No gloom and doom at Arizona auctions

This striking right-hand-drive 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Atalante
coupe offered for sale at the RM Biltmore Resort auction
received a high bid of $4.4 million, but was declared a no sale.
(Ron Kowalke photo)

RM Auctions Arizona
Phil Skinner reporting

Following on the heels of its most successful year to date, RM Auction launched its 2009 season Jan. 16 at the Biltmore Resort in Phoenix, Ariz., to the delight of car collectors from around the world.

Assembled were 127 of some of the most important cars offered in some time, as well as some novelty and specialty vehicles to really spice things up.

Several stars shared top billing, including a selection of more than a dozen Full Classics from the estate of the late Dr. Barbara Atwood, considered one of the most unique offerings of true automotive beauty, all at no reserve. Among the treasures in this collection was a Duesenberg Model J convertible coupe with body by Fleetwood, the only known example ever produced, declared sold for $780,000.

In addition to these cars were several one-off examples, including the stunning 1954 Dodge Firearrow show car, declared sold for $800,000, while a most interesting custom known as the Templeton Saturn, built in the early 1950s and shown around the world, went to a new home for $135,000.

There were several disappointing no-sales, however, including the much anticipated 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport race car, one of five produced and considered the most original example left. This historic competition roadster was bid to $5 million, but was short of its reserve, as was a Bugatti Type 57 Atalante coupe which was taken to $4.4 million before it, too, was announced that it would remain unsold.

Overall, 107 of the 127 vehicles offered traded hands for a bid total of $15,633,300, on top of which RM Auction places a 10 percent buyer’s commission, taking this sale total to $17,197,355.

My passion for salvage yards is well documented, so having
seen one of the cleverest promotions of a yard that caters to
the old car hobby, I had to share it. Desert Valley Auto Parts
of Phoenix pulled this 1964 Oldsmobile F85 sedan from its
inventory and encased it in a vinyl graphic wrap that featured
 images of the rows of cars in the yard as well as the usual
contact information. The Olds was parked in the Port-a-Potty
alley at the Russo and Steele Scottsdale Auction, where it had
a steady stream of lookers each day. (Ron Kowalke photo) 

Russo and Steele Scottsdale
The one constant in a Russo and Steele Collector Automobiles auction is change. In each of the previous eight Russo and Steele auctions held in Scottsdale, Ariz., company founder and CEO Drew Alcazar has tweaked the sale’s format in some way, such as adding days and increasing consignments and/or rearranged the setting, such as revising the auction arena layout. These changes were implemented both for improvement’s sake and also to keep things from getting stale.

For his ninth sale in sun-soaked Scottsdale, Alcazar made a huge alteration by going to an all-reserve format. This, after having dabbled in previous years with either a mix of reserve and no-reserve or trying the all no-reserve format.

“Going to a 100 percent reserve [format] was a pretty risky venture,” Alcazar admitted. “The toughest challenge for us [with this new format] is to communicate the benefit to the buying audience of being all reserve all the time.” With the control that sellers have with the all reserve format, Alcazar said the overall result to the auction “is all consignments of really good cars.”

Another benefit of the all reserve format, according to Alcazar, is, “There is no skullduggery; it’s the real deal. There’s a lot of integrity in that.”

The change in format worked well for Russo and Steele, with the company reporting $17.1 million in sales, excluding several post-sale deals that are pending. The auction offered 586 vehicles of which 225 were declared sold on the block. This represents a 38.3 percent sell-through rating.

With the uncertain economy and the large slate of competing auctions in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area during the timeframe of the Russo and Steele sale, Alcazar also admitted to Old Cars Weekly that he was gratified by his sale’s outcome.

“The total numbers were off about 14 percent from 2008.” He added, “I anticipated being off about 30 percent; I was prepared for that.”

Giving credit to his longtime auction staff for much of the sale’s success, Alcazar also took a bigger picture approach, dismissing much of the negativity surrounding these benchmark, season-opening auctions amidst a hurting economy.

“There was no sky-is-falling doom and gloom.” He emphasized, “What’s happening is the [market] correction has occurred and leveled. 2009 will be a good, healthy, stable marketplace.” He was even more upbeat about the future, when the overall economy recovers, adding, “When people get a few coins in their jeans, watch out!” 

The high sale honors of the auction were awarded to the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL gullwing coupe that graced the cover of the Jan. 15 issue of Old Cars Weekly. It sold for $600,000. It was followed by a 1964 Shelby Cobra 289 roadster, CSX2519, that sold for $450,000

For the enjoyment of car enthusiasts attending the Russo and
Steele Scottsdale Auction, there is a car show staged daily near
the site’s front gate. On Jan. 18, it was the Mopar Club of
Arizona’s turn to display. Club member Don Petty of Scottsdale
showed his rare (1 of 248 produced) 1960 Chrysler 300F
convertible.

Petty’s rare Chrysler 300F is 1 of only 2 equipped with the
Pont-a-Mousson four-speed transmission. (Ron Kowalke photos)  

While European sports cars, American muscle cars, hot rods and customs are the staples of every Russo and Steele auction, two surprises at this Scottsdale sale came from the categories of pickups and NASCAR stock cars. A numbers matching 1970 Chevy El Camino pickup, equipped with the LS6 454-cid/450-hp V-8, sold for a record $91,000. With help in the form of an appearance and a few words of encouragement from retired NASCAR stars, car owner Robert Yates and driver Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s former 2004 Chevy Monte Carlo SS #8 Budweiser-sponsored stock car sold for $250,000.

On the other end, among several standout buys at this auction, the “best buy for the buck” was again from the pickup category. It was a mostly original 1957 GMC stepside half-ton model that sold for $8,750.

Another pickup of note that, unfortunately, was declared a no-sale, was a rare 1958 Fargo 100 sweptside model. This attractive Fargo, a Chrysler Corp. of Canada product, was restored to number 1 condition. It received a high bid of $42,000, but that figure was not enough for its current owner to let it go.    

ICA leads off Arizona
B. Mitchell Carlson reporting

ICA (International Classic Auctions) presented its fifth annual Arizona in January Auction in Gilbert, Ariz., on Jan. 9-11. Of the 211 cars offered, 114 were declared sold for a 54.1 percent sell-through rating.

Now in its fifth season of being the first auction for the year in Arizona, ICA’s collector car auction continued to be the place to pick up a good deal before the big sales. Once again held at auction owner Stanley Torgerson’s Diamond Ranch just south of downtown Gilbert, the consignors offered a myriad of vehicles to bid on.  This year, they added an additional day of Monday, which was almost exclusively re-runs from the previous two days. 

With the economy on everybody’s mind, it didn’t come as too much of a surprise that prices were generally down.  One of the most talked about sales was a number four condition 1984 Corvette, selling for only $2,400.

It’s not that there weren’t any exceptionally nice cars out there — it’s just that they weren’t selling.

The two high sales of the weekend were unique in that both were replicas: a Pontiac Fiero-based Lamborghini and a Ford 427-powered ersatz GT-40. Behind that was a repossessed 1964 Corvette, which garnered $34,000 for the bank. 

Pick of the sale was one of the most economical vehicles of the weekend — actually the least expensive truck sold. It was a C110 stepside pickup that has an original, optional 266-cid V-8 in a rust-free New Mexico body. Sure, it’s not pretty, but it ran great and would be an easy restoration — or just plain good to use as a worker. 

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