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.