Records (good and bad) are broken at inaugural Saudi sales

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Worldwide Auctioneers finally lived up to its name in 2019 by staging a collector car auction halfway around the globe in Saudi Arabia.

The auction produced $13.9 million in sales, though only four of the more than 100 vehicles on the docket actually were sold. Of that $13.9 million figure, $13.2 million was produced by the sale of a single — if massive — vehicle, the massive custom-built semi-tractor known as “Thor.”

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Most of the vehicles shipped to Saudi Arabia for the auction are back in their containers and are being returned to their owners

Not only did the auction come together quickly, it tested not only the organizational skills but also the sense of humor of Worldwide founders John Kruse and Rod Egan. While still in the Middle East, they appeared in an online video proclaiming that the auction had set two world records: One for the highest price paid for a custom vehicle and the other for the lowest sell-through rate in collector car auction history.

As it turned out, while there are car collectors and a car culture in the Middle East, the region wasn’t quite ready for the auction-style sale of vehicles. British-based Silverstone Auctions also did a sale in conjunction with the inaugural Global Auto Salon in Saudi Arabia and sold only 25 percent of its docket, for a total of $16 million. A few days later, RM Sotheby’s did $31.26 million at its sale in Abu Dhabi, but with only a 57.5 percent sell-through.

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“My reflection is that it is a new auction market and I think it’s going to take time for it to develop,” Kruse said, adding that the hands-in-the-air style of bidding may be culturally acceptable in the United States but he found the Saudis to be more reserved.

“It’s going to take time for them to warm up to it,” he said, adding that he’s confident the Middle Eastern market for collector car auctions will indeed  grow over time.

Worldwide is based in Auburn, Indiana, where the Kruse family has been hosting collector car auctions since the early 1970s. In recent years, John Kruse and Egan have expanded their auction calendar from events in Indiana and Texas and have added annual sales during Monterey Car Week and Arizona Auction Week. 

In 2019, Kruse and other local investors purchased the former National Military History Center, a 200,0000-square-foot mainly World War II museum located directly across the interstate highway from Auburn Auction Park, and have established not only new corporate offices for Worldwide Auctioneers, but a year-around collector car sales showroom and a venue for the company’s annual Auburn auction.

“We’re committed to offering each customer the optimum solution for selling their car or collection, whether privately or at auction, in the manner that best suits their individual circumstances,” Egan said of the company’s move.

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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.

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