 13-19, 2007, issue

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