Mecum auctions still challenge classic big boys

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Dana Mecum was a teenager when he started working in his father’s small town Buick/Pontiac dealership in northern Illinois. But before his own 23rd birthday, Mecum had opened his own used car dealership, specializing in exciting-to-drive Chevrolet Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelles.

But while Mecum specialized in those high-performance Chevys, there were other vehicles that he bought and sold in the course of business. In 1987, he acquired several used trailer-tractor rigs, which he swapped for a collection of 25 classic cars. Eager to move those classics, in 1988 Mecum decided to stage a collector car auction featuring some 250 vehicles.

To provide enough room for so many cars and potential buyers, Mecum rented space for his inaugural auction at the airport in Rockford, Ill.

Fortunately, none of those 250 cars was damaged when a tornado swept through the airport the day of the auction. Unfortunately, the weather pretty much ruined the auction action.

Undaunted — and needing to raise money to pay off the bills from that weather-stricken inaugural event — Mecum came back with a second auction in 1989. Basically now even but unbroken, Mecum staged his third auction in 1990 this year Mecum Auctions celebrates its 25th anniversary season with a 13-auction schedule highlighted by Mecum’s Original Spring Classic, held for the last few years here at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

“We’ve come a long way from our first official auction at the Rockford Airport in 1988,” Mecum has said. “Not being part of the old guard of collector car auctions, we soon developed our own clientele by offering Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelles when the rest of the market was selling Packards and Model A’s.”

Though his auctions still include fleets of classic Corvettes — and plenty of Camaros and Chevelles and other Chevys — Mecum has grown his docket to the point that more than 2,000 vehicles crossed the block at his auction in January at Kissimmee, Fla. Here in Indy, there again were so many cars — more than 2100 of them — that not only did they fill the fairgrounds’ exhibition buildings but several huge tents erected outside, even spilling out from those tents into several of the fairgrounds’ parkings lots.

Overall, nearly 70 percent of those cars sold, with sales totaling $52.6 million.

The top sale at the auction was $600,000 for a 1968 L88 Corvette convertible that is believed to be one of only 13 remaining. A Yenko-tweaked 1969 Chevrolet Nova went for $475,000, the first 1969 Camaro ZL1 brought $400,000, and the 1933 Lincoln KB Phaeton that won its class at the Meadow Brook concours in 2010 went for $375,000. Six other vehicles also sold for a quarter-million or more.

After staging as many as 28 auctions in some years, Mecum has decided to focus on fewer but more significant events.

Three years ago, he challenged the classic car auction big boys by staging an event during the annual automotive celebration staged each August on northern California’s Monterey peninsula. For his Monterey event this year, Mecum has secured two historic racing cars that seem certain to bring bidders.

One is the Porsche 917/10-003 that George Follmer and Mark Donohue drove to the Can-Am series championship in 1972 for Roger Penske. The other is the turbine-powered STP-Lotus Type 58 driven in the 1968 Indianapolis 500 by Graham Hill and now part of the Richard Petty Collection.

Mecum’s Monterey auction also will include 71 motorcycles from Gary Kohs’ MV Agusta Collection. Those bikes will be offered as a single lot — one bidder will buy them all.

The bikes range from a 1946 MV 98 “3 Volocita” racer to a 2007 MV F4 1000/312 Bonneville and include the 1953-54 125 Grand Prix racer that won the Isle of Man TT.

“It is essentially a complete museum exhibit poised for showcasing MV Agusta’s mark of excellence that can be displayed in less than 5,000 square feet of space,” said Gavin Trippe, Mecum motorcycle division manager, who added that every model of motorcycle, race bike, scooter and agricultural tricycle from the MV factory is included.

“This is not just a collection of motorcycles, this is a collection of art,” said Kohs, who has spent years assembling examples from Count Giovanni Agusta, the so-called Ferrari of the motorcycle world. “I’m thrilled that Dana Mecum and his staff agree that keeping it together as one is so important.”

By the way, the 13 Mecum Auctions events this year include a couple where the feature isn’t cars but vintage farm tractors. Those tractor sales will be held at Walworth, Wis., where Mecum Auctions recently moved its headquarters.

Mecum Auctions had been based either at Rockford or back in his hometown of Marengo, Ill., but three years ago Mecum purchased a large building just north of the Illinois/Wisconsin the state line. The building formerly housed a grocery, but some $26.5 million has been budgeted to convert the former Spieglehoff’s Pick’n Save and the surrounding grounds into Mecum Auctions’ headquarters, complete with a classic car museum and a 1950’s-style diner.

Plans also call for a major classic car auction at Walworth beginning next year.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.