A classic obsession
Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 10:09 p.m.
NAPOLEON, Ohio - Leaning into the 1966 Corvette convertible called the "Black Rat," Brad McPherson studied every detail, from the instrument panel to the black vinyl interior, and then took a few steps back to admire the smooth lines and tuxedo black finish.
McPherson traveled across North America on three planes from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, to find the car - one of only 1,190 black Corvettes made in 1966.
"It's kind of like buying art," he said.
Demand and prices for classic muscle and sports cars from the 1950s, '60s and '70s have grown tremendously in recent years. Dealers credit baby boomers who finally have enough money to buy cars they dreamed about when they were teens.
"A lot of them are reliving their youth," said Terry Michaelis, who sells classic Corvettes and claims to have the largest collection in the world. "People tend to chase the year or type car they grew up with."
Corvettes that sold for $25,000 in the mid-1980s are now fetching $100,000 and up.
One of the nation's biggest car auctions is set for this week in Scottsdale, Ariz. The five-day event put on by Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. begins today and will feature 900 cars worth a total of $45 million.
Nearly half of the bidders will be first-timers, said Craig Jackson, the auction company's president. "Most people buying now aren't speculators," he said. "People want something unique and not mundane. They want to enjoy some of life now."
One of the stars of the auction will be Michaelis' 1958 retractable hardtop Corvette, which he said could bring as much as $1 million.
"It's going to be the cornerstone of somebody's collection," Michaelis said.
Boomers are snatching up other American classics, too - Pontiac GTO convertibles, Plymouth Hemi Cudas and Ford Mustangs.
"I don't think it's a fad," said Ian Kelleher, vice president of RM Auctions, a Canadian company that specializes in selling classic cars. "I just think the prices people are willing to pay may change."
He said buyers are paying huge amounts for cars that went for a fraction of that 10 years ago.
"People who love these cars are always going to love these cars," Kelleher said.
Michaelis owns and operates Pro-Team Classic Corvette Collection and Sales, which has about 150 cars on stock at its home in Napoleon, about 40 miles southwest of Toledo. Gleaming Corvettes in a rainbow of colors - red, white, orange turquoise and tan - are lined up in neat rows. One building is filled with about 80 cars from 1963-67.
Salesman T.C. Cooley said the price tags have been climbing by 10 percent to 15 percent in the last few years. But that hasn't stopped the car buffs who come in and marvel at the collection.
"I feel like a kid in a candy store - I've heard that a million times," Cooley said, leaning against an orange '73 convertible.
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