You’ve been dreaming about collecting cars for most of your life, and you’re finally ready to start. What you’ll soon discover is that there are only a few ways to build a collection of collector vehicles. You can study classified ads and subscribe to auto sales websites, you can poke around the local car lots, or you can attend one or more of the popular collector and classic car auctions in the USA.
What you need to know from day one of your buying journey is that the collector and classic car auctions in the USA are not all of the same calibers. If you simply search for car auctions, you’ll likely run up against search results that include closed auctions that are only open to authorized dealers, local public auto auctions, and government auctions. While you can get deals on vehicles at these types of car auctions, you’re probably not going to end up finding any hidden gems.
The most popular collector auctions are actually very different from the typically used car auctions in the USA. The high-profile collector car auctions we describe below are not where you’ll go to find a practical family vehicle. These auctions are for serious collectors, and each event will include hundreds or even thousands of rare and classic cars. Most of the time, thorough information about the valuable vehicles on the block is compiled by in-house experts and published well in advance so buyers know exactly what they’re bidding on.
Collector and classic car auctions are about more than the sale
Unlike many other types of car auctions in the USA, collector and classic car auctions are ticketed events where you’ll not only see amazing vehicles but also have the opportunity to network with other enthusiasts. The most popular collector and classic car auctions in the USA are hotbeds of automotive culture. The people in attendance may or may not be there to actually bid on the vehicles on the block, but what they all have in common is a passion for unique, antique, rare, and otherwise valuable cars.
Most high-end auctions are celebrations of the total automotive lifestyle. There may be exhibitors, memorabilia for sale, speakers, other entertainment, and more. Even if you’re not in a place to throw down the kind of money that’s routinely spent at these types of auctions, just being at the auction, surrounded by other enthusiasts, is usually worth the price of admission.
These are the must-attend car auctions in the USA
If you’ve never attended any collector or classic auctions before, it makes sense to start with the biggest car auctions and the best car auctions in the USA. What follows are the auctions that serious collectors and mega fans of specialty vehicles make a point of attending.
Barrett-Jackson‘s world-class collector car auctions have attracted enthusiasts from around the country for nearly five decades. These auctions give buyers access to thousands of the most beautiful and most sought-after vehicles ever produced. Barrett-Jackson hosts The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions in Palm Beach, Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Scottsdale, Arizona. They often live stream these events right on their website. That said, even though you can watch remotely, attending one of these auctions — which include symposiums, celebrity appearances, test rides, and more — should absolutely be on your bucket list.
Gooding & Company
Gooding & Company is a leading automotive auction house that specializes in antique cars, classic cars, and racing cars. Each year, it holds three distinguished auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona; Amelia Island, Florida; and Pebble Beach, California where beautiful vehicles from prestigious collections, estate sales, and other sources are presented for sale. This auction house stands apart for its commitment to only putting the finest vehicles from a few categories on the block. The auctions themselves are vibrant, with record-breaking sale prices, and if you can’t attend, you can still tune in via the live Gooding & Company HD webcast.
While not an exclusive purveyor of automobiles, the Bonhams Motoring department does bill itself as the largest auction house hosting sales of classic vehicles, motorcycles, and related memorabilia. These auctions are typically held in conjunction with world-renowned automobile enthusiast events in fabulous locales. What buyers like about Bonhams auctions is the company’s reputation for its connoisseurship and its reach. While British Bonhams does have offices in the United States and hosts car auctions in the USA, its automotive experts are able to source its auction inventory from around the world so you can find vehicles at these auctions you won’t see anywhere else.
The Mecum Auction Company
For roughly three decades, The Mecum Auction Company has been a leader in classic and collector car auctions, hosting events throughout the US and offering more than 20,000 cars for sale each year. The goal of this family-run auction house has always been to offer an amazing auction experience that brings together car connoisseurs and to help people find the vehicles of their dreams. It is currently ranked number one in the world for the sheer volume of vehicles it sells and number one in the United States for the number of auctions it hosts each year. One of these is the world’s largest collector car auction, which is held annually in Kissimmee, Florida.
RM Auctions formally partnered with Sotheby’s in 2015 to become RM Sotheby’s, an auction house whose goal is to elevate the perception of classic and collector car auctions by offering only blue-chip, investment-quality vehicles. This company’s auctions are more than just a place to buy cars. RM Sotheby’s is the official collector car auction house for Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, and other high-end manufacturers, and collaborates on important car events like the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, Luftgekühlt, California Mille, Colorado Grand, and Formula 1.
Whether you’re looking for rare prewar vehicles, vintage European racers or mint condition American muscle cars, Worldwide Auctioneers is a great place to start. One thing that sets this auction house apart from others is that its owners are also chief auctioneers and automobile specialists, so the inventory on offer has been expertly curated and buyers can be sure that the investment they are making is a sound one. Worldwide Auctioneers may be smaller than some of the other houses mentioned above, but the company’s philosophy emphasizes quality over volume. They work to give sellers and buyers a relaxed, fun, and above all personal experience that is very different from the larger collector car auctions in the USA. There are elegant preview receptions, personal inspections, and even opportunities to test drive vehicles before auctions.
What you need to know before going to a collector car auction
Classic and collector car auctions can be fun and thrilling, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you’re new to these types of events. Here’s what you need to know before you go to have the best possible experience.
If you can pre-register to bid, do it
Waiting until auction day to register to bid may mean you end up spending a long time in line waiting to fill out the necessary paperwork. Many classic and collector car auctions in the USA let buyers register in advance online. Do your paperwork online before the auction, and you’ll get to spend more time checking out the cars.
Research the cars you’re interested in ahead of time
As noted above, the best car auctions publish lots of information about the cars that will go up on the block. You might think you know everything there is to know about your dream vehicle, but have you ever researched what it’s like to actually own one? This is a good time to look into whether the car or cars you love are easy to care for or tend to give their owners lots of problems. If you discover that the latter is true, consider whether another make or model would be a better investment.
Know how you’ll transport your car if you win
Winning a collector or classic car auction is only the first step. Remember, you’ll need to be able to get your vehicle home if yours is the winning bid. At Montway, we have more than a decade of experience handling classic, luxury, rare, exotic, and collector cars for enthusiasts whose collections include vehicles of the highest caliber. We offer expedited car shipping so your auction purchase will be picked up quickly and enclosed auto transport so you have the peace of mind of knowing that your vehicle will be well protected from the road. All you need to do is a hand off the keys.
Get an insurance quote in advance
If you have your eye on a specific classic or collector car, get a quote from your insurance company before the auction. That way, the specialty vehicle you win at auction will be covered as soon as you’ve finalized the purchase. While your car will be insured by your auto transporter during shipment, it’s a good idea to have your own coverage in place, as well.
Plan to stay until the end of the auction
Sometimes the best deals happen at the very end of the auction. This isn’t always the case, but the crowd will typically have thinned out quite a bit by the end of the auction. Fewer bidders mean you have a better chance of winning with a lower bid.
Add the fees to your bid
When you’re calculating how much you can spend at an auto auction, don’t forget to factor in the fees charged by the auction house (often 10%), any federal, state, and local taxes you’ll need to pay on the purchase, the cost of auto transport, and insurance fees. Otherwise, you could end up paying more than you’re comfortable with at the end of the day.
Remember that auctions aren’t over until they’re over
The photos and descriptions in the auction catalog are designed to inspire feelings of desire that push bidders over the edge once auction day rolls around. Just remember that you’re not the only one reading the catalog. It’s never a good idea to fall deeply in love with a particular car until after you’ve actually won the auction.
Attending classic and collector car auctions in the USA can be one of the best ways to find your dream car or to start building an epic collection. Whether you plan to purchase one special vehicle or you’re looking to fill your garage, Montway can streamline the process of getting your winning lots back home.
When you’re ready to ship your newly-purchased classic or collector car, contact us for a free shipping quote. We make it easy to safely ship valuable vehicles on a schedule that works for you.