True Stories From A Former Car Dealer #25: Auctions

The first dealership I owned was a Buick dealership in Irving, TX. It all happened very quickly, but that is a different True Story. I was 29-years old, and Jerry Reynolds Buick was going to be a challenge. GM had downsized the Buick lineup and had gone to front-wheel drive platforms, something widely rejected by the older base of Buick customers.

Before the official takeover of the dealership, I knew I had to start on day one with a good, diverse, used car inventory. As part of the negotiations to purchase the dealership, I did not want any of the previous owner’s inventory. It had already sat on the lot a good while, and I wanted to start fresh…with exciting, fun cars and especially pickups. Since I didn’t have new pickups to sell, I figured we’d make our mark with used ones.

If you need 100 or so cars and you only have a few weeks to get them, the auction is typically your only option. Today, I could sit in my air-conditioned office and buy them online, but in 1985, you had to stand in the auction lanes smelling exhaust, your feet hurting from standing for hours, and the intense pressure of not paying too much for a car, but also not getting outbid.

I wasn’t a stranger to auctions and knew most of the auctioneers and ring men (those looking for bidders). The regular buyers knew from experience that if I started bidding on a vehicle, I would most likely be the last one raising my hand. The problem with that is often the sellers would have “ringers” they were paying to bid against me to run the price up. Finally, I took the auctioneer aside during one of his breaks. He was a nice guy and genuinely liked me. I told him if I wanted a car, I’d raise my hand once, but to watch me, after that I’d wink my right eye. It worked like a charm. When I typically won a bid, nobody even knew I was bidding.

At the time there were six lanes of cars running at the same time. You could be on lane one and something on lane five would catch your eye and you looked like O.J. Simpson running for a rent car.

I needed a driver, meaning a nice ride to get me through until I closed on the Buick dealership. I was several lanes away when I saw a one-year-old Mercedes-Benz 380SL convertible on the block. It was black, tan interior, and had chrome wheels. I ran into the lane as I heard the auctioneer give the high bid as he said: “going twice” and he saw my sudden interest in the car. This Benz looked brand new, and it was way too cheap. He stopped the auction to give me time to walk around it quickly. It was perfect and I threw my hand in the air, nobody else outbid me, and I was a proud owner.

As the car left the lane, I gave the porter $5 and asked him if he’d pull around to the front, instead of the massive back lot and bring me the keys. He agreed and suddenly it hit me: how many miles are on this car? I asked the porter to give me the odometer reading, and he said 80,000. I questioned if he meant 8000, but he verified it was 80,000 and I felt a wave of nausea. No wonder it was so cheap. It was a valuable lesson about not rushing into buying auction cars.

The following week, a beautiful, solid black Buick Regal came into the lane. I had NO idea what it was, but it was a Buick and it had a ton of eye appeal. I cracked my pocket Black Book to see what auction prices were and started winking at the auctioneer. The car went for a little more than I wanted to pay but felt it was a car I needed. I’d been dropped off at the auction, so again, I asked the porter to put the car in front, I’d drive it home instead of having it transported.

I bought a good number of cars that day and I had to sort out the paperwork. I got done and headed out. I was making a left turn at a light, and when it changed to green I floored it. Before I knew what happened, I did three donuts in the middle of the street. I was in total shock. The Buick dealership was not far away, and I had gotten to know some of the people there. I pulled up, one of them walked out and I asked: “what the Hell is this”? The answer: A Buick Grand National.

Buick Grand National
Key to the Grand National’s success was its sophisticated 3.8-liter turbocharged V-6, producing 245 horsepower for 1987. Credit: GM
Little did I know that this Regal was faster than a Ferrari and ran times alongside Corvettes. There were not many around and I started buying brand new ones from other dealers around the country. We got a reputation for being Grand National headquarters in North Texas, hosting club meets, etc. It was an amazing car for its time, especially for a Buick.

Sometimes you’d buy a car and find out, based on time spent on the lot, that it was a perfect fit for you. Such was the case with Pontiac Fieros. They were super cheap at the time, and one came through that caught my eye, and it was way under book value. I bought it, and it sold the first day it was on the lot. Once is not a trend, but the following week I found another. Same story, quick sale, nice profit, so I started buying them all and the more I bought, the more people brought to the auction. I had a great run with those cars, we must have sold fifty of them in just a few months.

Pontiac Feiros
Pontiac Fieros on display at the Dallas Spring Nationals Classic Car Show.
I found out about an auction that was going on in Mesquite, TX, a suburb of Dallas. It was a hodgepodge of items from an estate. I typically stuck to dealer-only auctions, but there were a couple of classic Mustangs that were supposed to be sold. Most everything for sale was in a big barn, and the auctioneer walked around to the items with a microphone and a bullhorn slung over his shoulder.

There was a lot of junk merchandise, and the Mustangs were rough and nothing rare at all. I was about to get discouraged and leave, when he starting describing six brand new grandfather clocks, still in the boxes. They were beautiful and you could tell they were expensive. Ironically, I had been looking at them and knew approximate values. The auctioneer said he’d like to sell them as a group, but if they didn’t bring enough, he’d split them up.

As auctioneers often do, he asked “who will start me off?” and I threw my hand up and said $2400. He worked and worked to get someone to raise the bid and nobody did. I thought he would stop to sell them individually but suddenly said: “SOLD”. I re-sold five of them easily to people I knew for $400 each, enough to get one myself for free.

Then it got really weird at this auction. The auctioneer sold a few remaining items and then pointed outside to where a large RV sat. It was about 30-feet long, was a rear diesel engine, had two air conditioners on top and it looked brand-new. It had fewer than 5000 miles on it and was about two-years-old. Turns out, it was a mobile X-ray unit, with two x-ray machines inside. He gave us a few minutes to go inside and look at it. Only a few of us even looked it over.

The auctioneer let us know that a defunct hospital had paid $250,000 for the rig two years earlier. He started the bidding at $100,000 and everyone, including me, started walking away. Sensing it was not going to sell, he asked for someone to start the bidding. I turned around and threw out $35,000. He started his auction speak trying to get someone at $40,000, then $37,500, finally $36,000 and then pointed to me and said SOLD. There was a momentary wave of panic, wondering what I just did, but it was too late, I was the owner.

Perhaps my most profitable moment came very late at the dealer-only auction. I had bought a ton of cars that day so was there late, and they were running through older, rough cars. While I was sitting outside straightening out paperwork, there were only a handful of dealers left, and it was guys who owned tote-the-note car lots.

The Isuzu I-Mark. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/dave_7
About that time, three brand new 1985 Isuzu I-Mark sedans were pulled into the lane, they still had the window stickers on them. MSRP was $5900 and change. The auctioneer explained these were purchased by a large rental company, and after they were ordered, the company filed for bankruptcy. Since nobody was there to represent the seller, he explained the high bidder sale was not final until they made a phone call, but they were standing by to give approval or denial.

I felt sorry for the auctioneer, he was working hard, knowing I was the only player in the place. He started high, as they always do, then came down to get someone to raise a hand. He got down to $2500 and stopped. He looked at me and said: “Jerry, where do you want to be?” and I said: “two grand” and he started his yodeling. Less than a minute later, the gavel came down and he said: “Sold, Jerry Reynolds, with a call. We’ll know shortly.”

He got back up on the podium and said: “they accepted…rather than go through each car, do you want them all? You can have every one of them.” Just to verify, I said: “you mean all three of these”? His reply: “no, there are 47 more outside, just like these.” I laughed, gave him my trademark wink, and walked away.

I found a company that took medical equipment on consignment, and they sold the mobile x-ray motorhome for me, and after their commission, I cleared $75,000, making a $40,000 profit.

We got all the Isuzus to the lot, put them in one place, and ran newspaper ads for a “special purchase” of 50 I-Marks. They had to be sold as used, but I priced them at $3995, and noted a payment of $99 per month for 48 months, with just TT&L down and showed a picture of the factory window stickers in the ad. Every single one was gone within 10 days.
Photo Credit: hvostik/Shutterstock
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Bill .
Jerry Thanks for the great stories. I sure would like to find a 2017 Buick Lacrosse that way.
Troy W.
I spent a year-and-a-half working for a fearless used car dealer in South Dakota. At one auction he bought a repossessed concrete pumping truck. This is a vehicle used to transfer concrete from the delivery truck to the spot on the job site where it will be placed. The finance manager stepped out of his office when he saw this rig into the lot and asked "I wonder if the owner filled it with concrete before the banker came and got it?" You could see the panic set in as that would mean the truck would be all but worthless. Fortunately that was not the case and my boss flipped it over to a dealer specializing in this type of equipment fora nice profit.
richard p.
Love your true stories. I always read your true stories first. What happened to the mercedes with 80,000 miles. I'll bet you still found a way to make a profit. Richard.
Pat .
Great stories and even better updates on the latest trends and what expect in the future!

Thanks for keeping the public in the loop.

Pat from Fair Oaks, Calif
Michael S.
Love your stories.
Some of the best life lessons I have ever learned came from my time selling cars.
Mary M.
Really have enjoyed your True Stories, Jerry. So interesting and often so humorous. Thanks a bunch!!
David .

I had an awesome experience buying my Mustang Convertible through the Car Pro Show but I still get your emails and enjoy the article. This week's "War Stories" were great reading. Thanks so much for a great service and entertaining site!

David Wallace
Bob .
Great stories, Jerry!
Look forward to Fridays email.

Shame on GM for dropping the Fiero.
Matthew K.
Hey, Jerry, not sure about your math on the clock thing. Five @ $400 = $2000. If you paid $2400 and kept one, then you didn't get it for free, you paid $400 just like your friends.

Great article, keep them coming!
The Car Pro
Matthew and Rocky, you guys are GOOD! I should have been more clear. I sold the clocks for $500 each to friends, a smoking deal for them and enough to clear a clock for myself.

Good catch guys!

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
Rocky S.
Great stories Jerry.
I'm guessing you sold those 6 Grandfather clocks to your friends for $500 each, not $400 or you'd have been out $400 yourself. You are truly a gifted buyer and seller so after all these years I'm guessing you erred on the story not on the deal.
Thanks again for your newsletter, it's always gets read.
Dave O.
I thought for sure the Isuzus were going to end badly. Nope. I can't believe you sold all of them! Great stories, especially the RV with Xray machines.
John D.
I grew up in my dad's Buick dealership back in the 50's during Buick's glory days. Those were fun times. I still love hanging around car lots.
George .
Great stories - I worked at a Toyota dealership for a few months "between jobs" in my current industry, and remember when the Used Car Manager came in with a bright Orange Smart Car - it was crazy, but it was also in the fall and just in time for Halloween - so it got sold!
Jeff G.
Jerry, I look forward to reading this portion of the newsletter every Friday afternoon! I really enjoy hearing about all your experiences! I sure wish you were back on the radio in the Charlotte market. Thank you!
Curtis B.
Jerry, you had the Buick dealership in Irving in 1985? I lived in Irving at that time, and had three friends who owned either T-types or Grand Nationals back then. Heck, we may have crossed paths and met and just don't remember. In 1985 I worked for Automotive Performance Specialties on Irving Blvd in Irving, the only true speed shop there was left back then.
The Car Pro
Curtis your name is familiar for sure, I bet we did cross paths. When I discovered Grand Nationals and GNXs, I really got into it. GOOD to hear from you!

Jerry Reynolds, President
Car Pro Radio Network
Jerry Reynolds
Thanks for weighing in guys. Like me, you know auctions serve a vital purpose dealers and consumers.
RetailMyRide .
Love the auction stories. Its an amazing industry with a rich history of interesting characters. And, even though it has evolved alot with technology and free flowing data ( as you mentioned now you can sit at your desk and order cars like pizza) you have to stay sharp and know the little nuances. Many times felt like made a bad decision but usually to turn out OK in the end.