Auto Auctions: Going Once, Going Twice, Sold!

Make finding your dream car an adventure
By Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.
October 29, 2021 Updated: October 29, 2021

The great thing about getting older, or winning the lottery, is that you can now afford the things you dreamed of as a kid but couldn’t afford on a paperboy or babysitter salary. Cars certainly top this list, but that raises the question: How do you find that 1976 Ford GT500?

The internet offers several options such as eBay and BringATrailer.com, as well as manufacturer-specific forums, such as rennlist.com focusing on Porsches. The problem is that you have to rely on the information and photos posted, with no idea how current or accurate they might be. Unless you get lucky and the listing is within driving distance, actually inspecting the car might not be practical. Even if you arrange to have a mechanic located near the seller inspect the car for you, the first time you actually see it will be when a vehicle transport company delivers it to your door.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an event where rare and desirable cars, trucks, motorcycles, and related collectibles were on display so you could see and touch them?

Collectible car auctions are a great way to see and buy the vehicle of your dreams, all on display in one place, ready to take home when the hammer falls on the winning bid. Plus, they are hugely entertaining even if you don’t buy a car.

Epoch Times Photo
(Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson)
Epoch Times Photo
The 1966 Shelby GT350 raced by Stirling Moss. (Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson)
Epoch Times Photo
The 1979 Porsche 928 from “Risky Business.” (Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson)
Epoch Times Photo
DJ Deadmau5’s 2015 McLaren P1. (Courtesy of Barrett-Jackson)

While most auto auctions are industry-only affairs for car dealers to buy and sell trade-ins, numerous auctions cater to collectors of classic and unique vehicles and automobilia. They are also a great way to spend a day getting an up-close look at amazing vehicles, such as the 1979 Porsche 928 driven by Tom Cruise in “Risky Business,” which recently sold by Barrett-Jackson for an astounding $1.8 million (note: the price doesn’t include the additional charge of a buyer’s premium), while rubbing shoulders with celebrities and very seriously wealthy individuals. Trivia tidbit: this 928 was the car in which Cruise learned how to drive a car with a manual transmission.

Other notable public auto auctions are hosted by Mecum Auctions, Worldwide Auctioneers, Bonhams Motoring, Gooding & Company, and RM Sotheby‘s.

Buyer Beware

If your hand is up when the hammer goes down, you own it. That could be good news or bad news, subject to how much effort you made to research and value the car, making pre-event homework crucial.

Auction houses publish the list of cars well in advance, allowing you to determine if any are of interest. Research the car to determine if there were issues with that year or model such as a history of engine failures or a tendency to rust. Do an online search to determine market value as you decide on the maximum price you’re willing to pay, which will include sales tax and the buyer’s premium, which can range from 10 percent to 20 percent of the bid, as well as the cost to correct any noted defects. Emotions play a huge role in auctions, so try to avoid making “I can fix that” rationalizations. Another thing to consider is that it’s your responsibility to get the car home from the auction, so be aware of the cost of transport if driving it isn’t possible.

Some auctions have an as-is policy; check to see what if any refund or return policies exist, in the event your dream car turns out to be a rolling nightmare. In most cases, you can’t test drive the car, so you need to physically inspect it to the extent possible at the auction. If the auction doesn’t allow you to start the engine, make sure to watch and listen when it is started to roll onto the auction block. If you can see the VIN (vehicle identification number) you may want to run a Carfax check.

Be prepared to walk away. Let the other guy win if a bidding war takes it above your maximum. Unless this is truly one-of-a-kind and you can afford to pay more, put your hand down. Don’t add the cost of a divorce attorney to the winning bid.

Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.