Thursday, Oct. 26, 2000 | 9:57 a.m.
What: The Auction.
When: Gates open at 8 a.m. and sale begins at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Imperial Palace.
Information: Call 794-3174.
Forced to choose between a beautiful woman and a classy car, a real man would take the car.
A curvaceous blonde can't hold a headlight to a sweet 1968 Plymouth GTX with a 440-cubic inch, 375-horsepower engine and a Torque Flite 727 three-speed automatic transmission.
Or a 1964 Chevy convertible Impala SS with four-on-the floor and a 327-cubic inch, 300-horsepower engine.
Or even better, a 1961 Chrysler 300G sport coupe with a 413-cubic inch, V-8 engine with 400 horses.
What guy can keep from drooling when he sees an oh-so-sweet '64 Mustang, '63 'Vette, '58 Impala or '56 Bel Air sporting 30 coats of paint polished to a mirror-like sheen?
Distinctive cars built before catalytic converters and unleaded gasoline are the stuff dreams are made of.
Saturday and Sunday many of those dreams will be fulfilled. An array of classic, antique, popular, historic and peculiar cars will be sold at the Imperial Palace during an automobile auction touted as the nation's last major sale of the year.
"There's an auction somewhere in the country almost every weekend," says John Workman, spokesman for Auto Collections, a car-lover's candy store whose parent company (The Auction, Inc.) holds auctions in April and October.
Only a few sales have the status of the Las Vegas event, where millions of dollars worth of steel and chrome will change hands during two days of feverish competitive buying.
Concours d'Elegance at Pebble Beach, held each August in Carmel, Calif., for the past 50 years, is considered the elite of the industry. The 30-year-old World's Greatest Classic Car Auction & Exposition (held in Scottsdale, Ariz., every January) is one of the world's largest, with more than 800 cars auctioned.
Workman said a major reason the local sales have become so popular is that cars from the collection at Imperial Palace are exhibited at those and other popular shows around the nation -- including the 24-year-old Antique Car Show and Swap Meet held in early October at Hershey Park in Hershey, Pa. (home of such sweet treats as Fifth Avenue -- the candy, not the car).
"We are the last major event on the auction calender for the year," he said. "People into collecting cars know this is it and they want to get in on it."
But collectors, those with dozens of cars, don't make up the bulk of bidders.
"There is quite a small group of people who are serious collectors," Workman said. "We're trying to let people know they don't have to be serious collectors to bid."
The Internet, he said, is opening the exotic car-buying world to more people.
"In the past it used to be heavy hitters looking for particular pieces to round out their collection," he said. "But the Web is bringing the auction to everyone."
This year, for the first time at the Imperial Palace, bids may be made through leftbid.com. as well as in person.
The Auction was incorporated in 1987 by Don Williams and Richie Clyne at the Imperial Palace. The casino operated an automobile museum until the two partners took over its collection of more than 300 cars last year. They turned the former museum into a showroom, where the exotic cars that once were just for display can now be purchased.
More than 400 cars will go on the auction block this weekend, and an additional 350 cars will be available for purchase (non-bidding) through Auto Collections.
The general public is welcome to watch the bidding wars, waged by 2,000- 3,000 enthusiastic car fans who pay $100 each for the privilege of putting in their two-cents worth on cars that range in appraised value from roughly $10,000-$1.4 million.
Owners pay a $500 consignment fee. They also pay 5 percent of the sale price for cars that are listed as "No Reserve," which means they go to the highest bidder with no lower limit set.
"The 'No Reserve' cars will bring what they're worth. You aren't going to see a $50,000 car sell for $5,000," Workman said.
Owners who set a minimum price on what they will accept pay a fee of 7 percent of the sale price.
For every car sold, the Auction will donate a wheelchair to Wheelchairs for the World Foundation.
Most of the buyers have proof of a line of credit with a bank, certifying that money is available for the purchase of a car. But this being Las Vegas, some don't bother with the paper work.
"We have buyers come in with a briefcase and say, 'Get out your money counter,' " Workman said.
The roster of cars to be sold runs from A to Z -- from an Austin (1967 Healey 3000 MKIII Roadster) to a Zimmer (1981 Golden Spirit).
Among them are novelty cars, such as the 1965 Batmobile (five were built for the television series), and hot-rods such as a 1933 Ford coupe.
Bentleys, Chevrolets, Duesenbergs, Ferraris, Fords, Oldsmobiles and Rolls-Royces are among the 30-or-so manufacturers whose names will be represented at the sale.
"The muscle cars of the '50s, '60s and early '70s are what's hot," Workman said. "They're coming on real strong right now because of the age of the people who are able to buy them, the 28-to-45-year-old guys who have made a lot of money in computers.
"It's not a need, it's a want. They have extra money they can spend on something they want. They have the money to buy the toys."
The American male's love affair with cars is well documented.
"America was designed for the automobile," Workman said. "Our cities were laid out for them. We're not just selling cars, we're selling history. We're selling memories."
Will Women Buy That?
Sure, he said, women are becoming more interested in the kinds of cars that find their way onto auction blocks.
"We see a lot more husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends -- not just guys at the auctions," Workman said. "It is something they can enjoy together. They can jump in the car on a Sunday afternoon and go for a ride."
But, is the auction still a man's domain?
"I, personally, have never sold a car to a woman," said Workman, who has worked with the Auto Collections at Imperial Palace for 16 years. "Most of the cars here are sold to men. That's just the way it is."
The higher-priced cars, such as the $1.4-million Pierce Silver Arrow, generally are for serious investors who want to add to their collections.
But, according to Workman, many of the bidders are people who just want one particular car, perhaps one that holds a special memory for them -- one they learned to drive in, or the family car they went on trips in.
"Back in the late '80s many cars were bought strictly for investment purposes," Workman said. "Some Japanese came over here and went bananas. They were buying strictly for investment.
"But I find the market is turning back again. People are buying because they really enjoy the cars. They're going to take it out and enjoy it. The guys with super collections, 250 to 300 cars, don't buy a car solely for an investment. They will drive it.
"If you can't enjoy the car a little bit, you might as well just buy stocks and bonds."
The Auction sales are popular events for many celebrities, who may buy or sell a car or just browse.
"They are here all the time," he said. "They just show up. You never know when they're going to be here. I think they do it on purpose. They just want to look at cars. They want to be part of the event and not be the event."
"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, a passionate car collector, frequently attends. Former baseball star Reggie Jackson, also a collector, used go to the auction a lot. So did football announcer John Madden.
A celebrity's name on a car title, either as past or present owner, drives up a vehicle's value.
For example, a 1958 customized Chevrolet Impala might sell for $30,000 or so. But the one customized for Sylvester Stallone has a starting price of $75,000, even though it is no longer owned by him.
Elvis Presley's name is attached to two cars to be sold: a 1966 Chrysler Imperial (which he gave to his dentist) and a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz (the last vacation car owned by the King, who died in 1977).
John F. Kennedy's family is often represented at the auctions. One of the Lincoln Continentals J.F.K. used while president (no, not that one) was sold a few years ago. One used by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy (a 1961 Lincoln convertible) is on the block this year. And the 1988 Ford Thunderbird John Kennedy Jr. owned while he was in college also will be in the line-up.
The 1988 Mercedes-Benz sedan Imelda Marcos gave her husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, also is on the market. The car is bulletproof and has a James-Bond-like oil spraying system under its rear bumper and a window-fogging system to restrict view into the vehicle.
Other notable names that will be prominently displayed by sellers include Enrico Carouso (1920 Hudson Super-Six limousine), Liberace (1981 custom-made Zimmer), Sammy Davis Jr. (1972 Stutz Blackhawk), Evel Knievel (1974 Stutz Blackhawk) and Bruce Lee (1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow).
Cars furnished for two popes will be sold -- a 1966 Chrysler Imperial given by the Chrysler Corp. to Pope Paul VI during his visit to the United States, and a 1982 custom-made "Pope Mobile" made for Pope John Paul II's visit to the United Kingdom.
Among several Duesenberg's being sold by Auto Collections is a 1935 supercharged town car described by the sellers as "one of the most impressive in existence."
It was built for Ethel Mars. In 1911 she and her husband, Frank, started the Mars Candy Co., which now makes Snickers, 3Musketeers and M&Ms. Her son, Forrest, retired and moved to Henderson in 1981 and started another candy company, which he named in her honor -- Ethel M Chocolates.
How sweet is that? (The car, not the candy.)