The Bid Goes On: What Happens To Cars That Don’t Sell At Auction

The basics of collector car auctions are pretty well known. Reserve means the seller has set a minimum price; No Reserve means the vehicle will sell for the highest bid, regardless of the amount. But what happens if the reserve isn’t met varies by auction company.

Mecum, for example, moves an unsold car off the block with a “The Bid Goes On” label. But you might ask, what happens after that? At Mecum, those unsold vehicles are marked with a sticker that lists the highest bid and are then moved to a specific location on the auction grounds. In that area, a tent with Mecum representatives can put a potential buyer in touch with the owner.

If you wander that lot and see a car that interests you – say a Camaro that topped out at $35,000 – the Mecum rep can work with you to see if the owner might negotiate for a price between the high bid and the original reserve. If the high bid was $35,000, but the reserve is $50,000 you probably will walk away. But you might get the car for a few thousand more than the high bid.

This ’67 Firebird features a blown 455 and a six-speed manual. It had a top bid of $90,000.

In that case, the seller is happy, you have the car you want and, of course, Mecum still makes its commission.

What you don’t learn watching the auction on television, though, is the difference between the high bid and reserve. Mecum’s website and printed show programs don’t print the reserve, only if the vehicle is a No Reserve sale.

At the recent Mecum auction in Kissimmee, FL, (4,200-plus consigned vehicles) we spent some time in The Bid Goes On field checking out the no-sales. Here’s a look at 12 vehicles that didn’t meet the reserve, along with the high bids.

$38,000 was the top bid for this 1956 Oldsmobile convertible with a 300-horsepower 321-cubic-inch V8 and an automatic transmission.

This ’67 Camaro with a 454 V8 and a five-speed manual topped out at $42,000.

This flamed ’56 Chevy pickup with a 350/350 drivetrain stalled at $40,000.

A green 1969 Camaro Z28 went unsold at $90,000.

This 302-powered 1970 Mustang was a no-sale at $75,000.

A ’69 Camaro SS 350 convertible topped out at $55,000.

Should this 1966 Nova (400/four-speed) have sold at $35,000?

With an LS1 engine and six-speed manual this 1973 Camaro reached a $70,000 bid.

A 1978 El Camino with an automatic transmission and air conditioning went unsold at $25,000.

A four-speed, 283-powered 1966 Nova paused at $40,000.

And just for you high rollers, this 1915 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost survivor didn’t find a new home, even at the bargain price of $610,000.


About the author

Dave Doucette

Dave Doucette is a veteran journalist with an all-things-automotive affliction. He’s owned ’55 and ’56 Chevys, a RA III Firebird convertible and a ’67 Chevy II wagon over the years. His current daily driver is a 1970 El Camino.
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