Russo and Steele Newport Beach 2013 – Auction Report

Russo and Steele, Newport Beach, California, June 21-22, 2013

Report and photos by Rick Carey, Auction Editor

It takes chutzpah, or at least determination, to hold a collector car auction in southern California.

Consider the track record. There was Rick Cole in the early and mid-90’s.

Christie’s tried the Petersen Museum in 2000, followed by Barrett-Jackson with three sales at the awkward and cramped rooftop setting of the Petersen Museum parking structure. Barrett-Jackson then after a hiatus tried the Orange County Fairgrounds in Newport Beach before baling out after last year.

Dean Kruse, in the ebullience of the eBay days, tried a sale at California Speedway in Fontana in 2003. Spectrum tried Marina del Rey for several years.

Only Keith McCormick has created a successful series of sales and they are sited in Palm Springs, not in the Los Angeles area.

The short answer is that no one has found the formula for holding a series of successful collector car auctions in southern California.

It begs understanding. This is where major auto manufacturers site their advanced design centers. It’s where the automobile is a central element in the society. The metroplex known as “LA” is built around, for, and because of the automobile.

So why can’t collector car auctions establish themselves?

The short answer, once again, is that no one knows, and only experience will tell the tale.

Line up the impediments:

  • Every day there are multiple collector car events, from survivor shows, tours and concours to the famed Cars and Coffee gatherings, that distract collectors and spectators;
  • There are collector car dealers on every major street (and many minor ones) blowing smoke up the skirts of newcomers, making them feel important and informed and selling cars that are subject to statutory warranties of fitness that don’t apply to the auctions;
  • In a diverse market that appreciates everything from grand classics through restomods to modern supercars it’s difficult for an auction to keep potential buyers’ attention through several hundred cars over two or three days.

In the face of history and in spite of the challenges Russo and Steele staked its claim on the beaches of southern California June 21-22, 2013, starting a 10-year deal with Newport Dunes.

Newport Dunes itself is an interesting environment. Located on Newport Bay, it is a publicly-owned recreational facility combining a beach, boat ramp, marina and RV park. It’s visible from the Pacific Coast Highway, across the street from the Newport Beach Country Club and the posh Fashion Island mall, next to a Hyatt Regency and, in the curious juxtaposition that southern California’s growth sometimes perpetuates, adjacent to a waterfront mobile home park on some of the most expensive real estate in America.

How did Russo and Steele do in their first year in Newport Beach? On the numbers not that well, but behind the numbers they racked up nearly $6 million in sales and brought generally full retail prices for the cars that sold and reasonable bids for most of the ones that didn’t. The inventory was generally sound and there were plenty of spectators and bidders.

Drew Alcazar has shown his determination in Scottsdale and Monterey, creating a unique and festive auction environment that draws its own mix of bidders and has established a number of record prices. Russo and Steele brought that same ambiance to Newport Beach, starting out with a festive Gala on Thursday evening and treating bidders and their guests to the best hospitality in the collector car auction world.

It’s Drew Alcazar’s view that in the car-savvy southern California environment it takes time to build awareness, visibility and confidence among customers and prospects that you have the commitment to remain on the scene and will continue to provide a differentiated, quality, product and environment.

That is certainly true and Russo and Steele is off to a good start in Newport Beach.

Russo & Steele Newport Beach
Cars Offered / Sold
Sale %
Average Sale
Median Sale
Total Sales
350 / 95
$35,750 [58%]

Russo and Steele Newport Beach 2013 – Auction Report

1977 Volkswagen Thing Utility
Lot # F408 1977 Volkswagen Thing Utility; S/N 1872008853; Orange/Tan vinyl; Tan vinyl top; Unrestored original, 3+ condition; Not sold at Hammer bid of $17,000 – Trim rings, hubcaps, Blaupunkt CD stereo, gas heater – Good original paint, interior and top. One of four Things built in Germany. All original and clean but shows age and use appropriate to the 33,463 km on the odometer. – Consignment #4180. Most Thing production was in Mexico, but apparently four were assembled in Germany at the end of production of which this is one. German marked and all original but tired. It will be hard to justify using it given its history and preservation and it doesn’t appeal much to the bidders, bringing the same reported high bid here as it did in Scottsdale five months ago.
1957 MG A Roadster
Lot # F410 1957 MG A Roadster; S/N HDL4319623; White/Black leatherette, White piping; Visually maintained, largely original, 3 condition; Not sold at Hammer bid of $19,000 – Silver painted wire wheels, wind wings, polished aluminum valve cover – Sound paint, chrome and interior. Poor driver’s door fit. Recently steam cleaned underhood and under the car. No top but comes with frame and side curtains. A sound and usable but neglected driver. – Consignment #4351. Re-run as S611 with this result. It could have been sold without regret at the reported high bid, or in fact anything over $16,000. It’s just not an attractive car, its neglect shows, and it should have gone away to someone who will give it the attention it needs.
1968 American Motors AMX Coupe
Lot # F412 1968 American Motors AMX Coupe; S/N A8C397T264938; Orange, White stripes/Black vinyl, houndstooth cloth; Visually maintained, largely original, 3- condition; Not sold at Hammer bid of $12,500 – 343 V-8 with Edelbrock 4-barrel, automatic, P/S, P/B, Magnum wheels with trim rings and red line tires, buckets and console, aftermarket woodrim steering wheel, pushbutton radio – Tired old repaint never was very good, thin trim chrome. Orderly but aged and used underhood. Right door bottom filled. Sound but not attractive. – Consignment #4041. Reported sold at Mecum’s Anaheim auction last November for $13,250, a hammer bid of $12,500 exactly what it brought here. A tired and not particularly well maintained example that should have flipped at the reported high bid.
1975 Pontiac Firebird Coupe
Lot # F422 1975 Pontiac Firebird Coupe; S/N 2W87S5N557863; Engine # 0320970 YS; Red/White; Visually maintained, largely original, 3 condition; Hammered Sold at $11,250 plus commission of 10.00%; Final Price $12,375 – 400/185hp, automatic, P/S, P/B, shaker hood, tilt steering column, Pioneer satellite radio, leather rim steering wheel, honeycomb wheels, Radial TA tires – Good fresh repaint, sound interior. Steering wheel spokes crudely repainted. Engine steam cleaned and quickly dressed up, otherwise original and dirty. A reasonable but unimpressive driver. – Consignment #4224. Superficially cosmetically redone by someone who thinks a thorough soaking of the engine at the self-serve car wash is the functional equivalent of ‘restoration’. It brought an appropriate price for what it is.
1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 Coupe
Lot # F435 1970 Pontiac Firebird Formula 400 Coupe; S/N 226870L106193; Engine # 7S; Light Olive Green/Black vinyl; Visually maintained, largely original, 3- condition; Hammered Sold at $11,000 plus commission of 10.00%; Final Price $12,100 No Reserve – 400/330hp, automatic, P/S. P/B, Pioneer stereo, polished Torque Thrust 17 inch wheels, modified engine – A/C equipped but compressor removed. Edelbrock 4-barrel on Performer intake. Quick, poorly masked repaint, sound interior. Dirty dashboard with fogged instrument lenses. Dirty and aged underhood. – Consignment #4125. This car was reported bid to $15,000 at Mecum’s Anaheim auction last November. Someone spent close to the price it brought here on the engine but looking at the neglected condition of the rest of the car the quality of the engine work is suspect and the price is all the seller could expect.
1954 Ford Crestliner Convertible
Lot # F436 1954 Ford Crestliner Convertible; S/N U4KC114819; Red/Red, White vinyl; Black cloth top; Older restoration, 2- condition; Post-block sale at $27,727 plus commission of 10.00%; Final Price $30,500 – Automatic, pushbutton radio, P/W, power seat, P/S, P/B, skirts, continental kit, dual remote spotlights, wheel covers, wide whitewalls, – Impressive looking paint and chrome. Good panel gaps and brightly polished stainless and chrome. Interior is correct and nicely redone. Underbody is restored like new and only a little dusty. April 2006 Collectible Automobile cover car, freshened since last seen two years ago. – Consignment #4114. Sold at Gooding’s Pebble Beach auction in 2007 for $59,400, then at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in 2011 for $55,000 and closed here post-block with this result. An unusually comprehensively equipped Ford, and the last year for the flathead V-8 which to some makes it particularly significant. Even without the record of prior sales, this is a modest result for an inherently sound and well-restored Crestliner convertible. The new owner got a solid car for an advantageous price.
1972 Buick Skylark Sun Coupe 2-Dr. Hardtop
Lot # F437 1972 Buick Skylark Sun Coupe 2-Dr. Hardtop; S/N 4D37J2H158546; Green, White vinyl roof/White vinyl; Visually maintained, largely original, 3- condition; Hammered Sold at $13,250 plus commission of 10.00%; Final Price $14,575 – 350/175hp, 4-barrel, P/S, P/B, A/C, automatic, folding sunroof, aftermarket cassette stereo, tilt steering column, buckets and console, chrome rim Magnum wheels, narrow whitewalls – Sub-mediocre clear coat repaint, good interior and roof, shiny chrome and stainless. Orderly but aged underhood. Underbody painted gloss black over old undercoat. An interesting car with a casual cosmetic redo. – Consignment #4052. An intriguing, little-known, options package of curious value since Buick also offered a more conventional sliding sunroof. The condition of this Sun Coupe is mediocre at best, but the price takes that into account and the car will be a good conversation-starter at a reasonable price.
1971 Buick GS Stage 1 2-Dr. Hardtop
Lot # F438 1971 Buick GS Stage 1 2-Dr. Hardtop; S/N 434371Z114593; Yellow, Black stripes/Black vinyl; Modified restoration, 2- condition; Not sold at Hammer bid of $27,500 – 455/350hp with Stage 1 equipment, 4-speed, Autogage shift set tach, worn lace-on steering wheel wrap, chrome rim Magnum wheels, P/S, P/B, ram air hood and air cleaner, electronic ignition – Good clearcoat repaint, interior and major chrome. Pitted, rusty window trim. Underbody restored nearly like new. Somewhat aged and not the Stage 1 car it wants to be, but a good weekend cruiser. – Consignment #4016. This car was sold for $29,150 at Mecum’s Indianapolis auction a year ago, then for $24,750 at Barrett-Jackson’s Orange County auction a month later. Why it didn’t sell at the reported high bid here is a question for the owner, who must see some shimmering value in its altered state.
1968 Ford Mustang GT/CS Fastback
Lot # F440 1968 Ford Mustang GT/CS Fastback; S/N 8R01T156198; White/Burgundy vinyl; Visually maintained, largely original, 3+ condition; Not sold at Hammer bid of $21,000 – 200/115hp six, automatic, P/S, A/C, pushbutton radio, buckets, no console, fog lights, wheel covers, narrow whitewalls, hood pins – Cracked steering wheel rim, sun burned dashtop. Sound old repaint, aged interior, good chrome. Clean and orderly underhood. – Consignment #4121. A six-cylinder California Special is no doubt rare. It also is no doubt uninteresting and especially in this erratic condition could have been loose and selling long before reaching this bid.
1960 Edsel Ranger 2-Dr. Sedan
Lot # F441 1960 Edsel Ranger 2-Dr. Sedan; S/N 0U11Y702105; Red, Black roof/Red vinyl, Black cloth; Visually maintained, largely original, 3- condition; Hammered Sold at $8,750 plus commission of 10.00%; Final Price $9,625 – 352/300hp, 4-barrel, automatic, no P/S or P/B, wheel covers, whitewalls, dual outside mirrors, heater, pushbutton radio – Poor old repaint, oversprayed everywhere. Dirty engine. Sound interior. A tired and unloved old car said to have 80,196 miles from new, very hard miles. – Consignment #4132. By 1960 the Edsel didn’t even have its crazy horse-collar grille left, being no more than a Ford with some emblems. This despicable example sold for $6,148 at the Kruse auction in Santa Clara in October 2001, then for $5,724 at Fall Auburn in 2005. It is a miracle that it brought this much here.

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Show Comments (12)

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  1. Very well done. Although our car was sold at the auction and not listed by Rick in the description of cars, I could not have read a better perspective on the auction and the cars. Since our car was in the family for 35 years and this will be our one and only auction I am not sure my skin is thick enough for his very candid perspective. Thanks for the article. Lee

  2. Russo & Steele is quickly becoming known as Rustle & Steal by those misfortunate to have done business with them!

  3. Reporting high bids on unsold lots does a disservice to your readers – there is no way to ever determine if an alleged high bid is real, a shill or a ‘chandelier bid.’

    1. brakeservo:
      I agree that reporting high bids on no-sales is fraught, but:
      a) I spend a lot of time writing up cars before they cross the block, some of them interesting both to me and to readers. Without a transaction value to report, especially in sales without published pre-sale estimates, there’s nothing to hang the ultimate report on.
      b) Declining a reported high bid is, in itself, an event of note, particularly when the reported high bid is reasonable.
      c) In olden times (back in the Sixties and Seventies) auction companies regularly reported the high bid without distinguishing whether the lot actually changed hands or not. I’m not saying that’s right, but that’s how they did it. Some auctioneers (Malcolm Barber comes to mind) routinely close bidding on unsold lots with ambiguous statements that are, unless the onlooker is skilled in interpreting that particular ambiguity, sometimes misinterpreted as sold.

      I feel there is some information value in the reported high bid. The reader may evaluate that reported high bid, in light of the ambiguity, and has the choice of deriving some information value from it, or disregarding it.
      I make the information available. Use it as you will, but you are in the end wiser and better informed from having it even if you make the choice to disregard it.

  4. I have an ’82 Renault R5 Le Car… perfect…. been on blocks… white and all orig.
    What would it bring in $?

  5. Hi Rick, do you have a contact email?. I have a question for you regarding your old website and some information that you might have. I am a Auction information geek….. Cheers Timothy Russell.

  6. Sorry, my response was to the brakeservo comment regarding real bids – – that it would help to remind folks about some of the dynamics of what happens at these auctions. You have since responded directly in a candid/honest way, which is appreciated.