1954 Oldsmobile F-88 Concept Harley Earl

Cars We Remember: Understanding Values at Vintage Car Auctions

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1954 Oldsmobile F-88 Concept Harley Earl
Q: Hi Greg and I enjoy your columns and also watching the Mecum and Barrett-Jackson auctions on TV.  In one of your columns, you said that the prices paid on the TV auctions are sometimes higher than what the car is worth in the price guides. Can you please expand on this as I think I agree with your column after watching these great shows for several years.
— Charles O., New Jersey.

A: Charles, thanks for the kind words and I’ll try to explain further on the auctions.
I, too, enjoy nothing more than watching these shows and taking in all of the great information and special television pizzazz that both Mecum and Barrett-Jackson offer to viewers.
As for people paying “too much” for a car based on current printed book values,  I want to back up a little because I don’t want to give the impression that every top auction car goes for too much or fails to offer the collector enthusiast  solid investing and collecting information.
Most important is this: a collector car is worth what the buyer and seller agree on. Period. If a buyer feels the purchase takes care of whatever reason or need he bought the car for, (i.e., investment or just plain joy of collecting) then so be it.
1954 Oldsmobile F-88 Concept Harley Earl
This Harley Earl 1954 Olds F-88 concept car sold for a then record $3.24 million at the 2005 Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson auction. (IMAGE SOURCE: GM and Harley Earl family)
Now, to start confusing some readers, this philosophy does not include absolute top dollar investment vehicles, like the Harley Earl 1954 Olds Rocket 88 that sold for a then record $3.24 million back in 2005 at an Arizona Barrett-Jackson extravaganza. Some felt it was way too much while others felt the price was fair. Watching these type vehicles cross the block is an exciting event for everyone, so when it comes to these pristine, rare, top class vehicles, they can bring amazing amounts of money.  These vehicles also can go up and down in values according to current economic situations.
As for the “normal” top class cars we see go through the TV auctions, be it a 1968 396-375 Camaro SS/RS or a ’57 Chevy Nomad Wagon, sometimes the prices paid might be higher than one would expect thanks to the excitement of being on television and being prodded by the auctioneer assistants. Still, I can’t condemn in any way these prices, as the folks who appear on television sure seem to be having a great time buying their dream cars. As for the price guides, they are just that…a guide and they are not The Bible on pricing.
This leads us to the average car collector hobbyist who might have three or four cars in his collection in a garage behind his house.  Most of these  “hobbyist” cars are far from the condition of the vehicles that appear on the TV auction shows. However, thanks to watching Mecum or Barrett-Jackson, this “average Joe” collector car owner many times thinks his cars are worth way more than what they actually are. On the reverse side of the coin, there are also some of these “regular cars” that really are worth more, so it’s a “do your homework before you buy or sell” scenario. If a car is good enough to get prime time on the auction shows, congrats to them!
Additionally, there are also many great buys I’ve seen as a recent Mecum muscle car show I watched included four cars I saw go for way less than I thought they were worth. So it can go both ways.
I hope this helps explain better, but the bottom line is Mecum and Barrett-Jackson shows have brought thousands of hours of very enjoyable TV viewing for us collector car fans, and I’m just happy to be able to watch the “bidding action” on what seems like a weekly basis any more. Remember too that hundreds of cars in less pristine condition pass through these auctions that never appear on TV and offer great buys for car lovers.
Thanks for the question Charles, and, if applicable, happy bidding!
(Greg  Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and BestRide.com and welcomes questions from readers on collector cars, auto nostalgia or old-time racing at 116 Main St., Towanda, PA18840 or email at greg@gregzyla.com)
Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla