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Gavel flies on muscle car auction

May 19, 2010

In few places—other than perhaps a license branch or a cemetery—do the extremes of society briefly share the same coordinates as at a Mecum muscle car auction.

Its annual Original Spring Classic Auction began Wednesday morning at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and runs through Sunday.

Among the cars up for bid by Marengo, Ill.-based Mecum Auction Co. on Wednesday is a 1979 Ferrari 308 GTB.  Behold the sentimental bidder in Gucci gear who fondly drove one while in his freshman year at Yale.

On the other extreme is the 1979 Plymouth Volare station wagon, which will roll (or be pushed) across the carpet Sunday.  With just 61,589 miles and formerly “lady-owned,” it still has lots of life left in it to haul beer kegs or for use in southern Indiana courting rituals.

Also among the 1,750 vehicles looking for a new home are 70 muscle cars owned by local car dealer Ray Skillman, who has a 175-vehicle collection in a 65,000-square-foot building behind his Greenwood Ford store.

Skillman frequently is seen grinning ear-to-ear at Mecum auctions around the country, which are regularly broadcast on HD Theater. Folks who don’t have HDTV on cable or satellite can watch an hour of the auction Saturday starting at 2 p.m on the Discovery Channel.

And those who don’t have cable can come to the auction in person to bid on the Volare—or a battered, primer-covered 1973 Chevy El Camino made famous in the NBC TV series "My Name is Earl."

Mecum is projecting attendance will hit 30,000 during the five-day event, and sales are expected to be in the range of $40 million to $50 million.

The auction company moved its largest annual event to Indianapolis from Illinois in 2008.

“Moving to Indianapolis has catapulted it” in popularity, said Marketing Manager Tom Christmann.

Part of the auction's appeal has been its wide variety of bidders, from sentimental baby boomers to hard-core collectors. Skillman is among the latter group, saying the Mecum auctions “help me adjust my collection.”

Among Skillman’s cars to be auctioned are a 1970 Hemi Cuda with less than 35,000 miles, and a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 Ram Air 428 Cobra Jet, which was one of 28 built. Skillman, a pal of Mecum CEO Dana Mecum, will be in a buying mode as well.

Some of the cars at the auction come from the vaults of Cinema Vehicle Services in North Hollywood, Calif.  They include the "My Name is Earl" El Camino and a race car built for the 1970s TV series "Charlie’s Angels."

Also to be auctioned is a 1934 Chevrolet street rod of the late NASCAR driver Kenny Irwin Jr. Proceeds will benefit the Kenny Irwin Jr. Foundation and its Dare to Dream Camp for underprivileged children in New Castle.

 Indianapolis-based Lingner Group Productions is producing the auction for broadcast on HD Theater on the Discovery Channel.

 The auction runs through Sunday, with a $15 general admission.

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