By Yvette VanDerBrink, VanDerBrink Auctions
Nearly one year to the date of the sale I conducted of Ray Lambrecht's amazing Chevrolet collection, I learned Ray passed away at 96 in his hometown of Pierce, Neb. I was thinking about that fabulous and wild time when I heard the news this week. The Bible says that there are treasures stored in heaven for us, more than we can ever imagine, and I suppose about now that Mr. Lambrecht is selling new Chevrolets to the angels, and still tucking a few away.
When I first had heard about Ray's “Urban Legend,” it was six years prior to the auction. Then one afternoon, a few years later, I got a call from his daughter. “Hi, I was told that you can help me sell my dad’s unique collection." It was almost a gut instinct; I knew what the call was. That started a whirlwind of meetings and planning for what would come to be noted as the third-greatest "Earth shattering Collector Car Auction of All Time." What an honor for a South Dakota Gal that grew up driving fast and messing with cars!
I can still remember walking into the dealership with my little video camera and filming my crew, and my dad, taking out those first cars the sunlight. There was years of dust on them, and when you opened the doors, there still was that new car smell. It was amazing. One by one, we moved them around and staged them till they would make their big appearance in the field outside of town. I owe much to the writers of Old Cars Weekly and others for working with me and this amazing story. I can still remember calling Ron Kowalke and Angelo Van Bogart to say, “I’m going public with an amazing story!” Within one week, my website had crashed three times, my YouTube video went viral and I was getting over 150 calls a day. TV producers starting calling along with hundreds of reporters. Ray's daughter, Jeannie, and I were fielding calls left and right. Then an angel, Dana Kauffman, from Proxibid, came to herd the reporters so that I could keep working on this massive project. It wasn’t much different than other auctions we had done, but the story was what made it unique. How could a new car dealer hoard away all his trades and leftover models — and make money? Well, the answer was in selling in volume and different angles. Mr. Lambrecht was ahead of his time. He gave so many people a deal that they couldn’t refuse, they bought new. When I was going through all those titles, it was true. We had hundreds of original yellow Nebraska titles. One of the biggest tasks that I had was making files for all the vehicles. Mr. Lambrecht had an "old school" system. Since he didn’t sell trades, he just rubber-banded all his titles together and put them in an old leather bank bag. I had the task of matching these to all those cars. How does one do that? Well, first you have to get all the VIN information from the cars, and then it’s like a giant game of Go Fish.
I remember sitting down and sorting the yellow titles and asking a couple gals helping me, "Do you have any '53 Chevrolets?" and then "Bingo!" — one by one, we matched the car to the title and made a file.
How did we get those numbers on the cars? I found and hired an excavator, and we carefully extracted the cars from the trees and lined them up in a portion of a soybean field. Then I would go down and open each one up, one at a time, hop in and get those numbers. Quite often, I was met by spiders, rabbits and terrible smells from these field cars. On one hot afternoon, I was getting into a 1961 Impala and fell right through the floorboards. My foot got wedged in the frame area. Shoot. I was all alone. I got out and just sat on the hood. Then I looked across the road, saw the irrigation sprinkler, and drove over and stood under it till I was soaking wet. Relief. Numbering each car and taking pictures, video and notes took many hours and trips. But I loved every minute of it.
Quite often, I got to talk with Mr. Lambrecht to give him an update on the progress. He would smile and occasionally I would ask him a title or car question. “Ray, do you know where or if you got a title for that 1950 Merc?” He would think, and then he’d rattle off where the trade came from. One of the most interesting things he said was after the auction. “Yvette, how did you get those new cars titled and able to sell them?” It was like he knew that there was going to be a challenge. It was. Under state law, Mr. Lambrecht was a de-franchised Chevrolet Dealer and those 55 new cars were still new cars in the eyes of Nebraska, so he couldn’t reassign the MSOs. Marv Spomer from Minnesota and I worked diligently on being able to keep the MSOs for the new cars. I remember telling the state, “I can’t hand in those MSOs — that's the value of the car, the history, the story!” It took many meetings, and finally, just a week and a half before the auction, we got our answer. We received an exception to state law and were able to title the 55 new cars and KEEP the paperwork. It was amazing and a blessing. It was also a great accomplishment.
There were many challenges to the auction. One of which was getting all the “girls” back together for the auction. 45 of them were scattered over three towns and had to be trucked back together. Another challenge was security. 12 people were arrested for trespassing before the auction. Everyone wanted a peak at this "Urban Legend." Protecting Mr. and Mrs. Lambrecht also was a request of the family. They were very private people. Toward the middle of the preparations, both the family and I were stalked and received letters and emails that were upsetting and taken seriously by the Nebraska Sheriff. I saw the best of people and also experienced the worst of a few. It was amazing.
Getting ready for the auction took so much planning and meetings. How many would be there? I had an idea, but when I got up on that trailer and started to see the sea of heads, it took my breath away. The highway patrol estimated about 25,000 people the first day. We had over 11,500 registered bidders. Amazing. Before the auction, it was like we always do: Advertise. Tell the story. Build it. If you do all that, it's like "Field of Dreams:" They will come. And they did.
One of the key players in getting ready was my dad, Art Nordstrom. When I got the calls from Hollywood, and saw that this was bigger than I thought, I called Dad. I asked him, "Can you bring your payloader down? I need it.” He loaded it up and he and I arranged the entire first day cars, moved them and placed them carefully into position. He even welded some flag holders for me to put on the “carpeted” area. He said he wasn’t going to have his daughter have zip ties on TV. He even got on the History Channel with me. After all, he is the key reason that I love these old cars. He was a Chevrolet man, too, and there was no way I was keeping him away from this one. As kids, we would drive around and spot those '57 Chevrolet fins sticking out of the trees and say, “Dad, there’s one!” We would take turns riding to pick up his new treasure. We grew up with horsepower and cars all around us. Race tracks, salvage yards, demo derbies, tractor pulls. Heck, we even raced our bikes and Mom made us a whole set of flags! He started my love of the old iron. I enjoyed watching him get excited about this epic event, too. He loaded 262 of the cars sold from Saturday night till Thursday afternoon. Amazing.
I have so many stories, and there were many challenges that we had to overcome to pull off this auction, but the most rewarding moment was when Jeannie called me to say her folks wanted to thank me. I was trying to pack up before another storm, and they had dressed up in their church clothes and were waiting to thank me. Ray was so excited, and he had watched the whole deal on TV. He was so happy and grateful. It was a wonderful feeling. All those hours of hard work and planning. I pulled away from the house, full of joy, and knowing that I played a part in them staying in their home and letting the world know, that "The Urban Legend" of Ray Lambrecht was true.
People sometimes say to me, "Did you hear about that guy in Nebraska that kept all those new cars?" I smile and say, “Yes, I did. I knew him personally. I was the auctioneer that told his story. It was such an honor and labor of love.”
-Yvette VanDerBrink, "The Little Nordstrom’s Gal"
I have written a book of the Lambrecht auction packed full of pictures. If you would like a copy, please email Yvette@vanderbrinkauctions.com for info on ordering a copy of the book, which also includes stats and more. Also, if you have a collection that you would like to sell, we would love to work with you.