There’s a generational shift taking place in the classic car marketplace.
“If you drove into high school parking lots in the late ’70s and ’80s and into the early ’90s, everyone was into four-wheel (4×4) stuff and what were called ‘rice rockets’,” said Richard Sevenoaks, president of Leake Auction Company and, for our purposes, our lecturer for what we’ll call the Classic Car Marketplace 101.
Once upon a time, Sevenoaks reminded, classic cars were only those produced prior to World War II.
“It wasn’t until the early ‘80s that we start seeing the advent of the post-war car,” he said. “Prior to that, cars of the ’60s and ’70s were just used cars.
We’re seeing guys who were in high school in the ’70s and ’80s.”
— Richard Sevenoaks
[/pullquote]“But suddenly we start seeing young folks — at least they… well, we were young then — who remembered the ’68 Shelby or the Firebird that Joe had in high school and who came to auctions and say, ‘that’s what I’m going to get’.
“Now,” Sevenoaks added, “we’re seeing guys who were in high school in the ’70s and ’80s.”
And, he said, it’s not just at auctions such as his.
“Go to a cars and coffee. We had a booth at cars and coffee in Dallas and in Oklahoma City last weekend. The demographics are 18 to 34 years of age. It’s amazing how young the folks are.
“There’s a whole new generation coming that we in the auction business have to capture. We just approved a budget for digital advertising in the social media world that skews young.”
Sevenoaks compared the auction companies’ position to that of a surfer riding big waves.
“All the auctions, ours included, have had record years,” he said. “We are riding the proverbial wave.
“But you paddle out, ride the big one, but then you have to paddle back out and hope you can ride the next one. You’re always looking over your shoulder for the next big set coming in.”
Fortunately for the auction companies, it doesn’t look as though they’ll have to wait very long for the next big wave to arrive.
And it’s not only happening among car collectors, Sevenoaks added. His family-owned company is entering its third generation as well. His father-in-law, Jim Leake, founded the auction company (officially in 1972, though he’d held a couple of stand-alone sales starting as early as 1964).
Sevenoaks and his wife, Leake’s daughter, Nancy, have been in charge since 1989. Now their children and children-in-law are taking on important roles — and bringing along their friends.
Friends who remember fondly those 4x4s, those hot imports, the now-classic pickup trucks and those Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac Trans Ams they couldn’t have back when they were in high school.
But the surge of new and younger classic car customers isn’t the only wave Leake auctions is riding at the moment.
Leake opens its 2014 auction calendar February 21-22 at Oklahoma City and then goes to Dallas for a sale April 25-26.
“Because of the oil economy, Oklahoma City is a boom town,” Sevenoaks said. “We go through these cycles every 15-20 years in Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma City has a new 60-story tower (building) in downtown, and the Thunder basketball team is going great. Dallas is another boom town because of the oil economy. We’ve done an auction there in the fall and we’ve added another and we’ll do two there for the foreseeable future.”
Leake’s Oklahoma City auction has grown so much it now has cars in three buildings at the OKC fairgrounds. But that will change, Sevenoaks said.
“At the end of this year, they’re knocking down one of the three buildings we use and building a new 250,000-square-foot building. That will allow us to put all the cars in one building instead of three. That will be a big plus for us.”
In the meantime, and to move 500 cars across the block in two days, Leake will have two lanes selling at the same time both days of its Oklahoma City auction.
“We’re doing that instead of having to start on Thursday or to take only 30 seconds per car. We want to take our time and give every car a fair shot at getting sold.”
It’s a really big dog in the Model T world.”
— Richard Sevenoaks
[/pullquote]Among those cars are a rare 1921 Mercury Speedster, a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, several 1950s-late-1970s pickup trucks, a “good selection” of customs and street rods and, for those of a certain age, a ’78 Trans-Am and a 1977 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser.
Sevenoaks said that when Leake began advertising the ’21 Mercury, “we started getting telephone calls from people asking us if we knew what we had. The Horseless Carriage people were calling. The car is built on a Model T chassis but went to the Mercury factory to have a special Mercury body that made it a Speedster. There are documents and it’s a really big dog in the Model T world.”
Sevenoaks said every classic car collector in Oklahoma and Texas wants a classic pickup truck. “There’s a lot of interest right now in 1970-73 Chevy C10s,” he said.
Two other highly modified vehicles at the auction deserve some special mention, he said: a 1935 Ford Radical show truck and the 1940 Ford “Imagination” custom show truck with a supercharged 455-cid V8 engine mounted not under the hood but in the pickup bed.