At some stage in your romance with cars, you’re going to attend a collector car auctiontechnically referred to as a public auto auctionand you’re going to find yourself more enslaved than ever by your automotive passions. That time may be closer than you think: This Saturday, March 21, the Music City Classic auto auction returns to Nashville for its fourth annual visit. Even if you can’t imagine that you’re ready to fall in love with a collectible classic, there’s probably some sultry siren saving itself just for you...and your checkbook.
At the very least, the Music City Classic represents a special spectating treat for motorheads. It’s a cornucopia of classics, muscle cars, roadsters, and rods ranging in vintage from the ’20s and ’30s to the ’60s and early ’70s. (Thanks to our public-spirited benefactors in the auto-dealer lobby, the legal cutoff is the ’73 model year. Tennessee state law forbids “consumer” or “retail” auctions for cars less than 25 years old.) Because such an auction is a one-stop shop for all manner of cars in all kinds of conditions, it’s a place where like-minded enthusiasts can ogle and haggle and trade tips and talk shop to their hearts’ content. The gates to this year’s Music City Classic will open 8 a.m. Saturday, with the auction scheduled for 10 a.m. The location is the Nashville Auto Auction facility, 1450 Lebanon Rd., and general admission is $5.
If this year’s auction is your first, you’ll probably want to attend as a mere spectator; but it can be a short and spontaneous step to becoming a buyer or a sellermaybe even both. Initially, the sheer volume of cars and the rapid-fire pace can seem a little intimidating. But according to George Eber, co-organizer of the Music City Classic and a 12-year veteran at conducting similar events nationwide, an auction is much less overwhelming than it initially appears to be.
“There are advantages and disadvantages to the auctions,” Eber points out. “Probably the main disadvantage is that you don’t get to drive the car; and there’s no warranty whatsoever. Everything’s sold as-is. But the advantage is that you get to see a lot of cars in one place. By comparison, you can drive around until you’re blue in the face culling ads out of the paper, and maybe one out of four cars is close to being what it’s described to be.” Just the same, Eber is quick to point out that an auction is more than just a parking lot full of cars with auctioneers barking bids and slamming gavels. “Besides creating a marketplace,” he says, “a reputable auction company will guarantee good title to the buyers and good funds to the sellers.”
Eber counsels inexperienced buyers to be patient the first time out. “Take time to spectate at your first auction,” he says. Since no one can be an expert in every kind of car that shows up at even a small auction, you’ll want to specialize in a certain category and watch how age and condition affect prices at the auction block. To study how the market ebbs and flows for particular models over time, Eber recommends two publications: “Hemmings Motor News and Old Cars provide the best national listings for prices and values, although it also helps to track pricing patterns in the local papers and trader’s publications. This assumes there’s a fairly active local market for the car you’re researching, of course.”
Once you plan to bid on something yourself, a little preparation is required: Bidders must register with the auction, and they can do so in advance ($25) or at the gate ($35). Registration also serves as the bidder’s acknowledgment of a 5-percent “buyer’s fee” added to every transaction ($250 minimum). “But the real issue,” says Eber, “is to pre-qualify bidders in order to guarantee their funds. It’s best to do this ahead of time, even though we always have a pre-qualifying desk on-site at the auction. That way, if you don’t have all the paperwork you need, there’s still time to get it before the auction starts.” Whenever you register, you’ll need to have some form of certified funds: “Cash is one of ’em,” says Eber, “but we really don’t recommend walking around with a big roll of money in your pocket. Plus, there’s a federal requirement to notify the IRS about any transaction totaling $10,000 or more in cash.”
The best strategy, Eber says, is to have your bank issue you several cashier’s or certified checks in several different denominations, say $2,500, $5,000, and $10,000, with maybe $1,000 or $1,500 in cash to “make change.” The checks can be made out to the bidder or to the auction company (in this case, Nashville Auto Auction), since it’s the practice of reputable auction companies to transact the sales themselves. “The buyers pay us, and we pay the sellers; that way, the sellers know they’re receiving guaranteed funds.” If a buyer’s certified check exceeds the amount of a purchase, the auction company will reimburse the difference with its own check.
Sellers at auction have their own responsibilities: “First, they have to fill out a consignment form in which they describe the vehicle for sale and establish a reserve price. We use the seller’s description to announce the car, but we keep the reserve price strictly confidential.” The fee to register a vehicle for sale in the Music City Classic is $195, plus a 5-percent commission of the sale price ($250 minimum). Should a seller forego a reserve price, thereby offering his car at “absolute auction,” Eber will reward that decision with a lower entry fee of $95 and a commission reduced to 3 percent. “It really adds to the hoopla,” Eber admits. “We encourage ‘no reserves’ for experienced sellers since it tends to draw more of a crowd.”
Although an auction company can’t and won’t guarantee any car’s condition, a reputable one will guarantee title: “We inspect every title to prove that, one, it has the right VIN [vehicle identification number] and, two, it’s not on any ‘hot’ list. If there are any irregularities, even if they’re unintentional, we won’t run the car” through the auction. Sellers, therefore, must have their legal documentation in order. “And if there are original invoices, build orders, mileage statements, and so on,” he adds, “bring those too. They only add to the value of the car, because they establish that the car was ‘born’ the way it looks today.”
For the ultimate used-car shopping experience, nothing compares with the thrill, spectacle, suspense, and surprise of a well-run collector car auction. Whether your tasteor your walletfavors German and English ragtops from the ’50s and ’60s or all-American heavy-metal muscle cars of the ’60 and ’70s, you’ll find these and more all on display as if they were priceless museum exhibits. But after the bidding stops and the gavel drops, this much will be clear: The best price is the only price that the market will bear.
Making an effort
In tacit acknowledgment of the Art of Commuting, the Nashville Institute for the Arts will deign to display three exotic concept vehicles at its forthcoming Premiere Evening, March 28. Thanks to the good offices of ADT Automotive executive Howard Haas, Chrysler is allowing two of its exoticars to serve as conceptual wallpaper for the fund-raising affair: its roadster redux Prowler (now available at a dealer near you!) and the retro-futuro Thunderbolt coupe based on the LHS sedan platform. Not to be left out, Buick has consigned its Signia MAV (multiple-activity vehicle) to lovely poses of its own at the black-tie affair. This troika will provide the scenic backdrop for a premiere showing and sale of 80 original Russian artworkspresumably to remind NIA’s patrons of the value of traveling in style, be it to gallery or gala. Car buffs will have to read about it all in the social pagesPremiere Evening has been sold out for weeks.
Who do I sue!?
I’m 5-foot-6, and I’m fed up to here: A University of Michigan survey of “short motorists” indicates that altitude deficiency accounts for a greater rate of severe or fatal injury in the event that an airbag deploys in your face. Four percent of “short drivers” have suffered serious outcomes in airbag accidents, compared with 3.4 percent of “taller drivers.” Of course, the good news is that the vast majority of big-shorties and short-biggies alike walked away unscathed. Just the same, shouldn’t there be a line you have to measure up to before they’ll let you on this ride? (Better yet, wouldn’t it be fun actually to have a choice in whether or not you faced off with an airbag when you buy your next new car?)
Horns of a dilemma
At last week’s Geneva Auto Show, Volvo officials claimed the mounted moose head on their display was just a patriotic homage to Sweden’s pastoral heritage. Next-door neighbors at the Mercedes-Benz corporate booth weren’t so sure, according to an Automotive News account. Before God and the world, you may remember, M-B executives watched in horror as an auto journalist flipped Mercedes’ new Euro-commuter “A-Car” while the world’s cameras got it all on real TV. The avoidance maneuver that the journalist was attempting is known as the “moose test."
Dealer news and other views are invited via e-mail to Autosuggestive@compuserve.com. Or by fax at (615) 385-2930.
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