Rob Myers vividly remembers the first time he took a car he restored to a classic car auction:
“I brought my ’57 Cadillac Biarritz convertible to Auburn, Indiana,” Myers said, adding that at the time, such cars were selling at the auction for upward of $50,000.
“I had 20 into mine and I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to make a home run’.”
At the time, Myers was just a couple of years beyond high school age. A $50,000 payday would be huge.
“My car goes on the stage. They’re yelling at me to let the reserve go, ‘because it’s going to bring a lot more money that way.’ As soon as I did, they yelled ‘Sold!’ “
“What’s happened here?” Myers wondered. Turns out, he said, the auctioneer and the bidder were buddies, and as soon as Myers released his reserve, the minimum price at which he’d sell the car, the auctioneer and his buddy bought the car at the bargain price of $37,000.
Oh, and that was just the injury. The insult was yet to come:
I went up to Dean Kruse and said, ‘You’ll remember me someday’.”
— Rob Myers
[/pullquote]“The next day they ran it through again and it brings 72 grand,” Myers said. “For me, then, 30 grand was like a million today. I went up to [auctioneer] Dean Kruse and said, ‘You’ll remember me someday’.”
Years later, when such shenanigans — and those much worse — eventually cost Kruse his auctioneer’s license, Myers and his RM Auctions bought the real estate that remained from the Kruse company that once dominated the classic car marketplace.
Rob Myers long ago forgave Dean Kruse his trespasses. He even came to consider him a friend. But Rob Myers has not forgotten the way he was treated that weekend several decades ago and has made it a priority never to treat any of his customers in similar fashion. As a result of such customer care – well, that and an amazing diligence to details – RM Auctions and the vehicle restoration business that spawned it can claim to be “the global leader in the investment-grade collector car market” as it celebrates its 35th anniversary.
With offices in four countries on two continents and with nearly $450 million in auction and restoration sales last year, RM Classic Car Inc. has progressed nicely from the single-car garage in which Rob Myers started restoring cars back in high school.
“I went to high school thinking I wanted to be a cabinet builder, to be a good carpenter,” Myers said of his youth in Chatham, a Canadian city some 50 miles east of Detroit. Myers still lives in his hometown and runs his companies from a complex of buildings just south of town and adjacent to Ontario’s Macdonald-Cartier Freeway in Blenheim.
“I was in a tech school here in town. But I realized ‘this isn’t for me, this school. I need to get out and make some money’.”
Myers was the youngest of four children. A while before each became old enough to drive, his father would secure what Myers remembered as “a junky car” and fix it up, often with Myers helping out with any needed bodywork.
“When I was 14, my Dad gave me a ’59 Edsel,” Myers remembers. “My brother-in-law was going through a tech school and we took the engine out and his high school rebuilt it as a project. The second day of school I drove that Edsel to school and traded it for a 650 Triumph Bonneville [motorcycle]. My father about had a bird. He flipped.”
Myers didn’t have a good answer when his father asked how the youngster would drive to school in the middle of winter. But he was resourceful.
“A lady down the road whose husband was killed in World War II had a 1940 Plymouth four-door sedan in her garage. I bought it for 400 bucks, fixed it up and drove it all through high school,” Myers said. “I had my Triumph and a ’40 Plymouth and was in heaven.”
I was in San Bernardino, California, staying in this little motel and I hear a noise and it’s an antique car auction.”
— Rob Myers
[/pullquote]By age 19, Myers could afford to buy a new Harley-Davidson, so he told his boss he was going on a three-week road trip and hit the road. Three weeks turned into three months, but the experience changed the course of Myers’ life.
“I was in San Bernardino, California, staying in this little motel and I hear a noise and it’s an antique car auction,” Myers said. “I sat in the bleachers watching the auction, watching a ’57 Thunderbird owned by somebody like Elizabeth Taylor. I’d been fooling around cars as a kid with my father.”
And now Rob Myers knew what he wanted to do.
“I was sitting at the auction,” he recalled. “This is what I want to do, to play with these old cars.”
Before turning 20, Myers bought a small house with a single-car garage in Chatham and started restoring old cars and custom-painting motorcycles and hot rods.
“I wasn’t worth much doing mechanical work but became a pretty good painter,” he said, still proud that a hot rod he painted in 1978 was runner-up for the Ridler Award and drove home with the best-paint trophy from 60 of the 68 shows it entered.
After a couple of years, Myers’ workload had outgrown that original garage. So in 1979, at the age of 22, he bought a piece of land, built a 40 x 80-foot building and moved RM Auto Restoration. By 1985, Myers employed 20 people — many of them still work for him — and was buying cars, restoring them and selling them.
“At one point I was the largest consigner, and I’d bring 130 cars to Auburn and 60, 70 or 80 to Barrett-Jackson, where I’d have a whole tent to myself,” Myers said, adding that while he sold those cars, he’d often buy another 50 or 60 at those auctions.
While a major customer for the auction houses, Myers wasn’t always happy with the way he was treated and thought he could do better. He bought out a small, local auction company and staged the first RM sale in 1992 in Toronto.
Not long after, RM became an international classic car auction company by staging a sale in Novi, Michigan. In 1994, RM began a relationship with one of the nation’s most important concours d’elegance; in August, that auction will stage its 20th annual but newly renamed Motor City sale in conjunction with the Concours d’Elegance of America in suburban Detroit.
In 1997, RM added the prestigious Monterey Sports Car Auction to its portfolio. In 2006, RM expanded its operations to Europe. In 2010, it acquired Auburn Auction Park, former site of Kruse headquarters, and launched Auctions America, which focuses on popularly affordable classic and collector vehicles.
Another thing that makes Myers proud: Five times since the turn of the century, cars restored by RM’s restoration shop have won best-in-show honors at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
But classic cars are only one aspect of Rob Myers’ passion for buying and selling, for doing the deals. In conjunction with various partners — for example, Dan Warrener and Mike Fairbairn at RM Auctions, Myers has been involved in as many as 21 companies at a single time. For example, one of his companies builds custom seats for private aircraft.
“I’m a deal junkie,” he said. “I’m sick for projects.
“No deal is big enough or small enough. My wife said, ‘You’re not happy unless you have 50 projects going at once.’ It comes from restoring cars. I used to have three or four or six going at once where most people have one at a time.”
I’m a deal junkie. I’m sick for projects.”
— Rob Myers
[/pullquote]He likes auctions, he said, “because you’re doing a deal every two minutes.” Like an addict preparing for an injection, he slaps the inside of his elbow and says, “It’s like getting a fix every two minutes.”
“For a deal junkie, this is heaven, this non-stop action.”
But the action for Myers is non-stop even when he’s not at an auction. When traveling with his wife, Cathy, an accomplished artist, they don’t sit on a beach somewhere. They go shopping, often visiting antique stores. But Myers doesn’t just buy a few things. He sometimes buys the entire contents. Sometimes even the building itself. Seriously, he’s been known to buy an entire store and have its contents delivered to Chatham by semi-trailers. In one case, he not only bought the entire store but hired its manager to come work for him.
Some of the stuff Myers has bought has been used to furnish the Retro Suites Hotel. To provide appropriate accommodations for clients who came to visit, and to help spark revitalization of downtown Chatham, Myers bought the remains of the historic 19th century Merrill Hotel — actually, he bought the entire King William Block — and created Retro Suites, with 34 uniquely decorated suites, each to a specific theme and each filled with art and antiques that the Myers have collected or created.
Not content, Myers is adding another 10 suites to the hotel. Oh, and he just poured a foundation for new steps for his own home. And he turned an old downtown flour mill into an amazing man cave. And he’s wrapping up the consignments for upcoming auctions and is about to announce additional RM auction dates. He’s also getting ready to move the RM “museum” (see our Eye Candy gallery) into a better facility that will include a vintage diner he’s been restoring. He’s also working with a local college to establish a branch campus focusing on art and design, writing and photography.
Myers cares deeply about such things, and about the young people in his hometown. He has been a generous if anonymous donor to various projects, even paying college tuition for some who otherwise might not be able to develop their talents and pursue their dreams.
As he approaches age 60, Myers has no plans to back off the gas pedal. The competition among the top-end auction houses has grown — former staffer David Gooding has established Gooding & Company as a major classic car auction power, and British art-auction specialist Bonhams has upped its classic car effort in recent years, recently convincing the owner of a wildly valuable Ferrari 250 GTO to offer the car at Bonhams’ sale in August on the Monterey Peninsula.
“Bonhams’ GTO is good for me,” Myers said. “It’s great for the industry. It will get so much press. It’s going to do a big number and will keep the market on fire.
“Competition is motivation. It makes you tick. It’s no different than a baseball player or hockey player. You have a team to work with. You’re a center man and you have a left winger and a right winger and you want to win and get that Stanley Cup.
Competition is motivation. It makes you tick.”
— Rob Myers
[/pullquote]“A friend of mine, a very wealthy man is older and is still a working fool. He says you want to go home at the end of the month with a good report card.”
Myers may not have a complete set of report cards from his days in high school, but he says doing deals — especially deals in which he’s lost huge amounts of money — have provided him with an important if sometimes expensive education.
While enjoying his company’s 35th anniversary, Rob Myers already is anticipating its 40th.
“Auctions America will have gotten some wind under its sails,” he said. “It’s taken longer than we thought to get the Kruse stink off it. But it’s cooking now. There’s major growth potential there.”
RM also has some growing to do.
“The reality is that we are the dominant player and have been for 20 years,” Myers said. “Not to brag, but it’s just facts.”
Late last year, Myers achieved a milestone when RM worked with Sotheby’s to stage a major classic car auction at the art auction house’s headquarters in New York City. The event took two years to plan. The reward was much more than $63 million in sales in two hours. It was showing that classic cars truly are and can be accepted as genuine works of art.
“There’s tons of new money coming into the market,” Myers said, adding that like long-time classic car enthusiasts, the newcomers are discovering that “you can have more fun with a car than you can with a piece of (static) art.”
You can look at art. You can drive a classic car.
“I’m the same guy I was 35 years ago,” Myers said. “I very much have not let any of this go to my head. I’ve made a lot of money and grown this industry like crazy, but I’m still the same Joe.
“The hunt, the deal, that’s what’s exciting, getting the great consignment and the fun of dealing with the people, and you meet some really interesting people. It’s all about having fun, meeting cool people and playing with stuff. This isn’t a practice run.”
People such as the elderly but vibrant woman Myers and his wife met a year ago in a cafe in Paris. The woman asked if the Myers were Americans. No, they said, they were from Canada, and in the antique car business. “Are you Rob Myers?” the woman asked, stunning Myers.
Turns out the woman’s husband had been the Rolls-Royce dealer in New York City. Months later, the woman surprised the Myers by sending them two beautiful ornaments. Recently, she called Myers and asked if he’d sell her historic Bentley Continental R Type.
People such as Oscar Davis, a car collector Myers visited a couple of years ago, right after Davis had been among the first to take delivery of an Alfa Romeo 8C Spider. “He’s near 90 now, but he acts like he’s 16 and just burns it out of his driveway, burns the tires right off the thing.”
People such as, well, such as Rob Myers himself.