So it begins-the singsong cadence of the auctioneer, the raising of a finger to indicate a bid, the endless stream of cars, rolling past the auction block and described in great detail. Words like restored, barn fresh, immaculate, and bargain tumble out as an inducement to bring the bid higher. Most cars are American iron-cars of my youth that I had no interest in then and even less today. Occasionally, there is an MG or a Jaguar or even something more exotic like a Lotus or Lancia to pique my interest. It's fun to see how little the auctioneer knows about these foreign makes while trying to make them sound saleable. If it is a lesser auction, the names of hallowed places like Scottsdale and Pebble Beach are invoked, indicating how much more a buyer would have to pay for the same car if it were auctioned in either of those shrines to American consumerism. The bidding begins and this is where my blood pressure rises, particularly as some substandard and shabby (and therefore to me desirable) example of a foreign car quickly bursts through the bidding limit I have given myself, eventually reaching two or three or ten times that limit before the gavel falls and yet another car has been placed out of my reach by a badly dressed yokel in a baseball cap.

This then is why I don't like auctions. In the old days, I would see an ad in the newspaper or maybe stumble across an old car behind a barn or country garage. After poking and prodding the derelict heap, I could begin the process of bargaining with the owner, pointing out the cars weaknesses in a friendly way while whittling the price lower, all the while calculating what it would cost to get the old crock back on the road again. It was fun, it was harmless, and in the end it usually resulted in an old car being saved from the ravages of time and rust, and a few dollars in the hands of the owner (who was usually happy to have the eyesore out of the yard.) The key here is that the car's owner would start high and settle for lower, which is the complete opposite of what happens at an auction, where bids keep going higher no matter how much you try to bargain.

The real problem however, is that every time an old MGB, Jaguar XJ6, Mercedes Finback, or Triumph TR3 sells for $15, $20, or $25,000, every owner of a rust bucket behind the garage suddenly thinks that their car is worth the same amount. Never mind that the XJ6 at the auction had 5,000 original miles, was kept in a hermetically sealed garage all of its life, and was owned by the Queen of England, the one rusting away behind the shed, sitting on three flat tires, with rust holes in the rocker panels and a mouse-eaten leather interior should be worth nearly as much.

The problem, of course, is me. By nature I am just too cheap and can never quite bring myself to update my sense of vehicle values to the 21st Century. To me an MGB should always be a $1,500 car. You should be able to buy Triumph TR-3s all day long for $6,000. And that lovely Jaguar XK-150 shouldn't cost more than about $12,000. The fact that you can't is society's failing, not mine.

I've tried to change-really I have, but in the end I just walk away about halfway through an auction, shaking my head at what badly dressed American males will pay for a chance to relive their youth. Besides, my garage is already full of decrepit old cars that I bought too cheaply and that need significant work so that they can stay on the road. I doubt I'll ever change and in the meantime I just heard about an old MG behind a barn that might have my name on it...

By Kevin Clemen
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