Dana Mecum was a teenager when he started working in his father's small town Buick/Pontiac dealership in northern Illinois. At 22, Mecum opened his own used car dealership, specializing in Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelles. Then, in 1988, he launched a classic car auction business.
But that business might have appeared doomed from the start. Although none of the 250 cars offered on the grounds of the airport at Rockford, Illinois, was damaged, a tornado struck the airport during the event.
Undaunted -- and needing to raise money to pay off the bills from the weather-stricken inaugural auction -- Mecum came back with a second auction a year later. Finally, a year after that, his third annual sale was a success, and in 2012 Mecum Auctions celebrates its 25th anniversary season.
That celebration began in late January, at Kissimmee, Florida, where Mecum finally achieved a long-time dream of having 2000 vehicles cross the block at a single classic car auction. Impressively, 73 percent of those vehicles were hammered sold, and for a total just short of $60 million.
"We've come a long way from our first official auction at the Rockford Airport in 1988," Mecum has said. "Not being part of the old guard of collector car auctions, we soon developed our own clientele by offering Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelles [as well as the real reason for that first auction, to sell off the 25 classic cars Mecum had acquired in 1987 in a trade for several used tractor-trailer rigs] when the rest of the market was selling Packards and Model A's."
After staging as many as 28 auctions in a single year, Mecum decided to focus on fewer but more significant events. Three years ago, he challenged the big boys by staging an auction during the big classic car celebration in August at Monterey, California. Last year, Mecum held its inaugural event at Dallas. This year, the schedule shows 13 events, including one new venue, Houston, Texas.
Two of those 13 events focus not on classic cars but on collectible vintage farm tractors.
Those tractor sales will be held at Walworth, Wisconsin, where Mecum Auctions is establishing its new headquarters.
Mecum had been based at Rockford or later at his hometown, Marengo, Illinois, but three years ago he purchased a large building just north across the state line at Walworth, Wisconsin. The building formerly housed a grocery, but some $26.5 million has been budgeted to convert the former Spieglehoff's Pick'n Save grocery and grounds into Mecum Auctions' headquarters, complete with a classic car museum and a 1950's-style diner.
Plans also call for a major classic car auction at Walworth beginning in 2013.
Meanwhile, next up for Mecum are a 750-vehicle sale at Kansas City, a 600-car inaugural event at Houston, and the 200-tractor Gone Farmin' spring sale at Walworth.
Then comes the 25th Original Spring Classic Auction, originally held at the Rockford airport but since 2008 staged within the amazing setting of art-deco buildings at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
"We have a heavyweight championship competition going on within our company," said Christine Giovingo, Mecum's media relations coordinator. "The Original Spring Classic is the flagship event, so it has to be bigger than Kissimmee," where Mecum first met his goal of offering 2000 vehicles.
"We already have incredible cars consigned" at Indianapolis, Giovingo said, adding that the auction also will feature a huge Mecum Auctions historical display.
The Indy auction is May 15-20. A month later, June 22-23, comes Mecum's annual all-Corvettes auction at Bloomington Gold in the western Chicago suburb of St. Charles.
There's a sale June 22-23 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and then Mecum celebrates one of his personal passions with the annual Millers at Milwaukee gathering, which is both an auction and a reunion on The Milwaukee Mile race track for vintage Indy racing cars, especially those built by Brickyard legend Harry Miller.
How passionate is Mecum for such vehicles? He has a pair of Miller Indy racers parked inside his new Wisconsin office.
Already consigned to upcoming Mecum events...
Among vehicles consigned to upcoming Mecum Auctions are:
at Houston -- 25 cars from Sterling McCall's "Old Car Museum," including a 1931 Cadillac V12 roadster and 1936 Cadillac V16 sedan, and a 1957 Ford Thunderbird from Amos Minter's collection.
at Indianapolis -- A 1968 AMC Javelin raced at Bonneville by Craig Breedlove; Don Prudhomme's 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am funny car; a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 driven to 158.45 mph at Bonneville by Mickey Thompson.
at Monterey -- 71 motorcycles from Gary Kohs' MV Agusta Collection will be offered as a single lot. The bikes range from a 1946 MV 98 "3 Volocita" racer to a 2007 MV F4 1000/312 Bonneville and include the 1953-54 125 Grand Prix racer that won the Isle of Man TT.
"It is essentially a complete museum exhibit poised for showcasing MV Agusta's mark of excellence that can be displayed in less than 5,000 square feet of space," said Gavin Trippe, Mecum motorcycle division manager, who added that every model of motorcycle, race bike, scooter and agricultural tricycle fro the MV factory is included.
"This is not just a collection of motorcycles, this is a collection of art," said Kohs, who has spent years assembling examples from Count Giovanni Agusta, the so-called Ferrari of the motorcycle world. "I'm thrilled that Dana Mecum and his staff agree that keeping it together as one is so important."
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