Despite pandemic, Mecum had a healthy 2020 and heads eagerly to Kissimmee as 2021 begins

Just before heading off to Florida for Mecum Auctions’ huge and annual collector car sale at Kissimmee, John Kraman looked back on 2020, the year interrupted, though only briefly for Mecum, by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We did 13 auctions,” said Kraman, who after many years as part of the auction company’s consignment team has become even better known for his television commentating for NBCSN’s coverage of Mecum sales.

Mecum sold cars in Florida, including the record-setting Bullitt Mustang, and motorcycles in Las Vegas in January, and next went to Glendale, Arizona, just as word of the pandemic was spreading and the Mecum team wondered if each day’s sales might be the last. 

The auction was completed, but ensuing events were postponed while Mecum regrouped, came up with a health-safety plan that could be modified to meet local regulations and, starting in June, resumed live sales, something few other auction houses were able to do as they largely switched to online events.

Dana Mecum applies ‘Sold’ sticker to the Bullitt Mustang windshield | Mecum Auctions photo

Kraman said that Mecum also had strong online sales at its live events, though the effort pre-dated the pandemic. Online bids had accounted for less than 5 percent of Mecum’s business in recent years, and too often online bidders lost their connection after a few seconds. 

Knowing that needed to change, the company instituted a major operation to improve both hardware and software. Kraman said the new system was in operation at Kissimmee in 2020 and has been smooth and seamless and, with many people reluctant to travel, helped account for nearly 20 percent of bids during the year.

Speaking of bidding, the majority of cars consigned to Mecum Auctions are done so with a reserve price, a minimum amount the seller expects before relinquishing the vehicle to the high bidder. 

“Seventy to 75 percent is a strong sell-through for a reserve auction,” Kraman said, adding that in 2020 Mecum’s various auctions posted sell-throughs of 80 percent or better.

“It’s testament to the strength of the market,” he said. “The pandemic has not curtailed any interest at all. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s become more important to people to surround themselves with things that make them feel good.”

Instead of traveling to Europe and other exotic vacation destinations, people were buying recreational vehicles, all-terrain vehicles and buying collector cars. And more people had time to finish collector car projects they’d already started. 

“It’s a situation of redefining priorities, not putting off decisions,” he said. 

“All of us are getting older,” he noted, adding that situation also applies to those in their 50s who a decade ago were still raising their families. 

“Life is short. I’m going to jump in while I can.”

1952 Ferrari 340 America
Vignale-bodied 1952 Ferrari 340 America won’t cross the block, but will be offered at Mecum’s Gallery sale in Kissimmee | Mecum photo

One evidence of the generational shift among buyers, Kraman said, can be seen in a trend in the marketplace, where cars from the mid-1950s to early ‘60s remain popular, but those from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s “represent the huge majority of cars that trade hands.” 

And the people buying them are, for the most part, from a generation that wasn’t even alive at the time, he added, explaining that many of those vehicles, including vintage Ford Broncos and Chevy C10 pickups, are being purchased and updated into resto-mods with modern powertrains, so they look original but can be driven comfortably in traffic.

Kraman said the fact that Mecum’s virus protocols have worked has resulted in strong turnouts since it returned to live sales. Live though restricted, that is. For example, at Kissimmee in January 2021, only bidders and consignors will be allowed into the auction block arena. Others buying general-admission tickets will have access to all other areas and will be able to see all but perhaps a handful of the vehicles on offer.

On the docket: Carroll Shelby’s own 1965 427 Cobra (above) and Mickey Thompson’s 1963 Corvette (below)

The Kissimmee auction, conducted at Osceola Heritage Park, runs from January 7-16, with vehicle sales beginning January 7. When the auction ends, the Mecum crew has only a few days to pack up and regroup at Punta Gorda, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where it will handle the deaccession of the Muscle Car City museum. That sale is scheduled for January 22-23. 

Usually, Mecum would be heading to Las Vegas about then for its 30th annual vintage and antique motorcycle auction, but restrictions at the South Point venue have caused the postponement of that sale, which has been re-scheduled for April 28-May 1 and moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center, where Mecum recently staged one of its collector car auctions.

As far as the docket for the Kissimmee sale, it includes cars from 25 collections. The docket also includes 22 Ferraris. That Ferrari figure includes a 1967 330 GTC, 1973 365 GTB/4 Daytona, and 2018 812 Superfast. But it does not include the 1952 Ferrari 340 America with Vignale coachwork (and 5th-place finisher at Le Mans) that will be offered at the Mecum Gallery exposition sale being staged in conjunction with the auction.

1965 Shelby GT350R
1964 Shelby 289 Cobra

Among other featured lots among the 3,500 vehicles scheduled to cross the block are Carroll Shelby’s personal 1965 427 Cobra, Mickey Thompson’s personal 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 “tanker,” a 1965 GT350R Shelby Mustang, a pair of 1965 Shelby GT350s, a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing and a ’67 300SL roadster, a 1970 Plymouth Hemi Superbird and a 1971 Plymouth Cuda convertible.

Plus a 1958 Dual-Ghia convertible, a 1964 289 Cobra and a 1967 427 Cobra, a 2018 Ford GT in Heritage livery, a 1970 Ford Torino Twister, a 2019 Porsche 911 Speedster, and a 1956 Chevrolet El Morocco convertible believed to be the last original example surviving. 

Oh, and also matching 2005 and 2018 Ford GTs in Speed Yellow livery.

To see the full auction docket, visit the Mecum website.

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