Nearly 30 years ago, Rick Cole had “a crazy idea.” His idea was to stage a classic car auction in conjunction with the Monterey Historics vintage races and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Cole, who regularly drove in those races, noticed how his fellow racers were buying and selling cars among themselves in the Laguna Seca Raceway paddock.
“I went to Steve Earle [the vintage racing founder] and said, ‘There’s a lot of money being traded out here in the paddock. Why don’t we hook up and I’ll do an auction?’
“Steve said, ‘That’s nuts,’” Cole remembers. “So I went down to the (Monterey) conference center and the Rick Cole Auction in Monterey was born.”
This summer, Rick Cole is returning to Monterey with another classic car auction, though without an auction block or even a room full of bidders.
That first Monterey auction was held on Friday night in the summer of 1986 and offered what Cole remembers as “great cars,” drew a standing-room-only crowd and was a success from the start.
Several world auction-record prices were set at the sale, though as Cole remembers, “the entire gross was about half of a (Ferrari) 275 GTB sells for today.”
Before long, the auction spanned two days and sales results had increased fivefold. The Monterey weekend calendar now stood on three legs — vintage races, an auction and the concours.
Cole sold his auction company to RM in 1997. “I’d been in the auction business for 23 years or something like that,” he said. “I was kind of tired. I kind of dropped out of the scene.”
However, he added, he continued to keep an eye on and occasionally even a hand in the classic car business when he shifted gears and started a company that worked with DuPont to develop and produce material that enabled run-flat tires for military vehicles, and thus kept them moving for 30 miles at 30 miles per hour even after tires had been punctured.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we enabled a lot of guys to get out of harm’s way on the battlefields,” Cole said.
Cole also is proud of his long involvement with classic cars. He was 16 years old when a buddy’s father opened one of the first classic car dealerships in the country, in Santa Monica, California.
“We used to go and hang out there,” Cole said. “I started washing cars and then detailing cars and then selling cars. I spent more time there than I did in high school. I fell in love with the whole process.”
Before long, the store’s owner hired another youngster, 23-year-old Don Williams, to manage the dealership. Williams would go on to buy, own and sell many of the world’s greatest classic cars, and now operates the famed Blackhawk Collection in northern California.
“He was 23 and I was 16 and we became great friends,” Cole said. “I learned the business. We’ve known each other for 44 years.”
Still short of his 20th birthday, Cole was hired by Indiana-based Kruse Auctions to manage its West Coast activities.
“In four years with Kruse,” Cole said, “I learned what not to do.”
But Cole learned those lessons and when the time was opportune, he started his own auction company. In 1978, the hotel where Kruse had staged an auction in Newport Beach called Cole because the company had not paid its bill.
“If I pay, can I have the date (for an auction of my own)?” Cole asked.
“Bring your checkbook,” he was told.
The collector car business has grown exponentially since my early days,”
— Rick Cole
[/pullquote]Thus Rick Cole Auctions was born, and it held sales in Newport Beach, Palm Springs and other venues. Coles’ Los Angeles/Hollywood connections soon had his company known as the “auctioneer to the stars,” and he was handling sales for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other celebrities of the day.
“The collector car business has grown exponentially since my early days,” Cole said. “Back then, we were lucky to see a couple of guys from Switzerland and England and maybe one from Japan at events. Now it’s Russians and (east) Indians and so many others. It’s completely a global market, especially in Ferraris, and it’s fascinating to see.
“I never turned my back on the hobby,” Cole added. He and an old friend and fellow car guy, Terry Price, entered a partnership a few years ago “and have done a lot of heavy lifting as far as moving important cars,” Cole said.
He also went back to Scottsdale to revisit the big Barrett-Jackson auction, rekindled an old friendship with Craig Jackson that dated back to the days when both were teenagers growing up in the business, and Cole found himself — as well as Don Williams— helping to populate Barrett-Jackson’s high-end Salon Collection of vehicles.
“After a year, a lightbulb went off,” Cole said. “I’m going to be 60 years old and I need something to do in retirement that’s not so difficult. The Marriott (in Monterey) became available and now I’m back to doing my own thing.”
That thing may be old, but Cole is giving it a very new twist. What he’ll do is to gather together 3-4 dozen outstanding classic cars, display them in the Marriott ballroom and foyer, but there will be no on-site bidding, just viewing. To bid, you’ll use your smart phone and Cole’s proprietary app.
“There are 25 or more events at Pebble Beach/Monterey now,” Cole said. “Everybody’s running around crazily trying to get from place to place.
“I don’t want to try to attract warm bodies from another event, but if I fill the room with great stuff, people will come and see it. But let’s figure out a different way for people to bid.
“I provide pretty significant cars to a pretty elite clientele on a regular basis,” he continued. “The guys I deal with don’t (even) need to see the cars. If I call them and tell them I have this car with this history and this color and these details and I’ve had one of my guys look at the car it’s X amount of dollars, the guy will say ‘I own it’ (meaning he’s agreed to the price) or ‘I don’t want it.’”
For the new Rick Cole Auction at Monterey, bidding will be done by smart phones while the potential buyer is somewhere else, maybe even at another auction.
To bid, all you need to do is to show Cole your driver’s license and your bidder’s pass from any of the other Monterey auctions taking place. He’s happy to let the other auction houses do the due diligence on your bank account. Besides, he pretty much knows everyone who might have an interest in the cars he’s offering.
Early consignments already include a 1973 Ferrari 365 GTB/4, a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing coupe, a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB and a Ferrari 275 GTS.
No one’s told me I’m nuts.”
— Rick Cole
[/pullquote]As in the old days, Cole will share proceeds from his sale with a local charity. He’s reuniting with the Kinship Center, an adoption, relative care-giving and guardianship center that will benefit as the auction’s designated charity.
Cole plans to keep his bidding live a few hours after the last of the other Monterey auctions has ended.
A year or two ago, he attended the Gooding & Company auction at Pebble Beach on behalf of clients. He had $6 million of their dollars to spend, but three times in a row, he was outbid for the cars they wanted.
“I had $6 million in my pocket with no place to go,” Cole said.
Now, someone still looking to buy can simply punch some numbers into a smart phone.
“I think it will work just fine,” Cole said.
“It’s all pretty simple,” Cole said. “I’m kind of surprised I’ve gotten so many calls from guys saying this is ingenious. This is the new thing. It’s clever. It’s the next wave. No one’s told me I’m nuts.”