A Pair of Classic Fords and the Long Road to Auction

While classic and collector-car auctions look glamorous and smooth to most observers, there is a great deal of unseen background work involved in them. Bringing the main products – the cars – to the auction block is definitely exciting and the “back story” is often a case study in persistence, follow-up, and sometimes, pure luck. Here is one of those stories.

One day, I received a call from my now-late stepfather, a well-respected funeral director and tireless community leader in his town, near where I grew up. A nearby gentleman had passed away around Canadian Thanksgiving, and his estate lawyer mentioned there were two valuable classic vehicles in the man’s garage that would need to be reviewed, assessed, and sold. I was referred to the lawyer, and after a brief discussion, arrangements were made for me to join him at the late owner’s home soon thereafter. Things soon became quite interesting.

When the day for the visit came, I drove about two hours to the picturesque town of St. Williams, Ontario, located on the north shore of Lake Erie, where my me, my dad, and friends once spent time ice fishing in the winter months. I arrived early, found the late owner’s home, and after gathering up my notebook and camera, I started across the street to await the lawyer. Sensing my destination, a friendly former neighbor of the deceased asked if I was going to look at the cars inside the garage. I said “Yes,” and he replied, “There’s at least a hundred thousand in cars there. Good luck!” Once inside, I did see two interesting classic cars, a top-of-the-line 1941 Ford Super Deluxe Convertible, and a 1951 Ford Victoria – the first hardtop model, with design by Gordon Buehrig, who was once Duesenberg, Inc. chief designer and the designer of the iconic Cord 810/812. Both cars appeared at first glance to be nice driver-quality examples, with obvious care and attention from the late owner.

Just before the estate lawyer’s arrival, the deceased man’s widow and her close friend, a retired gym teacher from my old high school, arrived, somewhat to my surprise. The widow had in fact been estranged, but not formally divorced, from her late husband, for some years, and was clearly saddened by his passing. She was also very interested in the potential value of his cars. As the lawyer arrived, I looked them over in detail, took many photos, and gathered the necessary information to provide an educated guess as to the value of the cars.

The 1941 Convertible was a nice driver, good enough for local shows, parades, and cruising, with an original-appearing interior, several desirable factory options, and an old but enduring paint finish and leather upholstery. The 1951 Victoria had a newer quality paint finish, virtually as-new interior, and desirable overdrive. Both were not detailed underneath, and their engine bays were okay and complete, but not show quality. The 1941 Convertible also had a trunk jammed full of valuable NOS (New Old Stock) and reproduction parts and trim pieces. Inside each vehicle was an appraisal report, dated about three years earlier for insurance purposes. The values were stated then at $44,000 and about $20,000 for the convertible and hardtop, respectively.  

A mechanic from the local garage, a former GM store, also arrived, started both cars with me, and then he drove them off to an undisclosed location to be trucked away to a nearby town for winter storage. When I asked where the cars were going, the mechanic muttered something I could not fully understand, turned around, and then drove each car at a time down the street to the garage. His behavior told me the proverbial chum was in the water, and sharks were circling.

After arriving at my desk back home, I searched online and print sources for accepted values for the cars to arrive at estimated market values based on a number of factors, including condition. My findings indicated more realistic valuations in the 2012 market to be $24,000 for the 1941  Convertible and around $13,000 for the 1951 Hardtop (in Canadian dollars).

A few days later, I delivered my opinion of the cars’ value to the estate lawyer and we began discussing the best way to sell the vehicles. The Toronto Spring 2013 Classic Car Auction, presented by Dan Spendick’s Collector Car Productions, was selected as the venue. The lawyer also advised that I would be his main contact on the matter. To initiate the auction consignment process, I called Dan and then forwarded photos of both cars to him for consideration for the auction and printed sale catalog. He agreed the cars were a good fit for the event, giving them “prime time” placement in the lot order for the Saturday afternoon of his 3-day auction schedule. All good so far, right?

A few days later, I received a call from Dan advising that someone else submitted photos of the cars to him. The other person was the son of a longtime client of Dan’s, and as I soon discovered, he thought he would consign the cars to auction. He also controlled the building where the cars had been stored. Thankfully, since I submitted photos and spoke to Dan first, I was in charge of the deal as far as the auction was concerned. There was one catch. Entry fees would have to be paid soon, which were quite costly, due to the premium placement of the cars on sale day.

I contacted the lawyer’s office to see when funds might be available to pay the auction consignment fees and was advised that it would take some time for enough liquid cash to become available. I advised Dan’s assistant of this situation and that the money for the consignment fees would be forwarded from the lawyer’s office as quickly as possible. All seemed okay for a time, until I started received calls and emails about the fee payments owing on an almost daily basis, each time patiently repeating the arrangements that had already been made, and since it was an estate, assets would have to be liquidated to cover the auction fees first.

I called the man in charge of the storage building several times a week for several months to obtain access to the cars to clean, detail, and get them ready for the auction. I left messages, called, emailed, you name it. I explained the situation to the estate lawyer, and with a little persuasion, I was promised access to the cars about a week before the auction. When I arrived, the storage building was  opened and I was granted access for the day. My competitor asked me if I was going to use him to ship the cars to the auction, but I politely refused, telling him another towing company would do it for me instead. Upon arrival, the cars were dirty and liberally covered with bird poop, and the fuel tanks were empty. I spent much of a working day cleaning the cars, adding gasoline, and getting them running again. Next, I booked the flatbed truck to take them to the auction the next week.

When the day came for the cars to be shipped, a freak spring ice storm made highway travel dangerous, but the towing company arrived at the auction site just before conditions worsened. However, the cars were outside, caked in a layer of ice. The auction staff eventually placed the cars inside the building, and all that remained was for me to clean and detail them for viewing before the sale. Oh, and a quick conference call with me, the estate lawyer, and the executor, to discuss reserve values and how to proceed if bidding was close but not at the reserve we had agreed upon months before the sale. I received direction to lower the reserve for each car, hopefully ensuring a completed sale and eliminating the need to ship unsold vehicles back home at a significant additional cost to the estate.

Thankfully, the cars were readied for the sale, and when the gavel fell, the 1941 Ford earned $20,500 and the 1951 Ford sold for $13,500 – respectable prices all considered. Of course, less the 10% seller’s commission. Thankfully, the widow was pleased, the lawyer was pleased, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Many valuable lessons were learned from this experience, which I continue to benefit from in the auction world today.

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