I like old cars. I like being near them, I like studying them at a distance and up close. I like running my hand over their sweeping curves. I like peering under their hoods and admiring their simplicity and purpose. I even like opening their doors and smelling that distinct aroma of old car musk that combines old upholstery, engine oil, gasoline, and brake fluid with just a hint of cigar smoke. If I like being around old cars, what is it then about classic car auctions that makes me so anxious?

Looking at the consignment of cars before an auction starts actually is pretty exciting. These days, most auctions only allow in cars that are in decent shape. It's rare to see rust buckets and bondo specials and you are much more likely to see improbably preserved barn-find vehicles that look better than the car I use as my daily driver. It is amazing that decent old cars keep coming out of the woodwork, unseen for decades and now ready to roll across the auction block. In addition to the barn finds, there seems to be a range of decent cars that haven't been driven for a while. These cars are dangerous-they appear solid and usable, but sitting with old gasoline in the tank and moisture in their brake lines can spell some significant outlay of cash should you be the one who ends up winning the bid. So, wandering around before the auction starts, finding my favorites and wondering aloud how much they will bring (and if that is anything close to what I can afford) doesn't raise my anxiety levels.

Maybe it's the people. Having reached the point where my hair is more gray than dark, I can appreciate that the crowd at an auction is mostly white haired old guys. For the most part these are the segment of our society that has the interest (they drove these cars when they were new) and the wherewithal (they have had longer to save and invest) to afford vehicles that are now considered "collectables" instead of old cars. To be sure there are a fair number of younger men in the crowd, a few members of minorities, and even a few women show up to bid, but the number of old white guys far exceeds any other demographic.

I'm not sure why people feel that a classic car auction is an opportunity to dress as if they just came in from the fields. Jeans and sweatshirts over protruding beer guts, with a shiny Chevrolet or Ford jacket and the ubiquitous baseball cap seems to have become the uniform of the day. Sometimes, in warm weather, it could be a short-sleeved sport shirt with a polyester blazer. In either case this is not a good look for the average American male. I'm not saying that a car auction is an occasion for a black tie, but neither is it a place to show off your best bib overalls and seed company hat. Look at the auctioneers: they are typically well dressed befitting the type of financial transaction which is about to occur.

By Kevin Clemen
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