We are not rookies at most places. Been to the Daytona 500. The bike races and the 24 Hours of Daytona, too. Been to the Indy 500. Bonneville seven times. Five trips to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Talladega. Charlotte. Pocono. MIS. Numerous F1 races around the world. Sebring. St. Pete. Miami. Road America. Road Atlanta. Colorado Grand. California Mille. Driving schools at Ontario, Sears Point, Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, Michigan, and Las Vegas. Lots of concours events over 35 years, from Pebble Beach to Greenwich to Meadow Brook to Amelia Island.
But this year, we were rookies, or, to use the au courant term, newbies, at the world’s largest classic car auction, in Kissimmee, Florida, run by the experts at Mecum. And we came away from our days in Kissimmee with our mind bent completely out of shape by the size and scope of this extravaganza.
It takes weeks to put up all the empty tents, and many long days after that to fill the tents up with cars and trucks as they arrive.
The Glass House, the giant permanent structure set right in the middle of the 150-acre Osceola Heritage Park, was done up this year to house the Don Fezell collection of drag race and muscle cars, as well as the Runyon collection of drag and high-performance cars and the Lembeck collection of Corvettes and muscle cars. Taken together, that was one of the most impressive and historic groups of cars we’ve seen under one roof, with rat rods, hot rods, and a fuel dragster thrown in for good measure.
That one building alone would have been worth the price of admission. But there were 13 other buildings and tents absolutely packed with machinery, each one surrounded by more machinery simply parked on the grass.
Some 450,000 square feet of covered display space. Three thousand separate entries to keep track of without losing any before they cross the auction block, each one with the ignition keys lashed to the steering column with zip-ties so they don’t go missing.
We were told that it takes nearly 400 Mecum employees to pull it off, from the rapid-fire auctioneers to the car rustlers to the staff people.
Don Fezell’s collection of parts, so huge and so varied, from race Hemi blocks to big-block Chevy cylinder heads, lightweight body panels and complete engines ready to go, was assigned its own building, with a tag on every single item.
Inside the arena building, it looked like Las Vegas, bright red, yellow and green lights, pretty girls in black outfits, TV cameras (some six dozen people dedicated to the TV broadcast activity), and all the electronics necessary to show the bidding in three different currencies.
If you were a bidder and you got hungry, the block-long building next door offered every kind of sports event/race track/drag strip food we’re all used to seeing at these things, from dogs and burgers and chicken and fries to something one of our fellow diners referred to as “a heart attack on a plate.” Beef brisket, potato chips, and sauce, piled six inches high on an eight-inch paper plate.
Just as impressive for us was the bidding, which varied from lackadaisical to maniacal, depending on the lot being offered. There were some real steals here, and some outrageously overblown prices, as with any other auction.
Some personal highlights included Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins’ 1963 Impala Z11 427 hardtop going for $525,000, the Packer Pontiac “Swiss Cheese” 421 hardtop that my old friend Howard Maseles drove at the drags, hammering for $430,000, and the one-of-one black ’67 Corvette that went for a breathtaking $775,000!
Of course, you could have spent as little as $9,000 for a 1966 Olds 98 convertible.
Throughout our time there, we saw only one classic car that would have been right at home at one of the snootier auctions or concours. Yes, there were far more fairly ordinary Chevrolets and Corvettes than anything else, but, in a field of 3000 entries, there were lots of other rare birds and nostalgia generators and real bargains.
So, for us, that’s one more major automotive event crossed off the bucket list, and one more note to ourselves not to miss this one ever again.
Photos by Jim McCraw