Mitch Silver likes his niche in the classic car marketplace.
“It’s great to see million-dollar cars, but I’m not a participant there and most everybody I know isn’t either,” said the college professor turned auctioneer (see photo) who founded his classic car sales company some 36 years ago.
“I go [to the other auctions and] look at those cars, but then I come back where I can play,” Silver added.
Where Silver and his customers play is with cars priced not at seven-figure elevations, or even rarely at six, but in the five-figure range. Last year at his 16th annual January auction in the Phoenix area, the average sale price at Silver’s event was right around $14,000.
“I look at the sales that grab the headlines, but I don’t see myself ever collecting those cars, and that’s the case for a lot of people,” Silver said at the time. “They’re fun to see and to talk about, but what I’m looking for is to buy a 1950s convertible or muscle car.”
Silver’s annual January sale at the Fort McDowell resort and casino in Fountain Hills will offer 350 — or a few more — vehicles over two days of bidding. While some of the high-end auction houses tout vintage Ferraris, rare Duesenbergs and gull-wing Mercedes 300SLs, Silver’s headliners include:
- a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser,
- a 1960 Plymouth Fury convertible,
- a 1963 Chevrolet Impala two-door hardtop,
- a wonderfully preserved, “rock stock” 1956 Chevrolet BelAir convertible,
- a 1940 Mercury coupe,
- “a lot of nice trucks,”
- “early Ford V8 convertibles.”
In other words, classics that are affordable, that fun to drive and to take to local car shows right now, and that could be candidates for restoration somewhere down the road.
Photos courtesy Silver Auctions
Silver always liked old cars and had bought and sold a few, including some he chased others down in barns and backyards. Then he saw an advertisement for a classic car auction in Seattle.
“I went and it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen,” he said.
Silver went back to Spokane, staged his own auction, and then others and 10 years later he left Eastern Washington University and turned Silver Auctions into a full-time business.
But he’s never really left teaching behind. As each car crosses the block at his auction, he often shares the history of the marque, the model, or even the specific vehicle.
Where else, he’s said, can you sit down and have a classic car come past you every three minutes and have someone who knows about those cars tell you the vehicles’s history and technical information?
“It’s a very efficient way of shopping,” he said, adding that all the while, “you’re learning.”
To make that shopping more efficient, Silver trimmed what used to be a four-day auction to two days.
“We’re running about the same number of cars,” he said. “We just made longer days.”
This year, he’s also streamlining the opening hour of his sale, which is devoted to automobilia.
“We tried to pack a little too much into that hour in the past,” he said of trying to push through as many as 120 items in an hour. “We’re backing that down to 60 to 70 items this year. We have a lot of pressed-tin toys, some real nice stuff, and all at no reserve.”
But Silver won’t be the only one selling automobilia on the Fort McDowell property this month. The new Automobilia Scottsdale, a room full of vendors, will be set up in the resort ballroom not far from Silver’s auction tent.
“I think that is outstanding,” Silver said. “I’ve very happy to have more activities there and new people coming. I’ll be over there taking a look myself.”
Silver also said that he’s eager for those attending the new sale to discover “that Fort McDowell is close [to Scottsdale] and easy to get to.”
And, he might have added, a place to buy very reasonably priced classic cars.