California vintage car auctions: It's not all million-dollar autos

Sun Aug 17, 2014 4:15pm EDT
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By Paul Ingrassia

MONTEREY Calif. (Reuters) - The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that sold for $38.1 million last Thursday got the headlines. But there's another side to the week of automobile auctions that precede Sunday's 64th annual Concours d'Elegance classic-car show at the Pebble Beach golf resort.

Like the vintage 1959 Riley that sold for $5,500. Or the classic 1951 "bullet-nose" Studebaker that went for even less - just $4,000. By comparison, the 1962 Chrysler Imperial equipped with "triple cigarette lighters" cost a fortune: all of $9,500.

There's a pecking order to the Monterey Car Week auctions that culminate in the Concours. At the high end are the Bonhams auction at the posh Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley (aka "the Quail") and the Gooding auction at Pebble Beach, where the suggested bidding range for a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Series 1 (a "poor" cousin of the $38 million prize) was $4.5 million to $6 million.

Then there's Mecum. You can spend a lot of money at auctions conducted by this Midwestern auction house with headquarters in southeast Wisconsin. A 1969 Corvette L88 coupe, with a 430-horsepower engine, sold this week for $450,000.

But you can also spend a whole lot less. The Mecum "DNA," as its auction hands proudly explain, is "something for everybody." Its Monterey auction is held at the Hyatt, not at the Quail. In the Gooding tent at Pebble Beach you see guys wearing shorts with blazers. In the Mecum tent they wear shorts and tee shirts. Untucked, of course.

The 1959 Riley was a natural fit here. Riley is a now-obscure British brand that was launched in the late 1890s, then bankrupted and merged in the 1930s and 1940s before meeting its demise in 1969. The 1959 1.5 four-door Saloon model (named for its 1.5-liter, 68 horsepower engine) has chrome-laden front face that gives the car lots of personality, if not a high price.

"It was so cute I had to take a second look at it, and before I knew it I was bidding on it," said the buyer, John Yosgott of Sacramento, Calif. The 65-year-old Yosgott, a retired registered nurse, doesn't have a car collection. He bought the Riley for his wife. "As soon as I told her about it she wanted it," he said.

Less-expensive still was the 1951 Studebaker Champion sedan, with a pointed protrusion mounted in the front grille that's known as the "bullet nose." The Champion was introduced in the months following World War Two; a few years later it got the bullet-nose design that was distinct but polarizing.   Continued...

TV personality Jay Leno rides a 1930 Bohmerland motorcycle around the grounds during the Concours d'Elegance at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California, August 17, 2014.  REUTERS/Michael Fiala