Millions of dollars in collector cars are set to cross the auction block between now and Sunday as part of Auburn's annual celebration of its automotive heritage.
It's a decades-long tradition in Auburn to pair auctions of collectible cars with the city's Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg festival.
Two companies – Auctions America by RM and Worldwide Auctioneers – sell cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles at auctions around the country, but the Auburn sales are unique for the breadth of offerings, as well as the volume of visitors who sit in on auctions without bidding on a single lot.
“This is by far our largest event in terms of foot traffic,” said Donnie Gould, president of Auctions America.
Tens of thousands of people will visit the auctions, most of them watching rather than bidding.
Naturally, there are some high-dollar cars for sale, at least by the financial yardsticks most people employ. There are scores of cars likely to sell for six-figure sums, from a 1935 Duesenberg to a 2004 Ford GT late pre-production test car.
When it comes to collectible cars, it's hard to draw a sharp line between collectors and investors.
“They go hand-in-hand,” he said. “We're very fortunate in this industry that our passion (collector cars) has appreciated in value for the last 50-60 years.”
Some segments of the market are hotter than others, but Gould said, “I haven't seen anything ease back.”
Last month, at a sale in Monterey, Calif., Auctions America sold 120 cars for a total of $96 million, up from $80 million at the same sale last year.
He doesn't expect any jump so dramatic at Auburn. Though it has the biggest crowds of any sale the company runs, the average price of cars sold at the Auburn sale is much less. Last year, the company sold around 550 of the 1,100 cars at auction for a total of $13.5 million. This year, Gould said, he would like to see $15 million-$18 million in sales from the more than 1,200 cars that will be in the ring at the auction park.
Rod Egan, an auctioneer and a principal in Worldwide Auctioneers, said the overall collector-car market peaked in 2006 and 2007, “when everybody and their dog had a line of credit.”
These days, he sees the fastest appreciation in 1950s and 1960s sport racing cars, he said. But every era and major variety of collector car has its devotees and its collectible standouts. An example: Early “brass era” automobiles aren't as sought after as, say, 1960s muscle cars, but he has high expectations for a 1913 Peerless among Worldwide's offerings. It is rare, freshly restored and it was a muscle car of its time, producing 50 horsepower when many cars of that time made 20-30 horsepower. The company estimates it will bring $375,000-$475,000 when it sells.