CC Flashback: 1974 – Classic Car Auctions The Way They Used To Be

(first posted 2/16/2018)       Jon7190 has taken us several trips to the classic car auctions in Scottsdale, and promises a few more looks soon.  Jon’s sharing at some of the things seen there made me remember my days at one of the very earliest classic car auctions.

The Kruse classic car auction at Auburn, Indiana could well be the granddaddy of them all.  As I understand the history, the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg club had been holding its annual national meets in Auburn, Indiana for many years.  The small city of Auburn was, of course, the location headquarters of the company.  That tradition continues today.

In the early days of CC I shared my experience of attending the Parade of Classics in Auburn with my mother and sister over Labor Day weekend of 1972.  It was around that time that Kruse Auctions, a run-of-the-mill farming community auction company, decided that there was money to be made in holding a classic car auction in conjunction with the ACD festival.

Labor Day weekend of 1973 saw me in Auburn with my best friend Dan and his father, who would become my Car-Mentor Howard.  I had enjoyed the parade but was extra excited to learn that there was going to be a classic car auction that weekend as well.  What was a classic car auction?  I had no idea, but soon learned.  As I think about it, I believe we just looked around the outside of things that year but made it a point to get there bright and early Sunday morning the following year.  It was a no-brainer to take my Kodak Instamatic.

A classic car auction in 1974 was a very, very different thing from a classic car auction in 2018.  First was the venue.  The Kruse brothers rented the grounds of DeKalb County High School for the event.  The school had a then-typical quarter-mile cinder track inside of a fenced enclosure.  A tent was pitched over the start-finish line which had room for a car on the auction block and maybe three or four rows of metal folding chairs behind the auctioneer.  This was where the high-rollers sat, though there couldn’t have been many of them.  Opposite the auctioneer was the bank of aluminum bleachers where we peon-spectators sat.

The cars would line up along the track and go under the gavel one by one.  Before and after their moment in the spotlight they parked in the fenced enclosure, with the high-dollar stuff under one of the three or four tents on the grounds.

You can tell from the pictures that it was a gray, wettish day, but I didn’t care.  You can also see that I took no pictures of the expensive stuff – there was surely a Duesenberg or two that went through that first auction as well as a number of classic V8 Fords and other things that old car guys were into in 1974.  Instead, I was drawn to the lesser stuff.  Like the opening shot of that 1967 Lincoln Lehman-Peterson Executive limo which was in the parking lot outside of the event.

Then there were a few cars parked with For Sale signs, sort of a mini car corral.  Cars like the ’49 or ’50 Nash Airflyte and the ’62 Gran Turismo Hawk were offered for sale by their owners.  I had never noticed until just now that the Hawk was shod with later model (1964) wheelcovers.  As you can see my Studebaker thing has been with me for a long time.

Once inside there were dozens of cars parked in the grounds, all just begging to be looked at.  I definitely ogled the “classic” cars and definitely appreciated their beauty and craftsmanship.  But they were cars of my parents age and nothing I had ever seen on the street myself.  Perhaps then (as now) my eye was drawn towards the under-appreciated cars that everyone else walked past.  Like this ’58 DeSoto convertible.  It would be years before I understood that the low-end Firesweep model used what was basically a Dodge front end on its price leader.  This car was only fifteen years old at the time but fascinated me deeply.  Today I would have taken a picture of the much less sexy Dodge sedan right behind.

I had done enough reading by then that I knew this ’53 Packard Caribbean to be something quite rare.  I now know that this inaugural model was one of only 750 that were made in Packard’s attempt to offer something glamorous.  And is that a Borgward Isabella in the background behind the Packard?

I have shared before that I was hugely into Lincolns in that phase of my life.  This ’58 Continental Mark III might have been the car that launched Howard into one of his diatribes about how awful these cars were.   But I didn’t care.  There was something that was so outlandish about these that I was smitten.  Had I been able to afford it, I have no doubt that I would have driven this car home that day.  Fat chance, these were getting a little pricey (relative to other cars of its age) even then.  Oddly, I had not the least bit of interest in the silver Cadillac that photobombed this shot.

I also knew that I loved anything that was an orphan.  This pregnant 1949 or ’50 Packard pushed all of my buttons then, even though I knew nothing about the grand old straight eight that (probably) powered it.  I remember my father telling a story about how his dad drove home in a new Packard when he was young.  My grandmother was very status conscious and was not at all pleased.  “A PACKARD?!?!?  NOBODY DRIVES PACKARDS!!!”  Somehow I never pinned Dad down on when Granddad bought that Packard, but I always kind of imagined that it was one of these.  Granddad was an old time New Englander and the solid engineering and elegant bearing of the car would have suited him.  But it certainly didn’t suit my grandmother, and she undoubtedly made sure that he never made that mistake again.  The first car of Granddad’s I can remember was a 1962 Cadillac, a car much more fitting of their place in Philadelphia’s Mainline.

I remember taking this picture more out of a sense of obligation than out of any particular love for the car.  I was a Lincoln guy and dammit any Lincoln guy worthy of the name has to take a picture of one of the rare ones whenever he finds it.  So here, my absolute least favorite Lincoln of perhaps all time.  At least up until then.  I would take this 1957 model all day every day over the 1980 Town Coupe that my father would later have.  Gad, but I hated that ’80 and I still hate them.  This one I now view as merely unfortunate.  All of these cars were undoubtedly pampered original examples, as none of them was worth anywhere near the money it would have cost to restore one, even then.

And how could I have not taken a picture of an Edsel in 1974.  America was in the midst of a ’50s nostalgia craze then and as much as I am not a Craze Du Jour kind of guy, I did have an appreciation for 50s American cars.  But while most of America would have zoomed in on that white ’56 Thunderbird, those were kind of like the ’57 Chevy of the 70s.  The Edsel was more my thing.  Does anyone remember the episode of the Dick Van Dyke show when Rob Petrie witnessed a hit and run accident?  Rob wanted to give some details to the police and Laura didn’t want him to get involved.  I loved Laura’s classic line: “What do you actually remember? A red Edsel. There must be thousands of red Edsels running around… SOMEWHERE.” Well I found one of them.

I cringe a bit at my lack of imagination in my photography, as well as the one-shot-per-car rule I was following.  But hey, getting film developed was not cheap, especially on the allowance of a fifeen year old kid.  Digital photography (and the high-quality phone camera) has been a game changer in what we do here on CC.  I also wonder about what became of these cars that were photographed over forty years ago.  Each of them had survived the killing fields of ordinary use in their first fifteen years or so and were considered special enough to be appreciated as rare survivors even then.  Are they still out there?  I can remember seeing an original gray Packard much like the one above at an auction that took place in Indianapolis in the early 90s.  Was it this same car?  Who knows.

The Kruse boys must have made some money on their first auction because it would become a staple of the annual Labor Day weekend festivities at Auburn.  I have some pictures of the next year as well that I plan to scan into the computer so I will be back with a sequel at some point.