Editor’s note: The story of Lambrecht Chevrolet has caused an Internet sensation the world over. It’s an automotive dream come true—500 “barn finds” in one location, some cars and trucks essentially brand new with single-digit mileage. But why? Super Chevy takes a look behind the scenes at Lambrecht Chevrolet to ask this most important question.
Let’s admit it. Car people are afflicted. They dream strange fantasies of powered contraptions lost in wonderlands of chrome, candy-apple paint and the rich aroma of gasoline (or some other appropriate fuel).
The quintessential “barn find” is something no true car person can simply pass by. The yearning for those gems tucked away awaiting a magical discovery and loving touch from a duly afflicted human. Yes, car people are definitely afflicted.
So how do you handle over 500 barn finds… vehicles in many cases put away simply because the owner just didn’t want to destroy them? Obviously he must be afflicted too.
This is where Yvette Vanderbrink, who might herself be described as an ultimate car person, enters the story and brings this incredible barn find to life. Yvette is an auctioneer from Hardwick, MN who has specialized in these types of auctions for 12 years and has been staging sales in 14 states since she began. She grew up a rural Minnesota kid, surrounded by ag machinery, trucks and cars. She knows the attraction. The saga of the Lambrecht Chevrolet Company auction began over two years ago with a mix of emotion, mystery and wonder at how this little Chevy dealer in a tiny Nebraska town could accumulate such a menagerie of iron. And nobody seemed to know it.
“I’d describe Ray Lambrecht as a Depressionist,” explains Vanderbrink in one of her rare free moments. She looks out over the 30-acre plot of ground carved from a planted cornfield where many of those 500-plus vehicles now rest. She just shakes her head.
“He grew up in a time when wasting anything was simply not an option,” she says. “You have to understand his feeling that to do business meant doing it in the most efficient way possible. And providing his customer with only the very best product.”
Vanderbrink also describes Lambrecht as a true car guy, someone who loved what he was selling and was excited every year when the new model Chevys arrived. He would make certain entire new model introduction was an event and he wanted it to be extra special, much the way many dealers around the country handled new car unveilings.
“He had a passion for what he did and it was reflected in everything he did,” Vanderbrink explained. Ray and his wife Mildred ran the dealership as a team along with a single mechanic. He made careful arrangements to put away vehicles that he took on trade and those that were left over from previous model years. And he kept vehicles he simply liked.
“Ray knew the importance of a rainy day fund,” Vanderbrink said. “He felt many of these vehicles would grow in value and someday someone would want them.”
The farm where the cars are being set up for the auction belongs to the Lambrecht family and is actively farmed by people who rent the land every year. Thirty acres has been cleared specifically for this sale with heavy equipment being brought in to remove trees, grade out areas for a planned gravel parking area, etc. They are having power brought to the site for the sound system and vendors. There is security in place to guard the vehicles and they've built fences and gate areas to provide access. It will be an event to behold. While the previous pictures show many vehicles parked outside, some of the cars were stored indoors at the former dealership building and in a couple of nearby warehouses. Unfortunately one of the buildings actually started to fall down (resulting in some damage to the cars). Consequently, some vehicles had to be moved outdoors 15-20 years ago. Many of them were simply parked outside in tree groves where in some cases trees had to be removed in order to get the cars moved.
Lambrecht and his wife (96 and 92 respectively) continue to live in the tiny “neat as a pin” house directly across the street from the dealership building he built with his own hands in the mid-’40s. You can see parts of the house and single stall garage in some of the family pictures. Mildred and Ray ran the dealership with the help of a single mechanic for the entire 50 years, rarely taking any time off and absolutely devoted to the dealership. A returning World War II veteran, Ray wanted to contribute something to his community and now he’s doing it with a splash, thanks in part to the efforts of a rural Minnesota neighbor who is equally enthralled with all this old iron.
“My job is to do the very best I can to get the most value from what Ray and Mildred stashed away,” Vanderbrink explained. “There’s a lot of emotion involved with this sale and I admit there is a lot of mystery as well. But Ray and Mildred deserve my best effort and I think they will be pleased at the outcome.”
The auction will be the culmination of 50 years of selling Chevrolets in an unusual way…the lowest price, right up front. Ray Lambrecht rarely advertised, but people knew he would always provide the best price and they bought accordingly. He was so successful that Chevrolet awarded him many honors for his efforts and he landed government contracts based on his willingness to give the best price, right from the start.
Ray Lambrecht wasted little and demanded a lot from himself. He literally worked nearly every day for 50 years, doing what he loved and giving people a product he felt strongly was the best. At 96 he gets to see the final fruits of that labor. And it promises to be quite an event.