2017-04-20 / Top News

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Palm Beach auction as much big dollar as bargain basement

Classic car auctions are intimidating by design. They are in a room filled with so many people it requires stadium seating (plus live network TV,) and everything is focused on one item at a time. So, if you’re the person bidding on a car, it can feel like hundreds of eyes are following every twitch of your fingers.

Winners are heroes for a moment, and everyone else feels like a true loser … at least until they wheel the next car up on stage.

All of this is part of a formula to extract the extra bid out of everyone. It might seem manipulative, but it’s also why some owners only take their classic cars to auctions. However, there is some good news, and this year’s Barrett- Jackson Palm Beach sale highlighted the optimistic side.

Even with an eye for trying to get the most money possible out of people, there were still plenty of affordable cars. There were multiple examples of iconic American classics — like the first-generation Ford Mustang and plenty of Palm Beach’s favorite, the Mercedes 560 SLs. They all sold for well under $20K. But those who watch the markets diligently also know that these were selling close to what it cost for a private sale.

What makes Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach exceptionally attractive are affordable examples of cars that are unique beyond comparison. After all, it’s hard to find an equivalent machine to a 1957 Fiat 500 microcar stuffed with a Porsche transmission and Subaru WRX 2.5-liter turbo motor hanging off the back. It doesn’t get more survivor-grade than a 1977 Ford F-350 pickup with only 3,130 miles on it and so original that its current tires were installed four decades ago at the factory. There was even a right-hand drive 1990 Chevrolet Corvette that General Motors built as a concept to study selling the car in countries like England and Australia. Production never followed, making this an exclusive find.

All of those vehicles sold for well under $20,000. That’s still real money, but anyone who frequents the local car shows has seen collectors spend more on custom vehicles that are not as unique as some that went through this auction.

Those just looking for rock-bottom prices could even find some interesting classics like a 1977 Ford Thunderbird, a 1981 Jaguar XJ6, and a 1963 Chevrolet Corvair convertible. These and many other second-tier classics had shining paint and were healthy enough to be driven home from the auction block … and none of them broke the $5K ceiling.

Possibly the largest standout from the bargain basement was a 1989 Maserati Biturbo Zagato Spyder. These cars have the kind of reliability reputation that most people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy. Still, selling at $1,700 gives someone who is mechanically inclined a beautiful Italian convertible for a Craigslist price.

The abundance of affordable cars doesn’t mean that the event looked like a used car junkyard. Highlighting reasonably priced rides just illustrates that it’s a large enough auction to include something for everyone.

Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach still included plenty of high-dollar exotics, including a specially-built 2006 Ford GT Targa for $401,500, a 1988 Lamborghini Countach for $236,500, and a 2010 Ferrari 599 GTB for $200,200. The prestige and provenance of a 1968 Shelby Mustang GT500KR convertible once owned by actor Lee Marvin pushed the price to $220K. Also, the first retail sale of a new 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 occurred during the auction. This was part of the extensive charity sales, and in this case, raised nearly a quarter of a million dollarsfor the United Way.

Auctions can be intimidating, but that shouldn’t stop the average classic car dreamer. Many of the sale prices this year were at or below expectations. Barrett Jackson will say that’s the benefit of buying from their no-reserve auctions, and experts might see this as a sign of a softening market. But all you really need to know is that the deals are out there … if you’re willing to put up with all eyes on you. ¦

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