"Auctions are built on excitement. A new guy can get caught up in that excitement and bid more than he expected."
Know what kind and quality of car you want. And also realize that your desire for the car of your dreams may push you to compromise on quality. Sharpen your pencil on your budget as well. Learn the market value for the car by studying the published results from previous auctions for similar cars. Talk to those in the club community about the direction of values, find out what similar cars have recently sold privately for. If the market seems too high in general for what you can comfortably afford and you are really itching to buy something, consider the possibility that perhaps an auction is not the best place to buy. Mecum offers this bit of reality testing: “Auctions are built on excitement. A new guy can get caught up in that excitement and bid more than he expected.”
The objective is to gain a situational awareness of how the auction environment builds that hype and look for opportunities to actively undermine the environment to your own advantage. Prudence and self-control will pay long-term dividends. Likewise, giving too much on quality to fit a price point for purchase can cost much more in the long run. Buying a “fixer-upper” through friends which hasn’t been advertised may be more affordable than one effectively promoted at auction. You also need to survey the surroundings. One veteran auction buyer we spoke to recommends first attending a few of the auctions run by the same auction house you intend to deal with, and not registering to bid. This approach gives you a sober prospective of the environment, just like that general getting a good feel for the battlefield.
Note how the ring men work the bidders, how the lights and the show stage affect the appearance of the car when compared to how it looks waiting the corral. Pay attention to what times of day the bidder’s area is less crowded than others. Target opportunity buys that roll across the block during these lulls. Fewer adversaries to bid against mean a better gavel price for you.
Look as some of the more subjective aspects, too. Do they serve free alcohol to the bidders? Remember to stick to bottled water the day you plan to bid. Also look for weaknesses in the environment. Does the auction house tend to take on a large number of last-minute consignments? You can tell this by the number of lots that end in a decimal point, (e.g. 101.1). Does the auction house tend to run on schedule or run behind?
Does the auction house tend to take on a large number of last-minute consignments? You can tell this by the number of lots that end in a decimal point, (e.g. 101.1). Last minute additions are relying on incidental traffic, putting themselves on the mercy of the environment.
Early consignments do not get advanced promotion that and draw people intending to bid on that specific car. Last minute additions are relying on incidental traffic, putting themselves on the mercy of the environment. If overall attendance is low, or too many of the same model show up, the last minute car could be a very good buy for you. Take advantage of the seller’s lack of planning by being prepared to evaluate these cars onsite.
Take the time to assess your competition. Do you happen to see the same faces show up at auction after auction? Make note of what they bid on, their bidding habits, if they always gravitate to the same ring man, or maintain eye contact directly with the auctioneer, etc.
If it appears your tastes are similar to theirs, introduce yourself and tell them that you are new to the auction scene and want to pick their brain. Some experienced bidders might be willing to share a few insider observations. Practice bidding on paper, see where you end up compared to those placing live bids, in order to build your confidence and intuition. If you end up competing with more experienced bidders for the same car down the road, having learned from them you will be prepared to adjust your strategy accordingly.
"Take the time to assess your competition. Do you happen to see the same faces show up at auction after auction?"
After you have surveyed the playing field and assessed your potential competition, take the time to crystallize the vision of your mission objective. Do the research needed to really assess the knock-out factors you will use to decide if a specific car is right to bid on, or if it is a particular make or model you are targeting. For instance, if you are looking for a 1969 ½ lift-off hood Road Runner, you need to know where all the body numbers appear on the are, what the special notches look like on the front fenders, the stamp pad codes for a SIX-PACK block are compared to a standard 440 engine block, what typically came on an A-12 packaged car, what options typically appeared on the fender tag, how many still have the original motor, how to tell if the date codes on the intake and carbs are also original to the car, how to tell if the lift-off hood is original or reproduction, how to check the A-12 registry to get a history, etc., etc. As your buying objective progress closer to buying a concours quality investment car, the more detailed your research needs to be.
For a specific car, use your club contacts, network relationships, and online discussion boards to trace the owner, any history, and the back ground on that particular car. Use this information to set your bidding threshold and also as a comparison to how the car actually presents during the auction event. If you are targeting more than one car of the same make or just fishing for a good deal, use those same resources to learn what things typically are missing, incorrect, or wear out first. Like a 1970 Boss 302 missing is snorkel, “S” tube, and rev limiter.
"...use those same resources to learn what things typically are missing, incorrect, or wear out first. Like a 1970 Boss 302 missing is snorkel, “S” tube, and rev limiter."
Also be certain to familiarize yourself with signs of abuse, or masked abuse. A front radiator support that has been replaced is a sign of front end damage. Over-spray on door seals, or a rear valances that have been mudded in could point to hasty bodywork. Look at the frame rails and the inner fender aprons for evidence of welded in patches or outright replacement. An engine bay could be missing thousands in original smog, air cleaner, and performance equipment. Sometimes an original block has been swapped out for a more common later model short-block or one cast for use in a truck. If any of these things are detected, be prepared to walk away.
In either case, if you realize your knowledge is limited, bring someone with you or hire a professional inspector who is well versed with that particular make do the evaluation for you. Acknowledging your own limitations can be a strength, just as a good general relies on skilled officers for input and advice. Your pocketbook will thank you later. The more homework you do, the more likely your success.
Next Time: The Art of War, Auction Style, Part 3 Estimate the Costs
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