Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mecum’s® Houston Event = Two Compelling Corvettes

Mecum’s® Houston Event = Two Compelling Corvettes
By Rick Tavel© February 18, 2014

Bunkie Knudsen's Styling Roadster to be auctioned at Mecums in Houston  (Photo: Mecum)
It appears that Mecum® is off and running for 2014 after a weather induced slow start in Kissimmee.  Their Houston event is shaping up to be typical of the high quality consignments that usually characterizes their events with some outstanding Corvettes scheduled to cross the block from Thursday, April 10th through Saturday, April 12th.  As I was reviewing Mecum’s® latest on-line catalog (,  two Corvettes jumped off the page to capture my attention.  Certainly no Corvette enthusiast could ignore the Bunkie Knudsen Corvette, after all it is not only the auction headliner, it is one of the most interesting Corvettes ever made, as well as the personal car for then Chevrolet General manager Bunkie Knudsen.  The second Corvette, perhaps not as well known, is the stunning 1967 Corvette coupe once owned by former Marine and Viet Nam veteran,  Don McNamara, and put into storage with less than 3K miles on it, has a bullet proof provenance and literally may be the finest 1967 “survivor” in existence. 

The McNamara Patriotic Corvette survivor with less than 3K miles to be sold in Houston (Photo: Mecum)
The McNamara Corvette just might end up being the brightest star among many Corvettes at the Houston event, even considering the tough competition from the Knudsen styling car and a 1966 “big tank” coupe.  The fascinating story of McNamara, returning from Viet Nam and winning $5K in Las Vegas during his retirement celebration, then subsequently ordering his dream car is certainly interesting enough on its own, but what happened after that is even more compelling.   Strangely after putting 2996 miles on the Corvette it suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.  An unusually private person, when asked what happened to his Corvette, McNamara simply said he no longer owned the car, though rumors persisted that the Corvette was hidden in his single car heated garage.  Not until his death in 2011 was the Corvette found by a neighboring couple he befriended later in his life.  Only then was it discovered that McNamara secretly put the car in storage where it remained hidden away from family and friends.  When the car was discovered it was sheathed in a car cover, and covered with storage blankets and Marine Corp and United States flags, which preserved the car as it appeared over 45 years before.  His next door neighbor for 22 years who discovered it had never seen the car before that day.

Passenger seat never sat in (Photo: Mecum)
Don McNamara’s patriotism was his inspiration for ordering the car in Ermine white with a red stinger and interior and to complete the patriotic theme he replaced the black wall tires with white and blue double stripe rubber.  McNamara was intensely private, was never married and never even had a credit card or checking account.  So finding the Corvette treasure hidden safely in his garage did not seem so out of character by the very few people that knew him. After the first year of ownership, not wanting to pay insurance, registration and license fees, he put the car away.  Until the mid 1980’s he only drove it occasionally at night until the mileage approached 3K when he put the Corvette away permanently.   The Corvette had only been driven by McNamara, the passenger seat had never been sat in and until discovered the Corvette had never been touched by water, never in rain or washed!

Other than a few personal touches like Edelbrock valve covers and four Corvette decals on the air cleaner the car remains as it was when ordered  with the L36 427/390 HP engine, M20 4-speed manual transmission and 3.36 Positraction rear end.  In addition tinted glass, telescopic steering wheel, AM/FM radio, side exhaust and bolt-on aluminum wheels were also added pushing the original invoice to $5.504.  With the help of his father a dealer was located that would keep the Marine’s dream alive and sell the car just below McNamara’s $5K limit.   This beautiful example of the last  year of the second generation Corvette will be sold along with the original window sticker, showroom sales brochure, Chevrolet warranty book with Protect-O-Plate, the original keys and fob and a duplicate set of keys; the original owner’s manual and plastic pouch, dealer record book issued by Ray Motor Co., a cashier’s check for a deposit and a receipt for the balance of the purchase price, the original State of Colorado license registration and title issued to McNamara dated May 22, 1967 and the NCRS Shipping Data Report confirming delivery at Ray Motor Company in Lamar, Colorado.  Lot S128 will cross the block on Saturday, April 12th.

Don McNamara added his personal touch of additional Corvette insignias to the air cleaner  (Photo: Mecum)
Former Chevrolet GM Bunkie Knudsen's personal Corvette 1 of 4 built with this custom exhaust (Photo: Mecum)
The featured car of the entire auction is Bunkie Knudsen’s personalized Corvette roadster, styled by GM, copying the modified 1963 Corvette shown at the New York Auto Show that year.  As many Corvette enthusiasts know Bunkie Knudsen was the General Manager of Chevrolet from 1961 through 1965 until he was elected executive vice president of GM®.  This is one of four second generation Corvettes modified by GM that included the custom exhaust pipes which exited through the body of the Corvette.  Last October Mecum offered another styling car which had the same modified exhaust feature and belonged to Harley Earl which was the top seller of the auction and sold for over $1M.  Knudsen’s  is the third “styling Corvette” offered since the October Chicagoland auction last year, the second was a pink 1963 roadster owned by Mrs. Harley Earl and failed to meet reserve in Mecum’s January event in Kissimmee.  But unlike the other two Corvettes, this one has been impeccably restored by noted Corvette restored Werner Meier . 

Knudsen's favorite Firefrost Metallic also used on the interior (Photo: Mecum)
The car was finished in Knudsen’s favorite custom color, Crimson Firefrost metallic lacquer  and accented with a full-length white stripe and white soft top (the car also retains a matching hard top). This combination was also carried through in the modified interior, where a unique custom shift console assembly was flanked by 1964-type seats upholstered with white naugahyde and maroon accent stripes.   In addition slotted stainless steel floor grille plates replaced the stock floor mats which was common GM styling cars of the era. A custom twin-spoke steering wheel featured two types of wood on the rim and 1964 instrumentation was used in the color-matching dash. The interior was later upgraded with changes to the instrumentation and the addition of 1967 seat belts.  The car was equipped with power brakes and windows as well.

GM stylists used Chrome and black paint on the engine (Photo: Mecum)
The 327 fuel injected engine and engine bay was also modified, substituting chrome plating and crinkle-finish black paint in place of the cast aluminum surfaces on the small block engine. The engine bay had to be modified to accommodate the special exhaust system which required trimming the heater box for clearance and relocating the battery to the area behind the passenger seat.

 After Knudsen finished with the car it was returned to stock appearance and passed through several owners who allowed it to fall into disrepair before being rediscovered by Corvette collector Wally Abela in a garage being used as part of a scaffold.  After buying the car Abela consulted Corvette expert and restorer Werner Meir who was able to trace its ownership and confirm its important heritage.   In 1984 Abela turned his Corvette over to Meier for a full restoration.  The unusually complex restoration took four years to complete and required eight different machine and fabrication facilities to complete the complicated exhaust system.  But when Meier finished the exquisite Corvette was invited to the Meadowbrook and Hilton Head concours events and has been shown numerous times in the Bloomington Gold Special Collection.  From its opening in 1994 until 2001 the National Corvette Museum had the car on permanent display.   In 2003 the car was sold and has resided in several collections until finding its way to Mecum’s Houston event.  Knudsen’s personal, unique Corvette, Lot S119, will also cross the block on Saturday, April 12th.   

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2014 Barrett-Jackson® & Mecum® SuperAuction Results: A Study in Contrasts

2014 Barrett-Jackson® & Mecum®  SuperAuction Results or
A Study in Contrasts

By Rick Tavel © January 30, 2014

The hammers are silenced and have been put away while the teams at Barrett-Jackson® and Mecum® try to catch up on some much needed rest after staging the two best collector car auctions in the world.    During the two weeks of auction excitement which took place on opposite sides of the country, Barrett-Jackson® in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Mecum® in Kissimmee, Florida, several outstanding cars crossed the block including over 500 Corvettes.  Mecum® lived up to their claim of the Kissimmee event being the “World’s Largest Collector Car Auction” offering 2750 collector cars and almost 400 Corvettes.  Barrett-Jackson® cemented their reputation as being “The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auction” by expanding  their Scottsdale lifestyle extravaganza, which is a mix of the world’s great automobile museums, Disneyland®, Hollywood and supported by a diverse cast of sports, racing and media celebrities ranging from racing great, Sir Stirling Moss, to rock legend Bret Michaels.  This year Barrett-Jackson® did it in an all new bricks and mortar facility which offered enthusiasts larger, more comfortable and convenient amenities. 

Aerial view of Barrett-Jackson's Scottsdale event at Westworld        (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)
Aerial view of Mecum's Kissimmee event at the Silver Spurs Arena Osceola Heritage Park (Photo: Mecum)
Barrett-Jackson® proclaimed their 2014 Scottsdale event to be the best in their history 43 year history with sales topping $113M (+4%), selling 1399 cars  (+4%), raising over $4.4M for charity and setting a few world’s records along the way.  This year Craig Jackson, CEO, and his team impressively staged their extravaganza in an all new permanent facility that was completed just days before the annual eight day event kicked off January 12th.
Collectors and enthusiasts flocked to sunny Arizona from January 12th through the 19th to enjoy the six annual major auctions which take place in and around Scottsdale.  Hagerty®, the insurance company and acknowledged collector car expert, estimates that 15% of all collector cars sold at auction during the year change hands in the six Arizona January auctions.  As such the collector world closely watches what happens at these six auctions to help gauge the upcoming auction year.   All but one of those six auctions reported strong sales and sell thru percent improvements over last year, producing a combined total of $253M in car sales.  Based on those encouraging results, it looks like 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for the collector car market.
1967 L88 Set a new world's record selling for $3.85M  (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

 Clearly Barrett-Jackson® is the main event and draw of the six January Arizona auctions offering over 1400 of the world’s most collectible cars and 150 Corvettes.  Mostly a “No Reserve” auction, Barrett-Jackson® sold over 99% of their consignments which were up over 2013 and set three world’s records in the process.   A 1967 L88 Corvette coupe was sold for $3.85M making it the most expensive Corvette ever sold at auction, a 1969 Corvette L88 race car, known as the “Rebel,” sold for $2.86M a record price for a 1969 Corvette and a 1957 Ford Thunderbird “E” set a record selling at $330K.   And for the first time, the world got to witness on live national TV two hours of what makes Barrett-Jackson® Scottsdale one of the most elaborate and exciting extravaganzas in the automotive world.

The "Rebel" sold for $2.86M A record for a 69 Vette (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)

"Two records
were set by
Corvettes at
A 67 L88 Coupe
sold for $3.85M
and a 69 L88 sold
for  $2.86M"
Stirling Moss in Gullwing (Photo: Barrett-Jackson)
Barrett-Jackson’s® diverse consignments ranged from Simon Cowell’s Bugatti Veyron  which sold for $1.3M to a 1955 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing which was ushered to the block by Sir Stirling Moss, world champion race car driver and champion who during the 1950’s drove for the Mercedes racing team.  In addition to the two record-setting Corvettes, sixteen “Salon Collection” cars were sold that hammered for over $22M.  These cars were some of the finest “blue chip” collector cars spanning all years, ranging from a pre war 1929 Duesenberg SJ LeBaron  Dual Cowl Phaeton to a 1999 Ferrari F300 racecar. 

As usual the Barrett-Jackson® team orchestrated a venue that packed the auction facility everyday with excited enthusiasts and bidders.  Over 300,000 enthusiasts packed the main building, display tents and vendor areas to participate in the incredible happening at Barrett-Jackson® which took place at their traditional location in WestWorld®.    When the dust settled, anyone who attended the Barrett-Jackson® experience has a better understanding why the Scottsdale extravaganza is known as “The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auction.”

The week following the Scottsdale events, Mecum® staged their annual “world’s largest collector car auction” over two thousand miles away in Kissimmee, Florida.  This year, however, due to the frozen vortex which blanketed most of the country, thousands of airline flights were cancelled making the pilgrimage to Mecum’s “promised land” difficult at best.   Due to the weather related transportation difficulties throughout most of the country, it was surprising and a testament to Mecum® loyalists that attendance only fell 6%, still drawing 70K spectators and enthusiasts.   Even the weather in normally sunny, warm Florida failed to cooperate, with temperatures in the 30’s overnight and not getting much above 60 during the day.

Mecum's Kissimmee home Osceola Heritage Park (Photo: Mecum)
But more than the weather disappointed those enthusiasts who fled the frozen north for a week of auction heaven in Florida.    Though Mecum® heavily promoted their 2750 consignments almost 1000 of them went unsold, resulting in a disappointing 64% sell through, which was also 6% behind last year’s results and low by industry standards where a 70% or better sell through is expected.  The  unsold cars were the biggest contributor to the significant sales loss -11.4%, down over $8M and totaling $63.435M for the event.  The average selling price of cars also slid by 8% to a little over $36K.  
"The main feature of the Kissimmee auction was a 1956 Corvette SR Prototype that was hammered sold for over $2.3M, then the deal fell apart due to a third party dispute over  ownership of parts used in the restoration."

The 1956 "Real McCoy" Sale Fell Apart (Photo: Mecum) 
 Even Mecum’s® recognized strength, the Corvette, could not mend the slumping sales performance.  Though several important Corvettes were consigned, only three of the top ten Corvette lots were actually sold, unheard of in a Mecum® auction.  The main feature of the auction, a 1956 Corvette SR prototype, known as the "Real McCoy" was hammered down at $2.3M, far off the anticipated world’s record price that it was rumored to bring, and then the sale fell apart afterwards due to third party claims of ownership of parts used in the restoration.   An analysis of the close to 400 Corvettes that were on hand for the sale showed that the sell thru was less than 58% and on Saturday when the best Corvettes cross the block the sell thru was even more disappointing at less than 50%. 

The 1963 Z06 originally driven by Dick Lang  (Photo: Mecum)

 "The Dick Lang 63 Z06 was bid to $900K and failed to meet the seller's reserve.  A staggering seven of the top ten Corvettes failed to sell."

And sales weren’t much better for other premier cars in the auction.  More than a few of the “featured” and “star” cars simply did not sell, due to high reserves.  To illustrate, in a January 6, 2013, press release (read it here:  Mecum® touts eight important featured consignments, five of them Corvettes.  Of the eight cars featured in their press release, unbelievably, only one of the eight sold, that calculates to an unheard of 12.5% sell thru.    The five Corvettes promoted in Mecum’s press release included the main auction attraction, the highly promoted 1956 Corvette SR Prototype (Lot S132), a concours winning  1963 Corvette Z06 race car originally driven by Dick Lang (LotS148), a 1963 Corvette “Styling”  car formerly owned by Mrs. Harley Earl (Lot S153), the famous 1988 Corvette Callaway “Sledgehammer” (Lot F259) and another pristine 1963 Corvette Z06 (Lot S150.1 ).  Add to those important cars another five of the most important Corvettes in the auction: three third generation L88’s, another 1963 Z06 and a 1967 L89 and you have, arguably, the top ten Corvettes of Mecum’s 2014 Kissimmee event.*   Of these important, “blue chip,” ten Corvettes an astounding seven did not sell!    
Frank Mecum closing a deal (Photo: Mecum)

"Dana’s son Frank, director of consignments, adeptly stepped up and following in his father’s footsteps put together some seemingly stalled deals." 

Clearly the frustrating Saturday results did not go unnoticed as the auctioneers goaded the sedate audience to get behind the bidding and “make some noise” while at the same time openly begging bidders to up their bids and pleading with sellers to take their reserves off the cars.  And if all that weren’t enough, Dana Mecum, founder and president, known as the “Dealmaker,” was noticeably not feeling well, curtailing his “dealmaking” with his “down-home” colloquialisms.   Dana’s son Frank, director of consignments, adeptly stepped up and following in his father’s footsteps put together some seemingly stalled deals.  Frank along with his co director, John Kraman, has put together the best and most important Corvette offerings throughout 2013 and cemented Mecum’s reputation as the “king of Corvettes.”

On top of all this, adding to the disappointing Saturday results, unbelievably, only two hours of live TV coverage were broadcast on Saturday, the auction’s premier day.  The two hours of live coverage on Saturday were the least important time of Saturday’s auction, absurdly not broadcasting live the most important attractions.  More than a few loyal Mecum® viewers lit up social media with their disappointment in the TV coverage and format this year.   If the format change was made to improve and excite Mecum® fans it was clearly a “fail” from a view perspective. 

Contrast Mecum’s Saturday coverage with the over-the-top two hour broadcast on Fox® network TV of the exciting peak two hours of Barrett-Jackson® Scottsdale, where viewers saw two Corvettes hammered down for over $2.5M each.   One, a 1967 L88, set a world’s record selling at $3.85M.   By comparison there was no "live" TV of the best hours on Saturday.  Instead Mecum planned  a one hour taped delayed broadcast on Sunday scheduled to cover some of Saturday’s peak auction highlights, but even that fell apart, first being preempted for an hour by a hockey game and then the scheduled one hour broadcast was cut to only a half hour, most likely because so many of the featured cars did not sell.  Most likely this was a decision by NBC and not by Mecum.  Clearly this is not in keeping with Mecum’s past efforts to help enthusiasts and collectors closely follow their events and search past and future auctions with their excellent Mecum InfoNet® program.

Of course the main objective of an auction is to sell cars.  The TV coverage, the weather, and even the enthusiasm and excitement in the arena are only catalysts, all secondary to selling cars.  But the fact is even though they are only catalysts, they are important ingredients to hearing the auctioneer shout “sold”.   Of course the biggest catalyst to a great auction is to have a balanced array of quality consignments that attract bidders, an area Mecum® has excelled in prior years .  In addition to historic “blue chip” collectibles, one of Mecum’s unique strengths has always been to offer first time buyers a good assortment of entry level cars and as in the past Mecum once again came through.   At the other end of the balance spectrum is to entice owners of rare and important cars to consign them to be sold, with “to be sold” the key phrase.  Good consignments are those from sellers that truly want to sell their cars and as such put realistic reserves on their car. And though “size matters”, size for the sake of size does not make sense, especially when the cars do not sell.  

Though several factors negatively impacted Mecum’s® premier auction, some of those factors were outside the control of the staff who work hard to stage a great auction, particularly the world’s largest collector car auction.  Of the over 1759 cars that changed hands, 232 of those were Corvettes that generated almost $12M despite the weather and drop in attendance.  Those that made the trip got to see some historic cars, despite the fact that many did not sell, and enjoy one of the premier automobile events in the country . 
          *Top Ten Corvette Lot Results Mecum® Kissimmee 2014
S132     1956 Corvette SR prototype                                   No Sale    High bid $2.3M Postponed

S148     1963 Corvette Z06 Race car                                    No Sale    High Bid $900K

F259     1988 Corvette Calllaway “Sledgehammer”          No Sale    High Bid $600K

S153     1963 Corvette “Styling” Mrs. Harley Earl’s Car    No Sale    High Bid $340K

S150.1  1963 Corvette Z06                                                      SOLD       High Bid $475K

S172      1963 Corvette Z06                                                    No Sale    High Bid $550K

S163      1969 Corvette L88                                                    No Sale    High Bid $735K

S165.1   1969 Corvette L88                                                      SOLD      High Bid $510K

S179      1968 Corvette L88                                                       SOLD      High Bid $520K

S225.1   1967 Corvette L89                                                     No Sale    High Bid $425K


          Top Ten Lot Sales Mecum® Kissimmee 2014

               1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda (Lot S143) at $560,000

1968 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Coupe (Lot S179) at $530,000

1969 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Convertible (Lot S165.1) at $510,000

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Tanker (Lot S150.1) at $475,000

1964 Chevrolet Corvette Big Tank Coupe (Lot S181.1) at $350,000

2006 Ford GT Heritage Edition (Lot S196) at $320,000

1967 Plymouth Barracuda Hurst Hemi Under Glass (Lot S200) at $300,000

2006 Ford GT (Lot T181.1) at $242,500

1967 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe (Lot S156) at $240,000

1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 Fastback (Lot S141) at $240,000


Top Ten Lot Sales Barrett-Jackson® Scottsdale  2014

                 1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 2 Door Coupe Lot #5035 at $3,850,000 WORLD'S RECORD

                 1969 Chevrolet Corvette #57 Rebel Convertible Race Car Lot #5022 at $2,860,000

                 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe  Lot #5044 at $2,090,000

                 1998 Ferrari F300 at Lot #5080 at $1,870,000

                 1963 Shelby Cooper Monaco King Cobra Lot #5063 at $1,650,000

                 1929 Duesenberg SJ Lebaron Dual Cowl Phaeton Lot #5048 at $1,430,000

                 2008 Bugatti Veyron 2 Door Coupe “Simon Cowell’s” Lot #1319.2 at $1,375,000

                 1954 Plymouth Belmont Concept Car  Lot #5066 at $1,320,000

                 1939 Alfa Romeo 6c 2500 Sport Touring Lot #5053 at $997,500 –

                 1972 Plymouth Duster Hot Wheels “Mongoose” Funny Car,

                  4 Vehicle Package Lots 5040-5043  at $990,000  Snake-Mongoose cars and transporters 1970 Plymouth

                       Barracuda Hot Wheels “Snake” Funny Car, 1967 Dodge D-700 Hot Wheels

                      “Snake” Ramp Truck, 1967 Dodge D-700 Hot Wheels “Mongoose” Ramp  Truck