Michalenko Collection Auctioned

The Michalenko Collection auction held April 12 in Rosemont, N.J., offered a range of vintage vehicles, from ambulance to armored car, hot rod to Classic and race car to Rockne. I spent two days covering the event, attending both the preview on April 11 and returning for the auction the following day.

A rare Rockne, this 1933 coupe has been stripped of many critical parts, but it still sold for $650. It had been on the Michalenko property for so long, a tree that had grown through its interior had to be cut down to move the car. (Gregg D. Merksamer photo)

   With 113 cars to assess, all packed together on two acres of the Michalenko property, it required great effort to study details of each vehicle to list redeeming qualities, rather than passing off the entire collection as just a bunch of rust-buckets. At least it didn’t rain on sale day.

    One example of the difficulty in getting detailed information was presented by one of a trio of early-1970s Plymouth Fury III sedans that were formerly law enforcement cruisers. I presume this ex-New Jersey State Police unit was equipped with the standard police package 440-cid V-8, but I couldn’t verify it without fear of getting tetanus when opening the hood.

The tight confines of the Michalenko property meant some creativity was in order to load cars after they were auctioned. This 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible, sold for $4,400, gets a lift to its purchaser’s trailer. (Gregg D. Merksamer photo)

    I was fascinated by all the grand old 1930s Cadillacs and LaSalles that had crumbled to the point where it took me hours pouring through several different reference books to identify some of them.

    Sadly, the biggest purchaser at the auction was “bidder 73,” a Trenton, N.J., scrap dealer who told me he plans to sell on ebay what little trim he can salvage and send the balance of the cars to the crusher. This includes three 1938-’40 Fleetwood 60 Specials, a ’39 Series 75 five-passenger touring sedan (I saved a door handle from that one that weighs more than the door on my ’97 Town Car), a Meteor-bodied ’36 LaSalle ambulance with a straight-eight engine (I saved the coachbuilder’s badge), the remnants of a half-dozen V-8 Cadillacs and LaSalles from the 1928-’31 period and a ’33 Cadillac V-8 five-passenger town sedan whose elegance-when-new was still evident, even though it was now a rusted heap denuded of its headlights and other trim.

    In a nutshell, the Norman Michalenko auction was the sum of all fears, perhaps the saddest thing I’ve ever had a good time at. Here was an enthusiast who crossed the line into hoarding, keeping his collection on the ground outdoors, under trees depositing damp leaves on the cars each autumn to ensure a perfect incubator for rust. He never sold anything until the local government made him do so under court order in response to neighbors’ complaints, and once it all crossed the block most of the cars went to the crusher compelled by record scrap metal prices.

    Still, I should stress co-auctioneers Mike Stasak, Jr. and Laurel A. Fox really rolled out the red carpet for me (“VIP” parking right by the entrance) and were pleased with how much attention Old Cars Weekly’s pre-publicity attracted to the sale.