As Barrett-Jackson and five other of the most prestigious collector car auctioneers in the world wrapped up their elaborate events in Scottsdale, Arizona last weekend, the largest collector car auction in the world was just getting started. Though there are differing opinions on the subject, in Mecum Auctions’ case, Size Does Matter!
Over 2000 miles from Scottsdale, Dana Mecum and his crew are auctioning off close to 3,000 collector cars staged over fifteen acres at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Florida. Mecum’s Kissimmee event became the largest collector car auction on the planet last year when over 2,000 cars were auctioned, stealing the title from Mecum’s very own Indianapolis spring event.
During the ten day auction which runs January 18th through the 27th, Mecum Auctions is planning on selling considerably more cars than all the collector cars sold in Scottsdale during the seven days prior to Mecum’s kick off. And if you are a Corvette lover you will want to be there to have a chance to buy one or more of close to 400 Corvettes being auctioned, more than all the auctions combined in Scottsdale.
Corvettes from every generation, from NCRS Top Flight cars to solid “drivers” will cross the block. In 2012 Mecum sold 313 Corvettes in Kissimmee. This was more Corvettes sold than in any other single auction sale other than Mecum’s Bloomington Gold Sale, which is purely focused on Corvettes. It is obvious from the Corvette sale prices, which ranged from $5,500 to over $600,000 there is a Corvette for every enthusiast’s budget. Corvettes have a loyal following at Mecum evident by the fact that four of the five top sellers in 2012 were Corvettes. The top Corvette seller and the number two seller of the entire 2012 Kissimmee auction was a 1969 Daytona Yellow, L88 convertible of which only 119 were made. The car was a Bloomington Gold Corvette Hall of Fame and a NCRS Top Flight award car.
Dana Mecum, the founder and president, has set the lofty goal of auctioning 3000 consigned cars, a staggering 74% increase, for Kissimmee this year. In 2012 the Mecum crew managed to sell 1564, almost 75% of the 2155 lots that crossed the block. That is an impressive sell through percentage for a “reserve” auction and if it holds for 2013 Mecum will sell more cars than it consigned the year before, a staggering amount of cars.
Maybe he’s banking on the continued improvement in the collector car market, maybe it’s his company’s last couple years trends, or maybe it’s Dana Mecum’s own shrewd marketing strategy driving his aggressive goals. Although the collector car market is not back to pre-recessionary prices overall, Mecum’s last two years have been exceptionally strong with unprecedented growth in both consignments and sales volume. Sales at Mecum’s twenty five year old business will top $250 million for 2012.
In an interview with John Kraman, Consignment Director for Mecum, and the commentator/analyst for Mecum’s TV coverage, the company focuses on three major market segments: fifties “chrome and fins”, Corvettes, and muscle cars of the sixties and seventies. Other than the Corvette segment, those were some of the segments hardest hit in the economic downturn and resulted in some hefty losses for other auction houses. It also caused several collectors to shy away from “no reserve” auctions, feeling it was too risky. This also helped drive Mecum’s business when they turned to Mecum’s reserve type auction.
In addition, the hottest segment of the collector car market other than upper echelon “blue chip” classics has been the entry level part of the market, a segment that has been exploited by Mecum. For each of the last two years, Mecum sales and consignments have skyrocketed 50% over the prior year. So the lofty goal of 3000 cars for Kissimmee may well be within grasp.
Though one might think that it is “all business” at the world’s largest collector car auction, anyone who has followed Dana and his crew, realize that it is more like a relaxed casual family atmosphere than a boardroom. No one seems to take themselves too seriously and a light-hearted, almost “carnival-like” atmosphere permeates the auction. Being there and a part of it is simply, “fun”. After talking to the friendly staff, watching and listening to Dana Mecum spout his “down-home wisdom” is worth the trip whether you bid or not.
But whether you buy a car or not one of the best parts of a Mecum auction is watching Dana Mecum, known as “The Dealmaker”, try to bring buyer and seller together on a price. A former car salesman, he uses every tool, including cutting his own commission to try and reach an agreeable selling price between the bidder and the consignor. In addition, throughout the process he will share some of his “down home” colloquialisms as he prods bidders to up their bids. Last year he goaded bidders to not pass up the car they really wanted, telling them, “You have to take the cookies when the cookies are passed,” and then proceeded to pass around a thousand large cookies on several platters to those in attendance. Watching the 58 year-old work the crowds is one of the highlights of the entire event.
In addition the unique group of “ring men” and women working the crowds are unforgettable. A “ringman” acts as a liaison between the bidder and auctioneer to help the bidder “win” the car. Ironically, most of these are part time employees that have been part of the Mecum family for years. They travel around to each auction to work with bidders and encourage them to “up their bid” to win the car. For most “ringmen” there is a fine line between “encouraging” a bidder to raise the bid and being “pushy” or overly aggressive.
Most of Mecum’s part time employees have full time jobs in addition to their Mecum assignment and most of these jobs are not automobile related. Each “ringman” uses their own personalized and sometimes “wacky”approach and selling skills to prod the bidder to bid a little more. Take for example charismatic “Chicken George” Boswell. He is a TV personality other than a Mecum “ringman”. Often hyper, sometimes bizarre, he has become an entertaining sideshow by himself. He was a contestant on CBS’s reality TV series “Big Brother” and loves what he does as a “ringman”. It shows in the way he interacts with the bidders. When one of “Chicken George’s” bidders wins a car you never know what reaction Boswell will have but you can always count on a chant and a cheer at the end. He is only one of many interesting staff people available to assist at the auction. But don’t get the impression that this atmosphere is indicative of a lack of seriousness about the business or the cars. On the contrary, the staff is knowledgeable and committed to success.
And finally, though he doesn’t take himself too seriously during the auctions, Dana Mecum takes cars and the business extremely seriously. Just how competent Dana Mecum “is” was born out by his selection to sell the “crown jewel of American race cars”, the Ford GT40, the very car that beat Ferrari and captured the FIA World Championship in 1965. At Mecum’s inaugural Monterey auction in August of 2009, not even a year after the recessionary stock market crash, Mecum brokered a deal selling the car for a then world record price paid for an American car of $7.25 million. Let no one tell you that Dana Mecum doesn’t take his business or his cars seriously.
Like last year, this year’s auction will be covered live by Discovery’s Velocity® TV network with commentators John Kraman and Scott Hoke. Kraman, who has never met a car he didn’t like, is confident that this year’s event will be by far the biggest and the best. From January 23rd to January 26th for eight hours each day viewers can tune in to live coverage of the auction. The “live” broadcast facilitates telephone bidding for those pre-registered. But if you’re like most, being there is the way to go. Leave the snow and cold behind, treat yourself and your family to the warm Florida sunshine. And while they are enjoying a week in Disneyworld’s® Magic Kingdom, you can take your time examining the Corvettes and the three thousand other cars at the largest collector auction in the world. And if you find that special Corvette you’ve been looking for, maybe Dana Mecum, the great “Dealmaker”, will work a little of his magic on you, maybe he will even pass you the cookies to close the deal.
Rick Tavel writes about automobiles with an emphasis on Corvettes and the hobby in general. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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