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October 15, 2013

News & Features

Auction winners ponder washing vintage dirt away

New York Times News Service

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Potential bidders check out a 1958 Chevrolet Cameo pickup during a preview for the Lambrecht Collection auction in Pierce, Neb., last month. (The Associated Press)

So your winning bid at the Lambrecht auction in Pierce, Neb., put a treasure on your trailer, and you've brought it home. Now what?

It's a matter that demands more than the usual amount of consideration.

The sale last month was for the 500-car holdings of Ray Lambrecht, a Nebraska Chevrolet dealer who hoarded his trade-ins and stashed scores of never-sold models that he thought special. This was an as-found event, in a soybean field, of cars that been parked — most outdoors — and left to nature's ravages.

News of the sale became an Internet sensation. The tiny farm town was overrun with bidders. The vehicles — particularly the many examples with just a few miles on them — sold for far more than even perfectly restored examples might have.

Sales from auction
    Some figures behind the Lambrecht Collection auction of 500 cars last month:
    A 1958 Chevrolet Cameo pickup went for $140,000; a '78 Corvette sold for $80,000.
    The first 10 cars went for a total of $676,500. (Prices do not include the buyer's premium, which generally ranged from 5 to 8 percent.)
    The total reached nearly $3 million, according to Dana Kaufman, a spokeswoman for Proxibid, which handled online bidding for the auction.
    It took hundreds of midrange bids to get there. Only 27 cars and trucks sold for $20,000 or more, and about 115 sold for less than $1,000.
    The lowest winning bid went for a Ford: a 30-year-old Fiesta brought $150, less than a fourth of the $625 that another buyer paid for a set of '58 Chevy hubcaps.
    New York Times News service

Which creates a dilemma: If there's a price premium attached to the authentic Lambrecht grime, does a new owner dare wash his prize?

It's a question that Steve Ames of Marlborough, N.H., had to ponder. He became the first retail buyer of the most expensive vehicle sold at the auction, a 1958 Chevy Cameo pickup that brought $140,000.

The Cameo, a high-style truck from a time when pickups were strictly working-class, shows just 1.3 miles on the odometer.

In a televised interview of the auction, Ames says there was no question what he would do with his prize: display it just as he bought it, preserving even the layers of accumulated dust, in his collection of low-mileage cars.

In the collector-car world, the preservationists are not openly feuding with the restorationists, like the Hatfield and McCoys, but each camp has its followers. As recently as 10 years ago, most owners of a car with cosmetic needs would immediately take the plunge for restoration. Now, patina — including more than one or two dings and dents — is thought of as a vital part of a car's history.

The cars and trucks from the Lambrecht Collection, however, had suffered weather damage, vandalism and parts theft. Although some were still structurally intact, those that had become one with the mud need major metal replacement before they are ready for the road.

In that case, experts seemed to agree, owners get a free pass to do what they want, at least for those cars needing major work.

"The issue of preservation really does not apply to many of the cars here," says Frederick A. Simeone, executive director of the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia and a leader among preservationists.

"These have been left outside," he says. "With cars that have high production numbers, the owner can really do whatever he likes because there will always be another example available."

That philosophy works fine for John Kaldahl, whose online bid of $80,000 bought a 1978 Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Car with 4 miles. When Kaldahl and his wife, Mary, picked up the car, they discovered how filthy it was.

Even after considering the potential loss that would be incurred by undoing the grubbiness, Kaldahl, a farmer who does not consider himself a collector, decided to clean the car.

"We sort of bought it for fun," he says.

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