Mecum Auctions is not merely the largest seller of collector cars, antique motorcycles and automotive-related memorabilia in the country.
According to CEO Dave Magers, the company's auctions — including the one coming to Portland June 16-17 — are also good indicators of the global economy, local financial conditions and regional cultures.
And a heck of a good time, too, especially if you're a fan of the classic American muscle cars the company favors.
"You don't have to be willing to buy a car to come to one of our auctions. We design them to be very entertaining, too. You can come and check out the cars without feeling pressured to buy any of them," Magers says.
The auctions are so entertaining that recorded versions are the most popular car-related shows on the NBCSN sports channel after NASCAR races. Because of that, the network just upped its contract with the company from 250 to 650 hours of programming a year, Magers says.
The Portland auction will be held at the Expo Center in North Portland. It will be the second time the company holds an auction in town. The first time was last year, when the auction was moved from Seattle because of space considerations. Magers says the company was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout. It sold over 300 cars and generated over $10 million in transactions, enough to warrant the return this year.
The most expensive sale was a rare 1965 Shelby GT350 that had previously won its class at the Portland Roadster show. The car drew a winning bid of $305,000. Other top sales included a 1970 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda that sold for $190,000, and a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette convertible that sold for $160,000.
Magers says more than 600 cars are expected to be put up for sale this year, most from around the region. If attendance and sales increase enough, the company will come back next year for a three-day auction that will feature 1,000 cars, Magers says.
Many automobile-related vendors will have booths at the event, featuring car care supplies, specialized insurance, secure auto transport, art, memorabilia, and restoration parts.
Mecum started holding auctions in 1998. It currently holds 22 a year — 14 car auctions, four antique tractor auctions, four motorcycle auctions, and two "road art" auctions featuring old gas station signs, pumps and similar artifacts.
Mecum Auctions will likely sell 15,000 collector cars this year — a majority of the 25,000 total sold. That sounds like a lot, but it is only a small fraction of the 25 million registered and insured in the United States alone.
According to Magers, the auctions started because founder Dana Mecum and his son Frank love cars, especially the classic American muscle cars that dominate them. But the operation has taught them things, too.
Surprisingly, sales were not hurt during the Great Recession. As it turned out, many investors, soured by sinking stocks and low-yield government bonds, were looking for something with higher returns.
"Collector cars have always appreciated faster than the stock market. We found we had a whole new customer base beyond traditional car collectors," Magers says.
Sales have continued increasing as the economy has recovered. But not everywhere.
"There are microeconomies that experience ups and downs. The Texas market went down for a few years when the price of oil dropped, but it's coming back now," Magers says.
Because most cars that are sold come from within a few hours' drive of where the auctions take place, the company has discovered regional differences among collectors. For example, muscle cars are especially popular in Florida. Corvettes have large followings in Chicago and Indianapolis. Trucks are coming on strong in Texas.
"There are a lot of hot rods and custom cars that owners have built themselves in Portland. The city has a reputation for being creative, and I think that's a reflection of it. And Volkswagens are popular, too," Magers says.
Among the rarest cars to be offered in Portland this year are another 1965 Shelby GT350, a 1960 Olds Hurst 442 and a 1970 Chevy Chevelle LS6.
Despite the money to be made investing in cars, Magers believes many if not most buyers are also driven by nostalgia.
"Now that they have the money, the want the car they fell in love with in high school but couldn't afford. Or the car they had and sold and regret selling it."
For Magers, that car is the 1965 Mustang he once owned.
"Blue with a white convertible top and white interior. I wish I had that car again," he says.
IF YOU GO
What: Mecum Auction
When: Friday-Saturday, June 16-17
Where: Expo Center, 2060 N. Marine Drive, Portland
How much: $20 in advance, $30 event days
To bid: $200 fee at auction, $500 to become Mecum Gold bidder with special benefits
More info: www.mecum.com