Inaugural Leake Motor City auction

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1936 Hudson Terraplane is on the block
A 1957 Ford Thunderbird is directed onto the turntable in the Sound Board at the Motor City casino hotel | Larry Edsall photos
A 1957 Ford Thunderbird is directed onto the turntable in the Sound Board at the Motor City casino hotel | Larry Edsall photos

Jim Ledingham had never been to a collector car auction. But here he was, in the secured section of the garage at the Motor City casino hotel adjacent to the Lodge freeway in Detroit, where he had consigned his 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS to the Leake Auction Company’s inaugural collector car sale in the home of the automobile.

Ledingham had bought the car when it was brand new, but he had driven it only 5,971 miles since then.

“I can’t enjoy it,” he said in explaining why he was selling the car. It’s not that he doesn’t like to drive the car, it’s just that with such low mileage, he knows that it will never be more valuable to collectors, who put a premium on original vehicles with very low mileage.

The Impala SS revitalized the world of performance cars when Chevrolet slipped a prototype into the SEMA Show in 1991. The car looked like Chevrolet’s standard full-size Caprice, and thus very much out of place in a trade show featuring stuff designed to soup-up vehicle performance. At least this Caprice had blacked-out trim, larger wheels and tires, and dual exhausts that hinting there might be something special under the hood.

A couple of months later Chevy made it official. It would relaunch one of its fabled nameplates — Impala SS — by taking the version of the Caprice specially prepared for police departments, offering it in a sinister shade of black, with a lowered ride height, larger disc brakes, dual exhaust, upgraded interior and — oh, yes — powering it with the Corvette V8 engine.

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Jim Ledingham's 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS awaits its turn across the block
Jim Ledingham’s 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS awaits its turn across the block

But the car was more than just Chevrolet offering a higher-performance version of its largest family sedan. It was Detroit relaunching the muscle car madness that since has produced cars such as the Hellcat Dodges, Shelby Mustangs and ZL1 and 1LE Camaros.

Ledingham, who lives in a Detroit suburb, realized it was time for his Impala SS to “go to a good home” and, he hoped, “for a good price.” He and his wife would put some of that money toward their mortgage but also would contribute to a couple of worthy charities. So when Ledingham heard about the Leake auction coming to town, he decided to consign his car.

He wasn’t quite sure how things would go, but was willing — both anxious and eager — to see for himself. He told me the folks from Leake had been very helpful to a newcomer. But we were chatting on Friday morning, just as the sales were starting, and his car wasn’t scheduled to cross the block until Saturday.

As we chatted, Ledingham was on his way from the garage to the Sound Block, an arena-style facility where the auction was being conducted. He was curious to see how these collector car sales were done. Remember, this was his first such experience.

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Ledingham’s Impala SS was Lot 422. The opening bid was $10,000. But then came $12,000 and 13 and 13.5 and 14 and 14.5 and 15, 15.5, 16, 16.5 and $17,250.

At that point Ledingham removed his reserve, the minimum price at which he’d actually sell his car.

The next bid was $17,500, then $17,750, followed by $18,000 and $18,250 before the auctioneer hammered the car “Sold!”

“It’s gone,” Ledingham said a few minutes later.

“That was stressful,” he added.

He explained that he was hoping for $19,500 or more (the official sales price will be recorded as $20,075 including the buyer’s fees), but he realized the bidders were reaching their limits and added that he won’t have to pay storage or put any more money into maintenance of the car.

Though the experience may have been stressful, Ledingham appeared more relieved than disappointed. And he’s already planning to return for another Leake sale in Detroit.

When we talked in the garage, he mentioned he was curious about the entire auction sales experience, though only to a point.

“I made sure I didn’t get a bidder’s number,” he said, knowing that he’d be tempted.

But, he added immediately, with his retirement approaching in a couple of years, “I’ll be back, and shopping.”

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Photos by Larry Edsall

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.