- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Then recession set in again. A faultless red and black Bugatti was "no sale" at a top bid of $17,500. A splendid 1932 Alfa Romeo Gran Sport Roadster with a red paint job that could be used for a transfusion pulled a high bid of $22,500—again, not enough. A 1930 Ruxton with front-wheel drive, one of four open models still in existence, failed at $19,500. "The only people buying are the ones with a couple of five-grand bills," said Bob Marceca, shaking his head.
Precisely. An eight cylinder Auburn Speedster sold for $14,000, and the Capone Cadillac went for $14,000 (in a private deal), but a magnificent '31 Caddy V-16 Roadster owned by Herb Wetson, the hamburger king, was far too underdone at $32,000. Then it was time for Lot No. 32—the Duesenberg. Diners dropped their box lunches and raced for the tent to see the climax. Omar was at his most mellifluous as he drew four bidders from $50,000 on up to $60,000. Then a 34-year-old novice in the classic-car field, Ernie Krensel of Plymouth Meeting, Pa. bid $61,000. Omar's voice quickly blasted on past Krensel, and the price went by thousands up to $66,000. Or so Omar said. "Did I hear sixty-six five?" he barked. "No, the man in the red coat just dropped his cigar. Tiny Gould just took three more pills. Sixty-six five? Sixty-six five? Come on now, the house and the car and the boat will have to go." Nervous chuckles. "O.K., sorry. No sale at $66,000. Tiny says that's $8,000 to $10,000 short. And after all, Tiny don't need the money."
Omar could not later recall who had raised the ante above Krensel's $61,000—and some cynics suggested that those bids never existed. But Krensel himself was limp at the prospect of having come that close to the Doozer. "Something comes over you," he said, shaking slightly. "It's like falling down an elevator shaft and thinking, "What the hell....' "
In a way the case of the Duesenberg to sell told a lot about American affluence. To think that in the wake of recession men could be publicly bidding amounts of that scale for mere automobiles—and then not getting the car—bespeaks an economy of such size and abundance as to approach immorality. In the presence of these cars it was easy to wax poetic—to forget for the moment about the sins of the automobile: air pollution, the rape of the land by superhighway, the inequities of income reflected by these prices and those slums just down the road in South Philly. The nonsale of the Duesenberg snapped those problems back into focus in some strange way. Drifting away, people began pouring down the champagne.
The string of no-sales among grander cars continued apace. Bob Marceca's Hiso drew bids of no more than $12,000—not enough, not even with the champagne flowing. His opera-box Renault, which needed work but was already part of the way back to its 1910 elegance, failed at $4,200. "Absurd," said Jacques de Kervor, a French industrial designer who had helped Marceca prepare both the Hispano-Suiza and the Renault for the auction. "The car is worth at least $7,000."
Then came the sentimental favorite: the yellow Mercer. Where the Duesenberg had been powerful—so imposing in its length of hood and breadth of tires that one felt like knuckling the fore-knot in its presence—the Mercer was playful. Inside the eyes of watchers and bidders alike, silent fantasy films unwound—coursing the country roads of an earlier time, the duster flapping in the high winds of 60 mph, June bugs splatting on the heavy glass monocle, a girl, perhaps, and a Victorian mansion now converted to a country club. Still, none of the fantasies could raise the price beyond $37,000, and the Mercer remained unsold. "How's the chicken?" Omar asked the crowd.
But if fantasy films could not turn the trick, a real one did. Next on the block came a 1939 Plymouth station wagon—a "woodie" in moderate repair.
No such luck attended the parading of one of the auction's weirdest machines—a 1932 Streamliner built by the avant-garde Hill Auto Body Metal Works of Cincinnati. No sale at $4,800. Sadder still was the fate of a 1912 Kisselkar—worth a small fortune for its name if not its looks. It could draw no more than $12,500—not enough.
The high point of the day was still the $16,000 paid for Marceca's DuPont—the third car on the block. Then up wheeled a cream-colored, mandarin-orange trimmed 12-cylinder Auburn Speedster, an outstanding example of the enamelist's art and the very car that graced the cover of the auction catalog. It was clear from the start that someone had come for this car. Omar rang the changes swiftly from $10,000 up to $19,000. From that level, the price tiptoed by hundreds of dollars up toward the magic 20 grand: nineteen-two, nineteen-seven, nineteen-eight. Finally, with only two bidders left, the price reached $20,000. Silence from the opposite party. Bango! Sold.