Affordability in the Scottsdale auctions

The words “affordable” and “Scottsdale” may seem incompatible, but they don’t have to be. While pre- and post-auction headlines feature seven- and eight-figure Ferraris, Porsches and Duesenbergs, the vast majority of cars in the Scottsdale auctions are, in fact, affordable.

Last year the median transaction was $47,300, the lowest it’s been since 2014, and heavily skewed by the sales mentioned above. That means 1,143 vehicles sold for less than that, often much less.

“Affordable” also implies “potential good value” since no one wants to buy a cheap car just because it’s cheap. However, avoiding cars that are “chic” – fashionable models that have attracted way too many novice bidders following the herd into paying generously – is key.

Look a bit off-center at the individual auction companies, searching for cars that are not their typical offering. Sometimes an off-center car will sell strongly only because it stands out, but often bidders don’t come looking for them. For instance, a brass-era car at Barrett-Jackson or American muscle at Bonhams. And they attract only slight interest from profit-oriented dealers. Following are 2017’s auction houses and the potential bargains that will be crossing their respective blocks.

Barrett-Jackson is affordable car heaven, despite its reputation for some outlandish prices, with over 1,700 lots on offer at WestWorld. Arrive early, stay late and avoid the bidders’ bar and TV cameras. Here are just a few opportunities:

Monday’s Lot #7.1 is a 1977 Honda Civic CVCC hatchback (s/n SGC3517370) with 19,000 miles, cute as a button, and prone to being overlooked as bidders are still shouldering their way through the gates.

Tuesday’s Lot #163 is also cute, but in a different way. It’s a 1963 Ford Falcon Futura convertible with the U-code 170-cid, 101hp six-cylinder (that’s the performance six), three-on-the-tree, radio and full wheel covers. A $30,000 car in the Hagerty Price Guide (HPG) on its best day ever; this one looks clean, orderly and well-preserved and should not take much if any over $20K to own.

Late on Tuesday Lot #263 is a 1950 Willys Jeepster Phaeton (s/n 473VJ11122) in forest green with brown vinyl upholstery, a white vinyl top and a full set of side curtains. It has the F-head four-cylinder engine and is estimated at $15,000-25,000 by the HPG; it’s hard to have more fun for that much money.

Let’s skip Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the prime-time hoopla and charity car extravaganza that makes Barrett-Jackson the event that it is.

Sunday is unwind day. Many people are going home after a week or two on the road (including me), but affordable cars remain.

Those with an affinity for restored old race cars Sunday’s Lot #1526 is something special. It’s a 1933 Plymouth coupe with a flathead Plymouth Spitfire six, four-barrel Holley, tube shocks and MSD ignition. Raced in the ‘50s and ‘60s, then restored by its original owner/driver Chuck Prather, it is nothing but sweet. Is it “affordable?” That’s hard to predict, but it’s bound to be more fun than a barrel of monkeys on any dirt oval.

And as the end of the enduro approaches there’s Lot #1635, a 1955 Studebaker Commander Hardtop (s/n 8845322) in two-tone Yellow and White. With the 259-cid, 162hp V-8, automatic, chrome wire wheels and dual exhausts, it is a showpiece that HPG estimates around mid-$20K; this one is, if it is as good as it looks online, worth a bit more.

Bonhams kicks off the Arizona catalog auctions on Wednesday with a first class array of cars that last year had a healthy median value of $100,100, a bit above what might be considered “affordable” by most but that only means it’s necessary to look a little harder.

For example Lot #9 is another Honda Civic CVCC Hatchback, this one a 1977 model. Estimated at $15,000-$25,000, it is equally attractive in yellow and capped by a roof rack for carrying things too large for its diminutive interior capacity. Also equipped with a  roof rack is Lot #25, a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle sedan estimated at $30,000-$50,000 (who ever would have thought a Beetle would be worth that much?).

Gooding & Company holds forth at Fashion Square Friday and Saturday. Here, like the other catalogue sales, the focus is on top-notch cars with plenty of zeroes in the pre-sale estimates. While not bargain-basement cheap, there are still marginally affordable cars, however, starting with the first car in the sale. Lot #1 is an Iris Blue 1956 MG MGA 1500 Roadster that has been upgraded with front disc brakes and a 12-volt electrical system. The estimate is $35,000-$50,000, not a bargain in an MGA, but still “affordable.” If that’s not fast enough, consider Saturday’s Lot #151. It’s an MGA Twin Cam displacing 1.6-liters and producing 115 horsepower. Restored in the early ‘90s, consistently maintained by subsequent owners and recently gone through by a Twin Cam expert, this is one of most rare of all MGAs.

RM Sotheby’s is where, again, “affordable” is not the term most commonly associated. And while last year’s median transaction was $176,000, it is still possible to find some less expensive lots.

Frequently the sale docket is managed with modestly priced cars after major lots. For example, following the Tucker Torpedo ($1.6-$2.1 million estimate) is another Beetle sedan. Lot #161 is a 1965 with 25,000 miles from new and it is highly original, even having much of its original Panama Beige paint. The last car of Thursday’s sale is possibly without counterpart in Arizona. Lot #180 is a ‘61 Borgward Isabella Two-door Sedan rally car. The estimate is only $15,000-$20,000 and it will be the only car of its ilk in just about any setting.

It’s also worth considering Lot #235, a 1970 Jaguar E-Type Series II Fixed Head Coupe. E-Types are beautiful, comfortable, desirable cars and usually well over $100,000 but this coupe is not, with an estimate of $40,000-$60,000. It’s the most refined version of the E-Type and back in the Sixties when the E-Type appeared it was the coupe, like this example, that got the auto writers’ juices flowing, not the now much more expensive Open Two Seater, and this coupe has air conditioning.

At Russo and Steele the out-of-favor include Lot #S770, a largely original 1965 Chevrolet Impala 396-cid 425hp four-speed convertible. It’s a car big enough to test the capacity of most garage bays but also a generous family cruiser. The Hagerty Price Guide (HPG) puts the best one in the world at $60,600 with an average cruiser around $30K, a lot of car for the money. Another unusual car at Russo and Steele is Lot #S641, a 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop … not a Bel Air Impala, just a plain Bel Air. Power is from a 348-cid V-8 with triple two-barrel induction, and it includes an automatic transmission and power steering. Said to be freshly body-off restored and impeccable, but it’s not an Impala and the HPG puts the top value at $60K, at least $30K less than a comparable Impala, and when will another one like it show up to share the limelight? Not often, if ever.

Hang around until Sunday and there’s a chance to own the Missoula Auto Museum’s 1956 Buick Century Hardtop, Lot #SN839. Among several other desirable but out of the mainstream cars from the collection. The four-door Hardtop Riviera body isn’t the most desirable but at an HPG value of $20,000-30,000 with Roadmaster power under the hood it’s an attention getting ride for affordable money. All the Missoula cars (there are 48 of them in sequence on Sunday from a 1922 Model T to a 1996 Rolls Silver Spur) are offered without reserve making this an ideal opportunity for opportunistic bidders to end the Arizona auction week with a prize.

Worldwide Auctioneers is new to Scottsdale this year and its auction is Wednesday, Jan. 18. They have 84 cars on offer including:

Lot #13, a 1922 Lincoln Model L Limousine with limousine coachwork (s/n 7892). It was originally owned by William Lucking, Henry Ford’s attorney, the third Leyland Lincoln built after Ford’s acquisition of the marque. Offered without reserve, we’ve seen this car several times and its history, originality and preservation never fail to appeal. The estimate is $35,000-$45,000, an opportunity to own a piece of American industrial and auto industry history for no more than a quality MG TD.

Lot #81 is a 1931 Pierce-Arrow 8-43 Club Sedan, a CCCA Full Classic™ from the John Porbeck estate. Eligible for many events and tours, it is estimated at only $25,000-$35,000 and an excellent starter car for those new to the classic experience.

While it is somewhat challenging to find affordable cars in the Scottsdale auctions a little research found these examples, and there are many more. Have a look through the catalogues and let us know what you think the biggest bargains will be.

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