Saratoga Auto Auction Preview: Wheels Of Dreams

The Spa City auction is revving into SPAC for its second straight year. Start your engines!   

Saratoga Auto Auction
Some 300 cars will parade across the SPAC stage September 21-22 as part of the second Saratoga Auto Auction.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a Ford Mustang Boss 429, also known in car-enthusiast lingo as the Boss 9, a mnemonic device seemingly tailor-made to be spoken by Matthew McConaughey in some gritty film, with that signature, self-assured lilt. Too bad I couldn’t have picked a cheaper car to pine over; today, the 429’s price at auction is hopelessly stratospheric. One of the rarest and most highly prized American muscle cars in existence—in total, there are fewer than 1400 originals out there, due to a limited production run between 1969 and 1970—they usually go for around $250,000 a pop.

But it doesn’t stop there. I’ll accelerate or slow to a crawl in my modern Japanese hatchback just to take a peek at all kinds of grande dame autos as they roll by on the highway, much to the chagrin of other drivers around me. Bugattis, Ferraris, vintage Cadillacs—you name it. Blame such an obsession on my first love: a 1963 white Volkswagen Beetle with racing stripes. My infatuation with collector’s cars began at a young age with the sentient, anthropomorphic Herbie The Love Bug (two of my first words were “Buddy Hackett”) and has since taken on the intense voyeuristic tendencies of someone who knows, for certain, that they’re only one number away from winning the Powerball.

If you’re anything like me (God forbid) there’s hope. Now in its second year, the Saratoga Auto Auction will once again take place at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) September 21-22. Presented by the Saratoga Automobile Museum, the two-day auction will see close to 300 cars parade across SPAC’s main stage, as registered bidders hope to come away with their dream car—or another gem to add to their collection. “Basically, what we’re doing here is we’re taking the best of all worlds,” says Jeff Whiteside, the Auto Museum’s Auction Director. “We’re doing a smaller auction than a Barrett-Jackson or a Mecum”—high-end, widely respected auto auction houses—“and we’re doing it in a venue that’s phenomenal.”

Saratoga Auto Auction
“Car auctions are a huge spectator sport across the nation,” says Saratoga Automobile Museum Director Jeff Whiteside.

While other auto auctions around the country are more established—and in turn, have a set time of the year when they occur—Whiteside says launching a new auction in Saratoga at the end of September was not done at random; it was selected to fulfill a demand in the auto auction circuit. On the heels of the world-renowned Pebble Beach Auctions in California, and, locally, with Saratoga Race Course coming to a close Labor Day weekend, the auto auction is the next stop for those hunting for vintage cars on consignment—or those suffering a post-track hangover heading into the fall.

Whiteside comes to the Saratoga Auto Museum from RM Sotheby’s, a prestigious classic car auction firm. In August 2014, he was part of the sale of a 1964 Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale that went for more than $26 million—at the time, the second-highest hammer price for a car sold at auction (making the price of my Boss 9 pale in comparison). Whiteside says you can equate those rarefied car sales “to a piece of art from an artist who has died, like a Warhol.” While Saratoga’s auction is comparable to other high-end auctions around the country, don’t expect to see any rare Bugattis on display. (Though the Saratoga Spa State Park will certainly get its fix at the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival two weeks earlier.) “We’re not after that,” says Whiteside. “We’re after a nice broad mix, and our range in prices will go somewhere between about $10,000 and up to about $250,000.” You can actually find some great collector’s cars in the $10,000 ballpark, according to Whiteside. That includes your vintage production cars, such as a 1965 Mustang—which is a beautiful car, but about a million were made, so that drives down the rarity, as well as the cost.

Cars in the Saratoga Auto Auction will go for anywhere between $10,000 and $250,000.

Adding to the general excitement going into the auction, the Museum has also announced the addition of the Dennis Dammerman Collection. Dammerman is the late former Vice Chairman of General Electric, and his collection of 44 vehicles—comprised largely of a variety of mid-century domestic convertibles, coupes and sports cars—will be offered with no reserve. Dammerman was not only an avid car collector and enthusiast, but also a trustee of the Museum, displaying 16 of his vehicles in the 2009 exhibit entitled “Mid Century Marvels.” “Pretty much every single auction house in the country has been trying to secure this collection for consignment,” says Whiteside. “This collection is going to put us on the map.”

Prior to auction time, cars will be staged on SPAC’s lawn, starting on Wednesday, September 19. Then, on Friday and Saturday, each car will be driven across the stage, where it will be auctioned to bidders in person and from around the world using Proxibid, an online auction service. (According to Whiteside, approximately ten percent of all cars are now sold online.) Auctioneer Brent Earlywine, who has also worked for RM Sotheby’s, as well as Auctions America, among others, will return for the second year to host the auction. Cars come from all over the Northeast, from Philadelphia to Montréal. Consignments include a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette Fuelie, 1913 Ford Model T, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, 1966 Adam West-era Batmobile replica, 1987 Ferrari Testarossa and many, many more.

“Car auctions are a huge spectator sport across the nation,” says Whiteside, who wants to pack the house at SPAC like a midsummer concert might. “And the excitement of the bid is exciting even for the spectator.” Count me in as one of the excited, even if I won’t be driving away with my dream car anytime soon—that is, for now.

Simon Murray
Simon Murray

Simon Murray always wanted to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, so he took the road far less traveled: by becoming a travel and leisure writer. He can now be found taking Rolls Royce Wraiths through Saguaro cactus-studded deserts, dining in Michelin-starred restaurants in southern Italy and aboard yachts as far afield as Fiji. It's tough, but it's a living.

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