What makes an auction special? Is it the battery of TV cameras, the fame-starved pseudo-celebrities sprinkled throughout the crowd, or the witless nouveaux riches bidding unexceptional vehicles into the fiscal ionosphere for reasons that defy economic logic?
Call us naïve, but we'd like to think it's the quality of the cars, particularly now that there's less disposable income floating around with which to underwrite the occasional contest for, ahem, anatomical bragging rights. That outlook would seem to be shared by the people at Auctions America by RM, whose 10th Annual Collector Cars of Fort Lauderdale event took place on March 16-18 at the Broward County/Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center.
Paging through the preview catalog in the days leading up the auction revealed an eclectic but uniformly impressive slate of vehicles--including more than 60 Corvettes--with none of the scantily documented "rarities" or garish vanity projects that tend to show up at some of the other marquee auctions.
Of particular interest to us was the Tony Parella Collection, an assemblage of 26 exceptional Corvettes drawn from the first through fifth generations, including one car representing every model year from 1953 through 1969. Parella, a telecommunications executive who spent more than two decades acquiring the cars, was sanguine about his chances when we spoke with him during Thursday's preview session. The availability of reserve pricing through Auctions America--a feature not offered by some of the other big auction houses--probably didn't hurt.
"I feel like I've put reasonable reserves on the cars, so if some of them don't sell, I'm happy to take them home with me," he told us during Thursday's preview session.
Wandering the aisles, we encountered a refreshingly diverse array of Corvettes, from affordable low-mileage C3s and C4s all the way up to big-block Sting Rays with projected six-figure values. Factor in the laid-back atmosphere and general absence of contrived hoopla, and Fort Lauderdale provided a welcoming environment for a bidder of any experience level to purchase a weekend cruiser--or make a long-term investment.
"We aren't on TV like some of competitors," said Auctions America president Donnie Gould, "so we rely on the quality of the cars to set us apart. And because we don't chase consignments, the sellers who do come here tend to be by swayed by our approach."
It sounds like a winning philosophy, and the results would seem to bear that out. In all, 72 percent of the vehicles at Fort Lauderdale sold during three days of bidding, generating a little more than $16.9 million. Corvette sellers fared even better, moving 54 of 64 cars for a sell rate of 84 percent.
And Parella? Every car in his collection found a new home, including an extraordinary '53 model that brought $176,000--the most for a Corvette at the event.
The lesson here is that, regardless of geography or the state of the market, quality still sells--even if there's not a TV crew around to document the proceedings.