The major January collector car auctions are over, which means that a new sale season is just beginning -- not that the year-round bidding ever really stops. And while much has been made of the jaw-dropping quarter-billion in sales seen in Arizona, figures detailing Mecum's Jan. 17-26 Kissimmee, Fla., event are just starting to trickle out.
It's not fair to compare Mecum's event to all of the Scottsdale auctions, but parallels between the Florida mega-sale and Barrett-Jackson are easy enough to draw. Mecum showed up with a whopping 3,000 vehicles -- more than all of Scottsdale combined -- but sold only around 1,800. Barrett-Jackson brought 1,388 vehicles and sold 1,382 (as of writing). The selections at both auctions run the gamut from garishly customized late-model SUVs to pristine, numbers-matching muscle cars; take out B-J's premiere "salon" collection and the lineups look even more similar.
Of course, some key differences must be acknowledged: Mecum's Kissimmee event stands alone, while Barrett-Jackson is part of a larger cluster of sales with enough gravitational pull -- Hagerty estimates that roughly 15 percent of all cars auctioned each year change hands in Scottsdale in January -- to draw tens of thousands of enthusiasts, all of them potential bidders. That helps to explain why the sale's $113 million final tally dwarfed Mecum's $60 million take.
Beyond that, B-J's general no-reserve policy means a lot of sheetmetal changes hands very quickly. Look through Mecum's results and you'll see a relatively large number of cars that failed to sell, though we're sure auctioneers prefer to refer to these as "sales still waiting to happen." Buyers might like setting a sale-Promo Code floor because it means they won't have to yield to the high bidder. On the other hand, the prospect of snagging a deal at a no-reserve event could attract bargain-hungry bidders, increasing the chance of a sale...
But we're not experts on bidder psychology or we'd start an auction company, so our opinions here probably don't matter too much to you. All that really matters is whether you should hop a plane to sunny Florida or sunny Arizona if you're craving a collector car come January 2015. The sheer volume of vehicles offered at both Mecum and Barrett-Jackson make some interesting head-to-head comparisons possible.
Let's take a look:
Chevrolet Chevelle SS
Two 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SSs, both equipped with a 454 V8 and a four-speed manual. Both have bucket seats, a center console and white racing stripes. The Barrett-Jackson example (a so-called "stunning re-creation," whatever that means) sold for $54,880; the Mecum example went for $30,000. What gives?
The Mecum car has some aftermarket components, including wheels and Flowmaster exhausts. The B-J Chevelle seems to adhere to original spec. In a world where restorers replicate assembly-line chalk marks, this could help account for the $25,000 difference.
Winner: We'd go with the Mecum car. A set of Flowmasters, aftermarket headers and blinged-out wheels don't alter the car substantially, and they can always be replaced down the road by the originality-obsessed.
Given the popularity of vintage SUVs, it's surprising that Barrett-Jackson didn't have more Jeep Scrambler pickups to choose from. The one Jeep featured -- a customized 1990 model -- sold for an impressive $27,500. We'd favor the original 1983 Scramblers sold at Mecum; one went for $11,000, another, $20,000.
Winner: Mecum. But keep in mind that a Toyota FJ-40 did sell for over $100,000 in Scottsdale this year; there must be something in the water. Or maybe the vintage SUV craze hasn't hit Florida...yet.
An oddball car, sure, but it shows how massive and all-encompassing these auctions are. Mecum's was a steal at only $11,500. No Blackhawks showed up at Barrett-Jackson this year, but last year, the auction house moved one for a whopping $47,300. Why the disparity? The B-J example was owned by Sammy Davis Jr., which has a lot to do with it.
Winner: Inconclusive. Stutz Blackhawk-lovers really missed out on a bargain at Mecum, but the star provenance of the B-J specimen makes a straight comparison difficult.
At Mecum, you'd have paid $49,500 to take home a 1974 example of the increasingly desirable Pantera. At Barrett-Jackson, a 1971 car would have set you back $48,400. The difference is originality -- the early B-J car is tuned, to put it mildly, with flashy five-spokes and a nitrous-oxide system. Depending on your perspective, this is either a huge improvement or an unacceptable desecration. Compare that to the "highly original" Mecum car.
Winner: We'd vote for the unmolested car at Mecum, but that's personal preference at play. This one's inconclusive.
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Hardtop
Both the Barrett-Jackson car and the Mecum car recently enjoyed full restorations; both pack beefy 350 V8s paired with automatic transmissions. But the B-J car sold for $58,300, while the Mecum Bel Air went for a paltry $38,000. The biggest difference, so far as we could discern? The former car looks mean in black; the latter sports a turquoise and white two-tone job. Unless the Mecum seller seriously botched the restoration, we suspect you're paying a huge premium for a very similar car at Barrett-Jackson.
Winner: Mecum, unless you really, really need a black car.
The weird thing about Cadillac Allantes is that they actually seem to be appreciating in value these days for some reason. And they're everywhere -- every non-catalog auction has one or two on the block, and even catalog houses feature them from time to time. Even so, $6,500 seems like a lot to pay for the convertible Caddy -- but that's what it took to win the 1996 car at Mecum. Yet at Barrett-Jackson, two 1993 Allantes sold for $11,000 and $17,600. We're scratching our heads about this phenomenon, but we suppose you can't argue with the market.
Winner if you can call it that: Mecum.
1968 Chevrolet Corvette convertible
At Mecum, you could get an all-original Stingray convertible for $31,000. A freshly restored 'Vette went for $44,000 at Barrett-Jackson. Both had 327 engines and four-speed manuals. We suspect the crisp, restored car presented better, but there's also value in originality.
Winner: A toss-up, really, but we'd lean toward Barrett-Jackson. $44,000 isn't a lot to pay for a concours-quality Stingray convertible; for $31,000, the all-original example had better be nice to justify that sale price. Still, we're tempted to take our chances and go with the original Mecum car here. Unrestored cars come with their own set of problems, but they're only original once (or so they say).
Corvette L88 coupe
The 1967 Corvette L88 coupe sold for an incredible $3,850,000 at Barrett-Jackson, while the 1968 L88 coupe brought in only $510,000 at Mecum. This isn't an apples-to-apples comparison; the earlier L88 is valued at slightly more than twice as much as the latter car, which Hagerty says is worth $1.3 million).
Winner: Inconclusive. The half-million sale price of the '68 L88 fell right in line with its projected value, but someone paid more than triple the projected value of the car at Barrett-Jackson. We have to pin some of that on the fast-paced, frenzied environment the Arizona auction house strives to create, which often results in cars going for far more than their book value. A Mecum sale in Dallas last September saw a 1967 Corvette L88 convertible sell for $3.2 million, so its clear that it doesn't take the glamor (?) of Scottsdale to make bidders crazy for rare fiberglass.
1954 Packard Caribbean convertible
The 1954 Packard Caribbean convertibles aren't quite as highly desired as their flamboyant tri-color '55 siblings, but these stately-yet-fun cars have held their value well over the past decade. A freshly restored example sold for $71,000 in Florida, while a clean, well-maintained car sold for $50,600 in Arizona.
Winner: Tough to say, but we'd lean toward Barrett-Jackson. If the B-J car's story checks out and the car was truly owned and maintained by a former Packard mechanic, we'd choose it over the totally restored Mecum car. Then again, a $20,000 budget won't get you much of a restoration, so you might be better off biting the bullet and paying more for the recently refreshed car. How much do you value originality?
Pontiac Firebird Trans Am
Is there a huge difference between the 1973 Trans Am ( sold at Mecum for $36,000) and the 1975 Trans Am ( sold at B-J for $55,000)? We're not entirely sure why one commanded such a larger premium over the other. Both are 455 V8-equpped cars with four-speed manuals, and both look to be in great shape.
Winner: Mecum. You could buy a lot of cheap beer with that extra $19,000.
The bottom line is that both Mecum and Barrett-Jackson's January events are gargantuan enough to feature bargains and eyebrow-raising high-dollar sales. Yet Mecum's Florida show, which generally hasn't received the publicity of the multi-auction Scottsdale circus, often features near-duplicate cars for many thousands of dollars less. For whatever reason, this seems to be especially true for anything powered by a big American V8.
If Mecum held its event the week before Barrett-Jackson, we'd fill a hauler with muscle cars from the Florida sale and drive straight through to Arizona, where frenzied bidders and handsome profits would almost certainly await us.
The order of the two events is reversed, though, so we'll have to put that dream of arbitrage out of our minds. But if you're looking to put a classic in your garage and you can wait until next January to do it, it might just pay to do some comparison shopping.
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