Orange County may be the sweet spot within Southern California’s classic and exotic car culture, but it has been a very tough nut — well, actually, a tough-skinned fruit — for classic car auction houses to crack.
“It’s arguably the car Mecca of the planet,” said Drew Alcazar, founder of Russo and Steele Collector Automobile Auctions, which holds its second annual Orange County sale June 19-21 at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort in Newport Beach.
While the car-crazy OC may seem an obvious place for a classic and collector car auction, it turns out that the peel on the orange can be difficult to penetrate.
“It’s like a Ferrari Daytona,” Alcazar said. He explained that while the fabled Italian sports car can be very complicated, what with 6 carburetors and 12 cylinders and such, “you’d think it was nervous — until you drive one.” Far from nervous, the Daytona is a joy to drive, with one proviso, as Alcazar pointed out. “There’s no power steering.”
“Orange County is very similar,” Alcazar said of the degree of difficulty the local classic car community has presented to auction houses.
“We’re the last bastion of hope,” he said, immediately considering what he’d just said and added, “with Dana at the Convention Center.”
While other auction houses may have tried and then left Orange County, Dana Mecum and his Mecum Auctions is in its third year in the community, staging a sale in late November in the Anaheim Convention Center.
“Everyone else has tried and everyone else has died,” Alcazar said.
Even Mecum hasn’t had overwhelming success. Last year, it offered more than 800 vehicles for bidding. Barely half of them sold, and only two for more than $200,000.
At Russo and Steele’s inaugural two-day OC sale last year, among some 400 cars offered up for bidding, just four cars — a 1970 Olds 442, a Porsche Carrera GT, a 1968 Aston Martin DB6 and a Bugatti Veyron — accounted for one-third of total sales.
Each summer on the Monterey Peninsula, the problem faced by auction houses is oversaturation — there are simply so many of them, Russo and Steele among them, competing for attention. That’s not the issue in Orange County, said Alcazar, who is undaunted by the OC’s unique challenge, in large part because of what on Wall Street could be considered insider trading.
Classic and collector car enthusiasts in Orange County are “unique and savvy and demanding and a close-knit group,” Alcazar said.
And he ought to know. While Russo and Steele is based in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Alcazar and his wife, Josephine, leave the desert heat each summer for life on the beachfront in Orange County. “From Easter to Halloween,” as Alcazar puts it.
“Others haven’t made the connection of spending time there,”
— Drew Alcazar
“But others haven’t made the connection of spending the time there,” he said of the other auction companies. “They don’t know how close-knit it is. I’ve been going to events there since the early ’80s. It’s unique there.”
Such a local presence and the Alcazars’ participation in the local car scene should give Russo and Steele an edge. Locals, Alcazar said, see “me playing with my cars whether there’s an auction or not.”
As a result, he hopes, Russo and Steele is seen as part of the close-knit cadre of local collectors, not as a big auction company swooping into town looking to deal and depart.
The local car community, Alcazar said, has to “feel as if you’re one of them.”
In fact, Alcazar said his OC auction may grow smaller to become more successful.
“We’re open and welcoming to the general public,” he said, “but in years to come, it may become a bidders-only sort of thing… a client-based event… with a small, close-knit and compressed environment.
“They have to feel as if you’re one of them,” he continued. “Russo and Steele is probably best-suited to make that fit work.”