It's now two in the afternoon and the guys in the ring have been working for a good three hours now, running back and forth, pointing at the crowd, yelling "yeah!" when someone posts a bid, and yet while they have both broken a sweat, they are far from being tired. I suppose that's why Gordie, who's been doing this for twenty years off and on, is getting paid five thousand dollars a day.

The RM Classic Car Auction is Canada's Largest; the "Toronto Classic," as it's colloquially known, gathers together hundreds of buyers and sellers every year. It's big enough to be called by Dean and Dan Kruse, the auctioneers to end all auctioneers, who have sold more than two billion dollars' worth of cars over the years. The event's major sponsor, RM Classic Car Productions is also a major player&emdash;they're an umbrella under which operates a sales network, a car-finder service, and several restoration shops, among other things. This Saturday, the second day of the three-day auction fest, there are still a good three hundred cars present.

The show being as big and as widely publicized as it is (there's a row of foreign bidders with reserved seats up front, and the bids are instantaneously translated into several different international currencies), it's no surprise that there are some extremely rare and extremely expensive collectibles present. A dark-green Packard Twelve Coupé has a sign beside it asking $1 million, and there's a Bentley Continental with a sticker of $255,000. A LeBaron-bodied Duesenberg type J rounds out the collection out front with an asking price of $925,000.

Thankfully, such stratospherically priced cars are in the minority at the auction. The cars run the gamut, from beautifully restored Porsche 356s to a well-preserved 1989 Buick Electra wagon, to a rusted-out old Mercury badly in need of a new body, a new interior, and a new chassis. There's a whole contingent of Mustangs, from 1965 on up to a 1984 SVO, dozens of Corvettes including a custom-bodied Daytona model which the man beside me buys for $9500, and loads of fifties cars, from Cadillacs to DeSotos to Lincolns. Other points of interest included a couple of DeLoreans and Bricklins, a glorious silver Mercedes 190 SL, and a panoply of Jaguar E-Types lined up beside each other. Had the auction not been held in the International Centre, with its drab gray walls and concrete floors, the collective shine of all of the cars present might have fooled me into thinking I was at a Concours event.

As the cars cross the block&emdash;and they do so literally, driven with their owners alongside so that bidders can hear how the car runs, come up and inspect it, ask the owner any questions&emdash;it becomes immediately obvious that the prices being paid for many of the cars are much lower than their owners had expected, especially for convertibles. After a 1955 Thunderbird closes at $18,250, Dean Kruse reflects that "it's the best time of the year to be buying a convertible, but by god is it the worst for somebody that's selling one." Some of the cars are declared no-sales after the bidding closes; on cars where there's a "reserve," the owner reserves the right to say no to a bid if he or she wants to hold out.

To bid, you have to go through a two-minute long registration process on entering, and simply make sure that Gordie or Phil notices you; they in turn yell a "yeah" to Kruse while waving their hands around. If the item's sold to you, Phil or Gordie comes and stands beside you until your name is taken down by a staffer. You are required to pay a 10% deposit on any car you have purchased (5% on any memorabilia, such as a gas pump). The balance is due the next business day.

Listening to the bids and the cars being called out in such rapid succession takes a bit of getting used to; but to their credit, the Kruses and Ed Lucas, who's describing each item up for sale today, remain remarkably lucid, even after hours of rapid-fire speech. It's probably best to just sit through your first one, like I did, or maybe go in and bid on a small piece of memorabilia.

But you'd better watch out&emdash;"small" items like the Shell pump I was sitting in front of can run in the thousands. Best advice? Either bring lots of money, or go in broke and just look at the cars. That alone is already worth the $10 entrance price.

The Next RM-sponsored classic car auction is the Michigan International, which runs from October 31st to November 2nd in the Novi, MI Expo Center. Call 313-459-3311 for more information.

 

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