An Auction to Remember

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Imagine a car show that you can attend, climb all over the cars and even go home with one. Sounds like a dream for the car enthusiast right? Well it is not a car show that I am talking about. Instead I am referring to the Mecum Auto Auction.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 2013 Mecum Auction Houston with media credentials. This is the second Mecum Auction that I have attended the first of which was in 2012. The event was held in the Reliant Center and it took up the entire exhibit hall. When I first walked onto the auction floor my eyes were greeted by a red carpet row of beautiful pristine cars, which ranged from a classic Porsche 356 Speedster S to a Ferrari Dino Replica, a pair of classic Jaguar XKs and a wonderful Ford Mustang Boss 427s. I then looked left and right and I saw cars all over the place. The lights bouncing off their shiny paint jobs dazzling my eyes. Directly in front of me at the end of the red carpet was a large stand that was the booth for the Velocity television host. If you aren’t already aware portions of the Mecum Auction are broadcasted live on the Velocity Network. Just past the TV tower were rows and rows of seats. These seats where divided into two sections, general seating / bidding and seats for those registered as Gold Bidders. The Gold seating consisted of just the first few rows closest to the auction block.

After my brain decided to switch sense the next thing I noticed was the sound. The first thing you hear when you walk in is a mix of the auctioneer on the block, the occasional sound of an engine being started up or revved, the Mecum staff working the bidders and the general chatter of the spectators and bidders walking around the floor. All of the sights and sounds are mixed with the smell of race gas, oil and exhaust fumes. For a car enthusiast that is new to the auction scene, initially stepping into the auction can be sensory overload. My advice, take a moment get your bearings and figure out your plan.

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After the initial sensory assault that I experienced when walking onto the exhibit hall floor I began to take some time to check out the vehicles that were for sale. One of the great things about the Mecum Auctions is that you can literally climb all over the vehicles and check them out. You get to sit in them, pop the hood and inspect the fenders. Often times you can even talk to the owners and find out more about the cars before they go on the block.

As you walk around the cars that are on display for sale you really begin to understand why Mecum is Muscle Cars and More. There are all your classic muscle cars such as Mustang Boss 427s, Hemi ‘Cudas, Chevy Camaros, and many others. The striking things is, how much of the auction falls into the “more” category, from boats, to motorcycles, to super exotics and my personal favorite classic British cars.
One of the most spectacular British car, and there were many, was a 1953 Jaguar XK 120 SE that sold at auction for $92,000. My good friend Berry Lowman of #Motorama LIVE and I highlighted this vehicle in a video piece.

Beyond the classic cars of old, were the number of modern day classics. Everything from 2007 Mercedes Benz AMGs to Dodge Vipers and a brand spanking new COPO Camaro. There was what appeared to be an ordinary 2010 Shelby Mustang KR for sale. Which was ordinary until you looked at the car’s pedigree. This particular car was Carol Shelby’s own personal Shelby GT500KR and I got to sit in the same seat he sat in while driving the car. Now I may not be a huge Mustang fan but the emotions that came over me when I sat down in that car were almost indescribable. I was in total awe. It felt as if I had been given the right to wear the Crown Jewels. This may not have been the most spectacular car that Carol Shelby owned but just to be able to sit in the seat that he spent time in while undoubtedly hooning, almost brought tears to my eyes.

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There were many other wonderful cars that I was able to look at. I wish there had been more time to just look, touch, and feel all the wonderful cars at the auction. After spending some time walking around admiring and getting my hands on so many wonderful and unique cars it was time to take in the action. I made my way up to the real action in the room, the auction itself. Just walking up toward the auction seating and block the energy increased exponentially. The lights are bright, cameras are everywhere and electricity and excitement are flowing. The Mecum staff is working the bidders and the auctioneer is drumming up as much excitement about the vehicle on the block as possible.

As the array of cars parade across the block, each one stopping and hoping the crowd has at least two willing bidders. The bidding on these cars is all over the place. It is all about having the right people, with the right amount of disposable cash and willingness to buy in the room. Sometimes a car will get up on the block and the bidding will be going along and then it just stalls out. At this point the seller may pull their reserve off, or the Mecum staff may be able to talk the bidders into increasing their bid. This truly is a place were peer pressure is part of the game and very important to getting the maximum amount for each car sold.

Not every car sells. The cars that do not sell go to what is known as “the bid goes on” section. Cars that land in the “Bid Goes On” section often times will end up selling with some deal being reached between a buyer and the seller. Not every car sells and not every car is bid on. In those unlucky cases the seller has to transport the car back home.

As I sat there on the auction block a number of vehicles came across that I wish I had bid on. There was a beautiful Triumph TR-3 that had the price not gone as high as it did and I had been a registered bidder I most likely would have gone home with. Lesson learned register to bid if there is anything you think you might want. Second lesson here is that at the end of the day after the live television coverage on Velocity is over with there are some great deals to be had. Let me tell you I had crawled all over that car, and knew what some of the issues were and still had determined it would be a great car to have. Sadly it ended up selling for $14,500 and went home to some one else.

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Amongst all the lights, cars and people were cameras. Not just people taking pictures of the beautiful cars but big, bulk, heavy duty, professional television cameras. These cameras were on the shoulders of crewmembers from the cable network Velocity. Others were sitting on rigs that hung over the crowd and provided a birds eye view of the cars on the block. There is a huge integration between the television production of the auction and the running of the auction. Before and after the live broadcast of the auction hit the airwaves and televisions tuned into Velocity all over the country the network was working closely with Mecum. Throughout the entire auction the production company, Velocity, and Mecum all work together to make sure that the auction goes smoothly. What a fantastic job they do.

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If you have never attended an auction before I suggest you do and if possible attend a Mecum Auction. Remember to wear good walking shoes, clear a full day of your schedule, bring a camera, register to bid and above all go have a great time. I know that every time I go to an automotive auction I have a blast and every time I kick myself for not registering to bid. Next time I will register to bid and who knows I might go home with something. ONLY WITH THE WIFE’S PERMISSION!

#Motorama Live @ Mecum Houston 2013 Jaguar XK 120 Highlight

I was interviewed by Berry Lowman of #Motorama Live about this fantastic 1953 Jaguar XK 120 SE.

Nacodogches Run 2013

This is my first attempt at splicing video

The Return of Alfa Romeo

Photo Courtesy of Fiat S.p.A.

Photo Courtesy of Fiat S.p.A.

Alfa Romeo, a great car company once lost to the North American market.  If I ask a group of people what Alfa Romeo means to them, I am almost certain that most of those under the age of 35 will look at me with a blank stare.  Those over the age of 35 may bring up cars like the GTV, Giulietta Spider, 164 or the movie “The Graduate”.  Yet all of this is likely to all change.

In 1961 the first Alfa Romeo landed on the shores of North America.  It was a lovely Giulietta Spider at the request of Max Hoffman.  Max was an importer of automobiles to the United States, who is also known as being the man behind the idea for the Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, the reason the Porsche 356 speedster was sold in the U.S. and a number of other vehicles that made it to our shores. In 1995 Alfa Romeo exported its last 164 to the United States.  This however, would not be last of the Alfa Romeo’s to see the wide open roads of North America.  In 2009 with the assistance of Maserati, Alfa Romeo sold a limited number of cars in this country.  Only 99 Alfa Romeo 8C Competiziones were sold here in the States.  This was a super car and really based around the 4.7 liter Maserati V8.  That was an experiment that was only known amongst the supercar realm.  The mere mortal cars did not have to fear a great intrusion by the Italian company until now.

Alfa Romeo 4CPhoto Courtesy of Fiat S.p.A.

Alfa Romeo 4C
Photo Courtesy of Fiat S.p.A.

In about two weeks time Alfa Romeo will be debuting their long awaited 4C at the Geneva Auto Show, and this will be the car that will mark Alfa Romeo’s official return to the North American market.  How will Alfa Romeo be able to come back to the North American Market?  Well this time Fiat, who owns Alfa Romeo, has some true advantages.  First of all, Fiat is learning what it takes to bring back a brand that was once defunct in North America with their own name.  When Fiat came back to this country they had a very slow start that finally seems to be picking up.  They learned a good bit about dealership and distribution networks in this country.  Hopefully those issues do not plague the resurgence of Alfa Romeo on American shores.

Another advantage that Fiat has with respect to Alfa Romeo is the power of Chrysler.  Even though Fiat S.p.A. owns Chrysler, in North America the Alfa Romeo brand will fall under Chrysler like the Fiat brand does.   This means that Alfa Romeo will be able to harness the existing infrastructures that Chrysler already has in place, such as dealer networks, manufacturing, distribution and marketing.  Now the question is, will the Alfa Romeo be sold in stand-alone dealerships, in partnership with Fiat dealerships, along side Chryslers or maybe alongside Maserati?  There might be an answer to this by looking at the past.  When Alfa Romeo brought the 164 to the United States they needed a distribution and dealer network that could handle selling the cars.  A partnership between Alfa Romeo and Chrysler was born with the sole purpose of selling the Alfa Romeo 164.  The 164 was then sold at Chrysler / Plymouth dealerships.  We will have to wait to know for sure how Fiat will decide to distribute and sell Alfa Romeo in the North American market.

Alpha Romeo 164 Photo Courtesy of Fiat S.p.A.

Alpha Romeo 164
Photo Courtesy of Fiat S.p.A.

Even though Fiat has learned a lot about coming back into the North American market they still have a number of challenges ahead of themselves with respect to Alfa Romeo.  One of the biggest challenges facing Alfa Romeo is the same challenge that faced Fiat when they re-entered the North American market.  They have to get past the blank stares that the younger generation will have when their name is mentioned.  They will also have to move past any negative stereotypes of poor quality that the older generation may remember from decades ago.  Alfa Romeo has a strong and extensive history that can help them get past both the blank stare and the poor quality stereotypes.  Alfa Romeos are definitely not the cars they once were, when they were a prominent site on our roads.  They have improved greatly on quality.

I am sure that Alfa will use their extensive race history in marketing their cars in this market.  Few companies have the race pedigree that Alfa Romeo possesses.  It is said that the great Henry Ford would nod every time an Alfa would drive by.  It is also said that when Ford beat Alfa Romeo in racing that Enzo Ferrari cried.  Few marquees have had such a strong emotional impact on such great men.

Alfa Romeo will give Fiat Group and Chrysler a premium brand in the North American market.  The question is who will be their competition?  First off they are going to enter the market with the 4C, a mid-engine sports car.  Now where will this car be price wise is something we can only speculate on for now, but we can be sure it will be north of 40 grand and most likely closer to 60 grand.  Well at these price points one would think BMW or Mercedes.  Well the mid-engine 4C is more in line to compete with the Porsche Cayman and Boxster.  But wait the 4C is not the only car they plan on bringing over.  There are plans for a sedan and a crossover.  I am sure they will compete with Audi in the crossover market. The manufacture that I really think will most likely compete the closest with Alfa Romeo in the long run is probably going to be Acura.  I will let you be the judge of who they compete with the most for now.  After a few years of sales data we will really know the answer to this question.

The return of Alfa Romeo is a great thing for North American consumers and enthusiast.  It will be a challenging road that I am certain can be handled with great finesse.  Maybe, just maybe Henry Ford will once again nod in respect every time he sees an Alfa Romeo drive by, and Enzo may cry if Alfa is beat on the street or in a race by a Ford.

 

Update: It appears that Automotive News is reporting that Alfa Romeo will be sold through Fiat dealerships, but not all Fiat dealerships will be getting Alfa Romeo.  It appears that it they will go to the top selling dealerships with only 1000 4Cs being imported for the first year.

A MINI Customization

Photo By: Robert Edwards

Photo By: Robert Edwards

Individuals have a tendency to want to make things their own; to stand out from the crowd. If you look around you will see people customizing just about everything they can. This is the reason that retailers offer us so many options. Cars are no exception.

Car people tend to be some of the craziest, wildest and most unique when it comes to customizing.

Before I go much further I should make some disclaimers here. I love MINIs and my own MINI Clubman S has a custom roof and mirror caps.

Car customization is such a huge industry that there is even an industry show dedicated to it, SEMA (specialty equipment manufactures association), which is held in Las Vegas every year. To many car enthusiasts this is the pinnacle of shows to attend. The industry uses this show to entice companies and consumers into developing ideas about there next projects.

So what is a customized car? Well it can literally be anything. Some people might consider adding a simple cold air intake or other easy bolt-on accessory as customized. Others might say that a simple decal or vinyl graphic makes it customized. Then there is the other side of the spectrum that believes it requires spending tens of thousands of dollars and completely transforming a car into something totally new. My answer is all of the above are correct. Customization is a very personal thing and thus results in all kinds of variations and levels of transformation.

People who have customized their cars are often asked a mired of questions. So I decided to go to talk to a friend of mine, Kelli for this article. Kelli, is a very proud car parent and a hoot to be around. Her baby of course is a MINI Cooper S Hardtop aptly named Blaze.

Photo Courtesy of Kelli Creighton

Photo Courtesy of Kelli Creighton

Blaze started life out as a seemingly normal every day 2008 MINI Cooper S Hardtop in Laser Blue. One day Kelli was walking the lot and spotted him. She knew she had to have him. Blaze had a home finally with great parents, Kelli and her husband who is also Blaze’s mechanic. After three months of parenting it was time to start Blaze’s transformation from ordinary to extraordinary. The first thing Kelli added were Blaze’s trademark Hot Pink Glitter Flamers. After the flames came the chrome wheels and accents. Kelli has done other little touches like replace the MINI nameplate on the front with a badge that has BL4ZE written on it.

Talking to Kelli, I realized that Blaze is much more than a car with fancy paint. Blaze is a part of Kelli and her husband (who has done most of the work outside of paint on the Blaze.) He is a member of their family and an extension of Kelli’s personality. For many people their cars, especially those customized, are an extension of their personality and family.

So what influenced Kelli do such a design? Well first Kelli is a very creative and art driven person. Kelli likes to stand out, and as such she created Blaze to stand out. As I said earlier cars are extension of our personality and who we are. So what are some other reasons that customizations are done? My own car has the Saint Andrews cross on it, and was designed as a tribute car to part of my family’s history. For those of you who do not know what the Saint Andrews cross is, it is the national flag of Scotland. I have met people who have done their cars up because they think it looks cool. Then there are others who build their cars in memory of a loved one. Companies who customized their vehicles do them to show case their services or products. The list is endless as to why cars are customized.

What factors influence when things get done? In Kelli’s case there are two main factors. One is cost and the other is availability of parts. Few people can drop all the money at once into their project. Cost leads to projects being spread out over time and at times limits or changes the scope of the customization. This does not mean a successful or less innovated result is achieved. Not only is the cost of parts an issue; so is their availability. In Kelli’s case she may spend months searching for that right piece only to find out that it is on back order and have to wait even longer to get the part. There are times when she didn’t even realize a part existed but ran across it accidently. In the case of Blaze, countless hours have been invested in searching for just the right part. Those who customize their cars or any project for that matter often times have to get creative about finding the parts and how they are used.

Customized cars are very personal and very unique. Just like we all have opinions about what clothes we like and don’t like. People have those same thoughts about custom cars and cars in general. Not everyone is going to like the custom color or accents that one has done to their car. In the case of Blaze most of the reaction has been positive with the occasional naysayer. Kelli’s husband is actually embarrassed to drive the car by himself and always makes it a point to say, “it’s my wife’s car.” I guess he doesn’t think the car is manly enough for him!

If you have been thinking about customizing your car don’t let some one stop you because they don’t like your idea. Go for it. Ask for help along the way and guidance. You might be surprised with what comes out of it. Save now and be ready for a labor and spending of love.

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