AUBURN – Jack Wilhite of Warsaw owns a 1973 Chevy Nova just like he had in high school, but it's only part of the reason he was walking through the Auburn Fall Auction on Saturday.
“We just enjoy the auction and looking at all the cars,” his wife, Theresa Wilhite, explained for him.
Celebrities, the wealthy and the not-so-rich have brushed shoulders at the Auburn Auction Park, where over the years a dual-ring auction block has witnessed thousands of cars roll through, going to the highest bidder.
Saturday was no different, but times have changed, and so have sales methods. Up on the screen, bids resemble a foreign exchange with car prices flashing in U.S. dollars, Canadian dollars, European euros and British pounds as the bids come in and the auctioneer fast talks his sales pitch.
Buyers make their bids on the internet, over the phone, absentee and on-site. People came to the auction from 29 countries and 48 states, said Kate Clendenning, spokeswoman for RM Auctions/Sotheby's, the Canadian-based auction owners for 11 years.
“We just had a helicopter land,” John Zimmerman of Auburn, working security, said. “I don't know where they're from.” Others arrive in Lear Jets at the DeKalb County Airport, he added.
This year more than 500 vehicles went on auction including six separate private collections with vehicle prices ranging from $5,000 to $400,000, Clendenning said. The oldest car was a 1905 Cadillac Model S and the newest, a 2018 Dodge Challenger.
“At the auction, we kind of sell everything and anything,” Clendenning said, “but it's always a good quality or history.” The auction began Thursday and continues today with memorabilia. It also includes six Cushman scooters from the Hague Collection.
Over the loudspeaker, one of the draws this year was a 1994 Chevy driven by NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon that sold for $200,000.
Keith Balliet of Avilla, a retired toolmaker, sat in the stands and watched a shiny red 1957 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible sell for $48,000.
“I just came up because it might be the last one,” Balliet said.
Clendenning said an in-house decision on the future of the car auction has not been made.
Proposed in documents filed in July with Auburn development officials are renovating an existing auction building for indoor basketball courts and creating one indoor and four outdoor soccer fields and eight baseball diamonds on the auction park property.
The Wilhites were heading back to their campsite at Chain O' Lakes State Park after making a day of the auction with their son, Lance Wilhite, who is building a 1964 Ford Galaxie and a friend they met, Jeremy Joslin, of Fort Wayne.
“I like all the cars,” Lance Wilhite said when asked about his favorite. “No one really stands out.” And yet, all of them had to admit a 1939 Rolls-Royce convertible was pretty spectacular.