Category archives: Commentary

Starting the new year off the right way

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

Dana Mecum told me the other day that people who work within the classic car industry tend to forget that while it is the cars that draw people into the hobby, it is the people they meet that keep them actively involved.

“I see talk and interviews of the boom in the hobby and the industry and people credit it to a lot of different things,” said Mecum, who owns Mecum Auctions.  “But what I haven’t seen mentioned is what I think is the biggest reason for the growth — the social and entertainment value.

“People come [to auctions] not only to buy and sell but to see their friends. There’s a social aspect, a camaraderie.”

I got to experience some of that camaraderie yesterday during at Stephanie and Bud’s 13th annual New Year’s Day Drive.

Bud is a former vintage racer who still restores and drives and shows sports cars. Stephanie may not turn wrenches, but in her own ways she’s as active in the hobby as he is. Each New Year’s Day, they invite a bunch of old and new friends who also have classic or exotic cars to assemble for a continental breakfast in Bud’s Car Room — his office in which his desk is surrounded on three sides by part of his collection of sports car.

After breakfast, and once Stephanie gets people to stop talking to each other for a few minutes, everyone climbs into their cars and heads west on a specified route through cactus-studded desert to Wickenburg for lunch at Rancho de los Caballeros, a historic Western-style resort.

The New Year’s Day Drive may have started as an alternative to sitting around and watching all the college football bowl games, but after more than a dozen years people pretty much have forgotten about those games. They’d rather talk cars and drive them across the desert and then talk some more over lunch tables. And then drive those cars back home.

Speaking of the drive, it turns out that New Year’s Day morning is a great time to exercise your classic or exotic car. Or any other car for that matter. I discovered this a couple of decades ago when I worked at AutoWeek magazine. Each New Year’s Eve, I snatch something cool out of our test fleet so I could drive it with, let’s call it enthusiasm the following day.

Why? Because I realized the drunks are still sleeping off their New Year’s Eve hangovers (and for the most part the police who had been keeping a eye on them are sleeping in as well). Meanwhile, the football fans are perched in front of their televisions, watching the Rose Parade and enjoying a pre-game indoor tailgating.

And, New Year’s Day being a holiday, the semis aren’t out and about. All of which means the roads are empty, except for us.

Yesterday, us included perhaps half a dozen Ferraris — including a 328 GTS, a Testarossa and even a Daytona — a Mercedes-Benz 280 SL cabriolet, a 1960 Jaguar 150 S, a few Porsches (one of them the 1962 Porsche 356 S coupe owned by fellow Blog writer Bob Golfen). a 1972 Citroen DS 21, a couple of Lamborghinis, a Lister, a Corvette, and my friend John Priddy’s 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza in which I got to ride along.

Cars and Coffee gatherings have become a national classic car phenomenon. Wouldn’t it be nice if the same thing happened across the country with New Year’s Day Drives?


Are we looking at the wrong scoreboard? Dana Mecum thinks we are

Photos by Larry Edsall
Photos by Larry Edsall

When we report to you about classic car auctions,  we tend to focus on the highest dollar sales figures: Which auction house sold the most expensive car in Monterey? Which auction house took in the most money in Arizona?

Dana Mecum thinks we’re looking at the wrong scoreboard.

mecum7Mecum points out that when the OEMs — the original equipment auto makers who produce the cars that might someday become classics — when the auto manufacturers tally up their monthly and annual scorecards, “No. 1 is whomever produced and sold the most cars.”

That’s the most as in volume, not as in the most expensive.

Of course, Mecum likes keeping score by volume rather than by dollars because Mecum Auctions is the classic car volume leader.

“CNN reported that 19,000 cars were offered at classic car auctions in 2013,” Mecum said. “Well, we offered 12,000 of them. That’s 65 percent of the market.”

Mecum added that he’s not claiming that big a slice of the marketplace. Instead, he said, “I think their number was low. I think it’s more like 24,000 or 25,000 vehicles.”

But that still leaves Mecum controlling half of the classic car auction market, at least in terms of total vehicles.

Mecum said his perspective is based in part because of his personal experience. “My father has been selling cars for more than 60 years,” he said. “In the 1960s, he was the largest wholesale fleet dealer in the world. I’ve always been around large groups of cars. Five-hundred cars. Two-thousand cars.”

While the auto makers continued to focus on volume, “years ago, people in the collector car industry started counting success by dollar volume,” Mecum said. “I disagreed.”

While Mecum agrees that dollars are one way to keep score, they are not the only way. Nonetheless, he’s willing to play that game.

“If you take what I call the major auction companies and go to the dollar volume,” Mecum said, “there are four that sell more than $25 million a year: Us, Barrett-Jackson, RM and Gooding.

“If you take those four and the number of cars sold, we’re at 70 percent [of the market]. If you take the dollar volume, we’re [still] at about 35 percent.”

Mecum chuckles at those who try to make the classic car marketplace more complicated than it is.

“It’s such a basically simple industry,” he said. “It runs on middle-school economics: Supply and demand.”

Sounds to me as if Mecum definitely is into the supply side of the economic equation. What do you think?


Collectible minivans: Dream or nightmare?

1984 Ply Voyager frnt rt color 2

“Next across the block, ladies and gentlemen, is a pristine 1984 Plymouth Voyager, a rare SE model packed with all the options — full gauges, third-row seat, power-opening rear vent windows, wood-look exterior paneling, heavy-duty suspension, wire wheel covers and — taa daa — even a five-speed manual transmission.

“The five-speed was standard equipment, though very few customers did not opt for the three-speed automatic.

“Yes, this is the rarest of the rare first-year minivans, so let’s open the bidding at $50,000, shall we?”

Cough! Gasp! Even in the wildest moments of my imagination, I cannot bring myself to believe that the minivan ever will be considered a collectible classic car.

Well, I can see a couple of possible exceptions:

One would be the minivan, a Renault Espace, that the French automaker equipped in the mid-1990s with one of its 800-horsepower, V10 Formula One racing engines.

The other exception would be if the collector were the Smithsonian or some other museum committed to the display of the artifacts of American culture. (Or, in the case of the Renault Espace F1, in an auto museum in France, which is where that minivan is parked.)

Classic car collectors often start their collections with the car they wanted but didn’t get to drive back in high school. But who among those who grew up as part of the minivan generation even liked riding in one, let alone ever dreamed of driving one to the prom?

635779d1984_004Oh, the minivan was practical enough, especially if you had more than two children, but it also was pretty much a stage-of-life vehicle that you fled as soon as you didn’t need all that room for your children’s booster seats or for car-pooling to soccer practices.

Collectible or not, the minivan turns 30 this model year, and in some states that qualifies it to wear classic car license plates.

“… Sold! And for a world-record price! Don’t fret if you missed on that one, because here comes aPontiac Trans Sports, the famed dust-buster minivan…”