Decades in the making, a contractor’s remarkable collection of cars and road art was auctioned off in a jiffy.
Polished brass and ahooga horns are not Jefferson construction company executive Eddie Vannoy’s idea of collector cars. Think instead of a 755-horsepower, black 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 with 140 miles on the odometer. When it crossed the auction block during the sale of Vannoy’s massive collection in late June, an anonymous bidder forked over $187,000, about $60,000 more than list price just a year ago.
This is the world of investment-grade muscle cars and automotive memorabilia. Amid a worldwide pandemic, civil unrest and a recession, the five-day auction of more than 80 mint-condition automobiles, trucks and motorcycles and thousands of antique gas pumps, bicycles, car-dealership signs and other items brought in more than $15 million. Prices soared as much as a third above estimates of experts at Walworth, Wis.-based Mecum Auctions, which oversaw the sale. More than 300 bidders showed up at Jefferson, a tiny Ashe County mountain town, while hundreds more made offers via phones and the internet.
An antique gas pump with two glass globes brought nearly $60,000. A rare 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, the winged supercar developed for NASCAR racing, brought $231,000, well above estimates. A mundane 1995 Ford Bronco that would look at home in supermarket parking lots today brought $79,000, about double what Mecum expected. It had only 450 miles on it.
“Shocking,” says John Kraman, Mecum’s longtime consignment director and analyst. “Some of our customers were disappointed because they were priced out of the bidding.”
That was good news for Vannoy, who admitted to “the worst case of seller’s remorse there’s even been.” But it also sends a message to investors who might want to add horsepower to their portfolios of stocks and bonds.
“These are strange times,” Kraman adds. “We know nostalgia is powerful, and most people into collector cars and memorabilia are not in it as a primary investor strategy. It’s just part of their being, and now there’s a heightened sense of just how important things are in an individual’s life.” He calls it passion.
Buyers beware, however: Collector cars require a knowledge of the field that rivals that of bidders for Picassos and Pollocks. Wrong guesses are common, such as those who bought early 1990s final-generation Ford Thunderbirds expecting values to soar. Instead, they’re selling for half the initial outlay.
Vannoy has had a passion for cars since he bought a 1948 Chevy for about $100 while working at a Jefferson filling station in his teens. “In the 40 years I’ve done this, I’ve met a lot of good people,” he says, traveling thousands of miles to buy every car, pump, neon sign and other piece in person rather than through brokers or on the internet. When he wasn’t collecting, Vannoy and his brother, Mark, constructed one of North Carolina’s largest general-contracting businesses.
“You don’t put something like this together overnight,” David Mecum, the auction company’s road-art manager, said before the sale, referring to the collection that filled an immaculate 40,000-square-foot warehouse. “His eye for detail is amazing.”
Unlike many Mecum sales, Vannoy’s wasn’t televised by the NBCSN network because of COVID-19. “They insisted we keep this one under the radar,” Kraman says. Still, even remote bidders figured if Vannoy invested in the cars, they were solid values.
“He’s a high-profile collector with a good reputation, so the credit goes to Eddie,” he says. “Buyers came out of the woodwork because they figured the quality would be so good, they wouldn’t have to be there.”
Vannoy says he sold the collection because none of his family shares his passion for preserving or adding to it. “When you’re 71, you might live another 20 years or another 20 minutes,” he says. Either way, he’ll keep a half-dozen or so muscle cars.
“Got to have something,” he says, “to drive around on weekends.” ■