When Mecum Auctions arrived in Arizona last year for its second March sale, the timing could not have been worse. On March 11, 2020, the auction was all set to rock ‘n roll with more than a thousand collector vehicles on site ready for four days of bidding, when everything came to a grinding halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We started on a Wednesday, and Wednesday night is when the world kind of melted down, when all the sports teams closed down, the country closed down, so we had three days of auction left there that were a bit problematic,” said Dave Magers, chief executive for Mecum Auctions.
Mecum returns for its third annual Arizona auction opening today at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, now with a seasoned game plan for dealing with the virus. Mecum resumed live onsite auctions in June, using a set of safety protocols it developed, which not only has allowed it to hold events, with some limitations, but to have a remarkably successful year in the process.
“The year that we had, 2020 turned out to be a phenomenal year for us,” Magers said. “We set records at roughly half our events, including our biggest events.
“The market’s just going gangbusters right now. We’ve seen nothing to cause us to think it’s slowing down, and that leads us right into Glendale.”
Several factors have caused Mecum’s boon in collector car sales, Magers believes, including pent-up demand and an enhancement of online bidding.
“There is some validity to pent-up demand,” he noted. “People sat home for so long, and they didn’t have any place to go, they didn’t have any place to spend money. Consequently, they might have had a little pile of cash and there’s been a car they’ve being wanting for a long time, so they decided that this was the time.”
Online bidding with live streaming has brought an unexpectedly large number of new bidders into the fold, Magers added.
“We knew that in a pandemic there would be a lot of online bidding, and there was,” he said. “What surprised us is that 80 percent of those bidders are people we have never done business with before. So, where we thought the online bidding would be people who are normally sitting on the seats and decided not to come, that’s not the case at all.
“The people who normally sit on the seats came, and we had big crowds at all of our auctions. But we added this other component. Of course, the more bidders you have, the better the pricing is for the seller.”
The live auction action made all the difference, he added.
“It used to be you’d look at a static screen and a button would light up when you were outbid and you’d hit the button again to bid. It wasn’t very dynamic.
“We re-created that so that when you’re bidding online, it actually looks like you’re sitting in front of the auctioneer. You can see the auctioneer, you can hear the chant, you can see the car, you can see the bids go up, and the auctioneer actually knows the names of the people who are bidding online.
“For all practical purposes, it’s as close as you can get and still be sitting at home on your living room sofa.”
The pandemic mitigations were strongly evident when I arrived Wednesday for a look at the auction offerings, and was immediately approached by a Mecum staffer, who checked my temperature and made sure I had a facemask. There’s a lot of fencing and social-distancing instructions, and the spectator setup in front of the stage is more spread out. Hand-sanitizing stations are all over the place.
Spectator tickets are sold only online – there is no box office for buying onsite. Magers noted that Mecum staffers will be available to help people purchase tickets with their phones.
But despite the COVID precautions, the usual festive atmosphere did not seem affected in the least. Many gleaming cars and trucks were still lined up to be registered for the Thursday through Saturday sale, but most were in place inside the stadium or in adjacent lots.
From the cars that I saw lined up or in position for the auction, here are the ones that caught my eye:
1939 Cadillac Series 75 convertible
I spotted this outstanding beauty right off the bat as it stood waiting to be registered. The full classic is one of five known to still exist, and looks to be in absolutely immaculate restored condition; it won first in class at the 2015 La Jolla Concours d’Elegance. I just thought it was absolutely stunning in every way.
1968 Shelby GT350 convertible
Here’s another droptop from a very different era, a Shelby-enhanced Mustang powered by a 302cid V8 boosted with a period-correct Paxton supercharger, plus automatic transmission and power steering and brakes. These are such great-driving cars, and the forced induction should put the whip to the small block.
1947 Delahaye 135MS Figoni et Falaschi Narval cabriolet
Since I seem to be dreaming big, here is a magnificent work of art from the Mecum Gallery Exposition Sale of high-end cars that can be purchased outright rather than through bidding. The group of seven cars, displayed on the concours level of the stadium, range from a classic prewar Cadillac to a 1967 Shelby Cobra 427.
This piece of automotive fantasy, which debuted at the 1947 Paris Auto Salon, is called the Narval because of the jutting hood treatment that resembles the marine mammal with a single protruding tusk.
With its flamboyant coachwork from the famed French designers, this one belongs in a museum for all to admire. The price tag? You don’t want to know.
2018 Ferrari 812 Superfast coupe
The Steve Todhunter collection of exotic and classic cars is one of the major features of the Glendale auction, and they are indeed an awe-inspiring bunch. Of the late-model sports cars, which include a rare and ultra-exotic 2006 Saleen S7 Twin Turbo and a number of terrific Ferraris, this is the one that does it for me.
With its 789-horsepower V12 engine up front, this Superfast (a name I love) has been driven just 2,254 miles and is essentially a brand-new car. It looks splendid in Rossa Corsa and reportedly was purchased from the Scottsdale dealer with $48,500 worth of options. Must be nice.
1959 Chrysler 300E hardtop
The Chrysler “letter cars” were performance-enhanced versions of the big 300-series cars, and there are five of them from a single collection on the auction docket. This one is my favorite, mainly because I find the red-hued treatment of its gaping grille to be appealing, and a nice contrast with its attractive light-blue paint job.
This huge car with the towering tailfins is motivated by a 412cid wedge-head V8 that generates 380 horsepower and a mountain range of torque. What a thundering beast it must be.
1973 Alfa Romeo 1600 Junior Zagato
This is a rare and attractive piece of Italian artistry, a cool little Alfa coupe with a handcrafted body by Carrozzeria Zagato of Milan. Only about 400 of these were built, and this one has just 35,000 miles on its odometer. It’s powered by a hot little S version of the 1,570cc aluminum DOHC inline-4, fed by a pair of Weber carbs and linked with a 5-speed manual transmission.
I find the plexiglass grille treatment with the customary Alfa Romeo shield presented as open space to be intriguing. And I bet its high-revving engine sounds fantastic while running through the gears on a winding road.
1978 Mercedes-Benz Unimog 416
For anyone who wants to get serious about off-roading under the most extreme conditions, here’s the vehicle that can get you through. This beast of burden is powered by an inline-6 diesel engine and a manual transmission with – get this – 20 forward gears and 8 reverse gears. Sounds crazy, but that’s what the info says.
Riding on gigantic go-anywhere tires, the Unimog is equipped with two winches, 15,000-pound up front and a 9,000-pound in the rear.
Looking it over, I noticed that what you might call the roll bar looks more like a bridge abutment.
1935 Ford Brewster limousine
I put this one in here because I’m always impressed by the audacious Brewster treatment of Ford front ends. This just looks so cool, and it speaks to the Art Deco sense of style that still ruled during that era.
1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS 427
This muscular Chevy was restored to replicate a Dana Super Camaro RS/SS, and I think they did a pretty great job. There’s a laundry list of performance features that’s been added to this coupe, not the least of which is the pro-built LT1 427cid V8. Adding to the fun is a 4-speed manual transmission. It comes in Matador Red with period-appropriate houndstooth-pattern interior.
1964 Porsche 356 SC coupe
You didn’t think I’d leave off my favorite flavor of old sports car, did you? This is a very attractive example painted blue with a tan interior, and it looks great.
This was near the end of the line for the 356, and this was the hot-ticket model with the 90-horsepower flat-4 engine, which doesn’t sound like much except that the coupe weighs just under 2,000 pounds. Plus, this final iteration came equipped with 4-wheel disc brakes. They are a ton of fun.