By on February 19, 2012

It’s that time of year again. Tax season always results in a wave of frenzy for good cars at the auctions. This Thursday evening I voyaged down to a public sale where bargain hunting folks with tax refunds commiserated with dealers and wholesalers.

The returns were beyond the imagination.

How does a 2000 Nissan Quest with 129k strike for $2900 strike you? Decent price? Ok. What if it had a salvage title, a dead dash, the smell of dog dander and a tailpipe spewing the remnants of a failing head gasket. I take it this would be a $500 deal at best for most folks. Not tonight. $2900.

Well let’s walk on down to some of the better stuff at the sale. A 1998 Lexus LS400 with 112k miles. Murilee Martin’s ride less the Coach trim. Great shape. Beautiful inside and out. I didn’t have a chance to put it on the highway. But I did like what I saw.

Unfortunately so did a LOT of other people. The bidding kept going on and on. 4k turned to 5k, which got vaulted past 6 and pirouetted by 7. The final price… $7100 plus $200 auction fee. That was steep in my book.

Other interesting buys were…

1999 Toyota Land Cruiser, 211k, $7300

1999 Cadillac Deville, $115k, $2950

1993 Honda Civic, 42k, $2000 (I bought it)

and the ultimate creme de la creme… 1998 BMW M3 convertible 18k original miles. This one went through another sale earlier in the week. But I couldn’t help to mention it here. $15,000. Un – be – leave – able.

There is an interesting sidebar to all of this though. The lemons of the auctions are not following the same beat. I am seeing massive numbers of vehicles that were hoarded by dealers and are now trying to be dumped at the sales. No one is buying them. Then again when the price is right in between retail and delusional, I can hardly blame them.

Oh, before I forget. That picture of a 1983 Olds Cutlass Supreme on the very top and the above interior? It’s an original alright. 49,209 original miles and an interior that is as undisturbed as a leftover 1989 Buick Reatta at a Buick-Olds dealership circa 1991.  It went for $4000 (plus $200 fee) which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that it’s hard to get folks to spend more than $5k for a middling 29 year old ride with a bland color and low-level trim.

Hopefully the buyer plans to keep it. Like it or not, I’m sure whoever bought it will soon find out that they’re married to it.

 

 

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67 Comments on “Auction Sunday: No Frugality, Just Brutality...”


  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I guess the moral is dealers bid the prices up to silly levels, so a guy would be better off looking for a car from a private party?

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      The problem with that is a lot of private sellers go the private sale route because they have delusional ideas about what their vehicle is worth. I had a customer recently who has a 13 year old F-150 with just under 200,000 miles. It’s mechanically good, the A/C works, and has a clear accident history, but it’s also been used as a truck for over a decade and has the scratches and dings to prove it. It’s a $2,500 – $3,500 truck all day, and the guy is convinced it’s worth $9,000.

      • 0 avatar
        ptschett

        I’d like to try whatever substance this customer is using. I recently stumbled across a 5-year-old Dodge Ram 1500 (4×4, Quad Cab, Hemi) with 225,000 miles and a mirror-dangling tag marked with $9,900 at a local dealer, and I thought they were nuts.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      It seems like the used car market has brought trade in values to a point where there aren’t as many nice late model cars for sale from private parties. The usual scenario was for someone to go to trade in their nice used car only to have the dealer offer them a fraction of what they anticipated, and often still owed. With prices up, not many of the cars worth buying used go upside down on their loans. Many of them never actually even belong to a private party, as they’re leased. Even two years ago, I used to pass a corner where the wealthy tried to unload their luxury cars after getting insulting trade in offers. The prices were still very tempting, and the inventory of cars with hand lettered for-sale signs changed regularly. Now, with leasing and exporting dominating the new and used luxury car markets, there are rarely any late model premium cars parked there when I ride by.

      • 0 avatar
        econobiker

        “It seems like the used car market has brought trade in values to a point where there aren’t as many nice late model cars for sale from private parties.”

        Lack of ~easy~ credit requiring a fast sale and people keeping their cars due to the bad economy has contributed to this

    • 0 avatar
      beefmalone

      Not necessarily…especially when the private party is upside down in the car or just paid off a $30k loan and doesn’t want to admit what a bath he’s taken in depreciation.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      This was during the era of GM’s decline, which didn’t pick up true pace until the 80s.

      The glorious cutlass of the early 70’s by contrast:

      http://media.photobucket.com/image/recent/MikeNSX22/IMG_0254.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        Actually, the decline did not start until CAFE mandated vehicles that consumers did not want. No doubt, GM fumbled some of the new technologies rolled out as well, cementing a rep for poor quality.

        Oldsmobile sold a million cars a year from ’73-’86, a feat matched by only a couple lower priced brands. No company manages a million cars a year in America today, though there are many more players plus 50% share is taken by trucks.

        The Cutlass of the 70’s was much cooler, but the sales of the first wave of CAFE downsized Cutlass was much higher than than in the early ’70’s.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    the cutlass will be donked out

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    sounds like the auction buyers are left with the bag on several of those winners.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    That would be a decent price for that Cutlass ($4000) if it was tax title and out the door from a dealership but for a dealer to pay that he’s some kind of delusional. Got to ask though did it have the V6 or the V8? If it was the V6 then the buyer is 10 kinds of delusional.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      It was a V6. The buyer may try to give it custom rims and sell it in the city. But I doubt it will have any takers.

      I would have figured the Ebay price for it would be around $3500…. maybe $4000 if you prominently mention the lack of rust and the one owner.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      @Ed.Dan: You were the first guy I thought of when I saw that Olds!Those were still nice cars at the time, among the best GM had to offer.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      I’d hit that Cutlass. It looks clean and would make a nice candidate for:

      LS3/LSA/Junkyard LS engine+manual swap
      Turbo 3800 (the Aussie one) or 3.9
      Whatever your imagination is up to. I’d see a 5.0 Mustang engine inside that thing too.

      The beefed up V8 mechanical stuff and a proper suspension/brakes can be bought from the aftermarket and someone must sell the bits to make it look like a 442. Some more money would get you billet repro 17″ Olds rally wheels and a nice paint job. Done. No sound system needed for me.

      If it were an 89 9C1 or 94-96 Caprice I’d hit it too.

      @EdDan: man swapping a SBC in there can be done up there with the eyes closed. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a V6

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Yeah but I don’t want to pay that price for the clean rust free body. $3,000 for a car that I’m going to ditch the engine and trans on and then I’d think about it.

      • 0 avatar
        Styles79

        @Athos: “Turbo 3800 (the Aussie one)” Not sure I’m following you there…. no GM Turbo 3800 in Aus as far as I can recall. Do you perhaps mean the supercharged 3800?

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        @Styles79 The 3800 down here got a different intake manifold that allows for a RWD installation. Swap that in and then turbo it.

        I just remembered that some 4th gen F-bodies also got a 3800.

      • 0 avatar
        LeadHead

        If that Cutlass is a V6, it already has a RWD 3800. The Cutlass’s cousin, the Buick Real (they both shared the same platform) even had an EFI Turbo 3.8 straight from the factory, and the Regal GNX had that engine cranking in excess of 280HP.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    Steve, Steve, Steve…That Cutty is GANGSTA. That is thee most coveted car in the hood. The only thing better would have been if it had the ultra desirable ’87 front end.
    This car will end up on a buy here pay here lot, donked out on 22’s, maybe get the AC working, and the interior shampooed, and it will bring double the purchase price.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Only the Quest and the Cadillac sound ridiculous to me. $2,000 for a 42K mile Civic? Was it on a salvage title? I knew someone who picked up a Quest at auction in 2003. It had 60,000 miles, a dented and scraped left rear fender, a VCR/TV for the back seats, and she paid less than $6K for it. No nasty surprises, and it was only 3 or 4 years old.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    These Cutlasses were the official frat boy/girl car whe I was at Ole Miss in the early ’80’s.

    They were junk then; they’re junk now.

    • 0 avatar
      motorrad

      HAHA….I was at Ole Miss from 85-89 and by that time the BMW 318i and later the 325 had taken over that title…..good times

    • 0 avatar
      Wally Vance

      Hey, I was at Ole Miss from 61-64 and I really did not notice what anyone was driving. I was driving the car in my avatar picture.

    • 0 avatar
      checksum1

      I still miss my ’85. Only problem with it is with the 231, you were saddled with the TH-200C. Now that is a pile of a trans…I was on my 3rd, in 180,000 miles. Never had a lick of trouble with the Buick 6 though.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        You were one of the lucky ones to get that many miles from the 231. Buick 231 and 350-455 engines had a screwed up oiling system which was so bad that companies like TA performance and Poston now make redesigned timing covers with and improved oil pump design for these engines.
        The factory setup used a steel gear in the oil pump that rubbed against the soft aluminum timing cover, causing it to wear and reducing oil pressure as the wear progressed. Many of the aforementioned engines suffered catastrophic failures as a result.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Those are crazy prices, especially the Quest and M3. I used to favor buying used, but these stories are discouraging.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The M3 has 18,000 miles though. I’ve learned the hardship of long-term E36 ownership, but there’s bound to be someone who thinks of it as halfway to being a collectible like an E30 M3. A clean 18,000 mile 1988 would bring $40K in a weekend. While you and I may know that the US E36 was produced in great numbers and was far less special than the E30, I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a retail customer who will pay more than $15K for one with such low mileage.

  • avatar
    confused1096

    Liked the Cutlass. I had a top trim level ’84 (T-tops even) as my first car so I’ve still got a soft spot for ’em.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The used car market is still showing signs of stress.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I remember back when those cutlasses were new the main people that bought them were the elderly and alot of fat women also drove them.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Maybe that was (somewhat) true of the Olds, but at that time, a young, just-out-of-college co-worker bought a brand-new, factory-ordered 1981 Poncho Grand Prix, complete with T-tops. I got to drive it once – sure beat my 1981 Reliant to death! I was very envious, too. Eventually it was stolen. When he got it back, it was minus the T-tops…He sold it soon after.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      The grandmaw – bought new, stored in a garage since new, estate sale-connection is why the one in the auction was still in such good condition.

      These were beating the market even in the mid-1990s when I sold my grandmother’s ’79 for a quick $1500- probably could have gotten $2500 based on the noodle-heads who filled up my phone answering machine but needed to move it fast for a deposit on a new pickup.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      @Moparman236W- Actually Cutlass was the number one seller for at least a decade, accounting for 1 in 4 midsize sales while Oldsmobile held over 10% of the total market. I recall the excitement when we caught Ford some 10 day periods. The numbers were posted weekly outside the elevators to the executive suites on the 5th floor. Ford was low cost with twice as many dealers. Olds sold more per outlet than any other brand, some years, and we had 3,000 dealers to Toyota’s 700-800 or so. Times were very, very good. Cutlass was more like Camry and Accord combined, today. We sold 1/2M Cutlass Supreme coupes in some of the late ’70’s, and typically over 500,000 Cutlasses every year in a smaller market. Olds had 3 of the top 10 selling vehicles in the country: #1-Cutlass Supreme, #2- Cutlass Ciera, and also on the top 10 list, the Delta 88. In 1980, we sold more diesels than Buick Division’s total sales. It was a shame, they weren’t ready and are a glaring example of the product excecution fumbles that plaqued GM for many years. By the time Olds got the diesel right, the ’85 Model year, it was too late. Thankfully, they still had almost a million satisfied customers that year, and still sold a million in ’86. The FWD revolution, more execution fumbles and the implementation of the ’84 CPC/BOC reorg hit and the long slide to oblivion began. Sometime around the release of this G body Cutlass, I remember my biggest dealer bemoaning the new Cutlass listing for $1,500 more than the Monte Carlo and wondering how he would sell them. Bear in mind, that was around $5,500 versus $4,000. Still we sold as many as we could build.

      Sorry for the long story, I suppose those interested will read, others will just refute, and, hopefully, those who don’t like it will just ignore it.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        Dr.Olds you are correct, I do remember the cutlass being the best selling car. But the Oldsmobile division overall did have a reputation of being an older person’s car. Even the strong running 442 of the late 60’s to early 70’s was mainly bought by guys in their 40’s-50’s, you didn’t see many younger people with them.
        I remember olds coming out with the commercials trying to change their image in the 80’s “this is not your father’s oldsmobile.” I have read that it did more harm than good because they angered many of their traditional customers and they switched to buicks and such.
        I always thought the 66-69 Tornado was a cool car. There is a guy up the street that owns a 67, he bought it new. He drove it to work every day until about 20 years ago when he retired, but he always kept it in the garage and drove a beater during the winter. It still has the original paint but it’s flaking off in places. He’s a crazy old guy from WVA, and he used to threaten to shoot kids for getting on his lawn. Everyone in the neighborhod
        always referred to him as “old man Meador.” I talk to him sometimes when he’s outside, he’s not that bad if he likes you.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @Moparman426W- I have to agree with you. Olds did appeal to older folks, it went with being a bit more expensive. Cutlass had pretty broad appeal though. By the late ’80’s I recall a Dealer friend saying his typical Olds customers were “last time” buyers. Olds\'”not your fathers…” ad campaign was an attempt to attract a younger buyer, much as the “Youngmobiles from Oldsmobile” campaign had sparked the new Cutlass in ’68 and into the 70’s. That campaign may have backfired, but Olds did attract a younger demographic bringing the average buyer’s age down from 60 something to 53, if memory serves. An improved lineup helped and came just in time to have the plug pulled on the division in the early 2000’s!

  • avatar
    manu06

    Man, who knew there were two Ole Miss alums posting here ? The cutlass was a big car among the
    frat boys from the Delta until about ’85 then BMW took over. But damn, those Ole Miss women were
    amazing

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    That Civic is a sweet driving car, no matter what. Can easily run another 100k miles, at $4K that’d be $1k/25k miles. I could live with that.

    Beemer – sure, why not…at retail level.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    No wonder eBay, autotrader and others online are in business. Crazy high prices for sure. But they are southern cars.

    • 0 avatar
      tallnikita

      Haven’t looked too hard but never really saw a great deal on ebay. Back when…bought few things but today you end up paying more than retail if you’re not watching the numbers. Buying car sight unseen is just nuts anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      Yeah, thought that about Southern cars also. No salt/chloride to deal with nor the suspension punishing crappy roads to deal with…

  • avatar
    Joss

    So the Cutts reborn for the underworld like the Rover P6 V8? Back in the day I experienced a rental Grand Prix – man could that move…

  • avatar
    fiasco

    If a V6 Cutlass is worth four grand, my friend’s 83 Hurst/Olds with the 400 or so inch Olds engine and dual quads must be worth second prize in the Mega Millions lottery!

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      People don’t build the olds 400 for performance because of the simple fact that it’s hamstrung with the smallest bore of any big block, at a tiny 3.870 inches. Slightly smaller than a 283 chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      The stock ’83 HO engine was a 307CI V8. It made less HP than today’s naturally aspirated DI 4 cylinders! Of course, so did the 350CI Corvette in the bad old days!

      Olds had two different 400CI engines based on the tall deck block. The ’65-’66 was square-4″bore and 4″ stroke, because it shares the crank (and stroke) with the 425CI engine of the time, which had a 4.125″ bore. That early 400 is a pretty good performance engine, as far as Olds cylinder heads can take you! The 425CI probably has the most power potential because it can rev higher with its shorter stroke, compared to the 455. Edelbrock aluminum heads really wake all of them up.

      The ’68-’69 400CI shared the 4.250″ stroke with the 455CI, and as Mopar426man says, does not provide much performance potential with its small bore.

      The Olds 403CI is completely different, a short deck engine, sharing crank and stroke with 260CI,307CI,330CI and 350CI. The 403CI has a huge bore, and no water jacket between cylinders. It is about the largest bore of any OE V8, a great oversquare design, but was not recommended for police use because of detonation concerns in pursuit use. The 260 V8, conversely, had the smallest bore of any V8. Both engines are identical externally.
      The best Olds street engine is probably the 455CI, though you can make as much power with the Olds 350CI, if you build it to rev. You get a lot more bang for the buck switching to a Chevy engine.

      Our studies in GM Powertrain showed that HP capability is pretty much directly related to bore diameter, regardless of displacement. Bore diameter limits the size valves which can be used. HP is flow, and the same bore engine with a shorter stroke has as much power potential, but at higher RPM.

      On the other hand, Torque is pretty directly related to displacement. Thats why a big inch engine is better for the street. You don’t have to rev it as high to get power.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        I didn’t know they built 2 different 400’s. My mistake, sry about that, Fiasco. Are they rare? I have never seen one, most people opt for the 403 which has the nice big bore. Not only does a bigger bore allow bigger valves, but it also unshrouds them for easier airflow into and out of the valve.
        This was the reason small displacement chevy racers shunned the 305, because it couldn’t breathe due to the small bore. The reason the ford 302 can be made into a real screamer is because of the large (for it’s displacement) 4 inch bore.

      • 0 avatar
        doctor olds

        @Moparman426W- No worries! No apologies necessary. I started with Olds myself in ’69, but was the car nut son of an Olds product engineer since 1961. It stands to reason I would know the nuances of Olds engines. Olds did not have great sales success with 442, especially in the first version. I would guess production was 30,000 or less a year in ’65-’66. I scrounged an even rarer manual trans (pilot beearing bore provisions machined in crank) short stroke 400 with a freeze cracked block and built a 425CI with it. Olds didn’t really get cooking until ’73 or so, with a hot streak lasting til ’86.
        btw- We had a pushrod, 4 valve per cylinder 455 V8 that got as far as an RPO, W43, before it was cancelled. The thing overheated the dynos first time it was tested! Rumors were in the 600HP range. Valve train was similar to a Hemi, but with each pushrod actuating a forked rocker arm to open two valves. Pushrod angle caused such high side loading on the lifters that the lifter bore would wear, despite Olds’ high nickel blocks. Relocating the Cam in the block could have solved it, but would have been very, very expensive to tool. It would have been a $3000 option on a 442 with list price of about $3,500. Moving the cam would have made the RPO on the order of twice as much to cover tooling costs!
        I have to give kudos to Chrysle, btw. An engine builder friend of mine put a 572″ wedge for Magic Johnson’s dad, who lived just down the street from him. I remember power and torque in the 700 range for that engine! Very impressive output.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        Olds engines were probably the most reliable V8’s made by GM. They didn’t have the soft blocks like the chevies, among other issues. The buicks had the horrendous oiling system and pontiacs suffered from bottom end troubles because they used cast iron connecting rods with the exception of the rare 73-74 super duty.
        The olds engines didn’t really have any built in flaws. The only reason chevy engines are cheaper and easier to make power with is because of the fact that alot more people use them, which drives down the cost of parts and more development is done on them. An olds engine may cost more to build than a chevy but it will last longer.

  • avatar
    pb35

    My Dad was a used car salesman back in the 80’s when I got my license. He used to bring home a different car every few days for me to “evaluate.” We had a bunch of these in every variety; Cutlass, Monte, Regal and GP.

    I still remember those flat seats and trying to get the wheels to spin. In the rain.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    Maybe I ought to go ahead and put my 98 3.2TL up for sale now then wait till fall. Except I can’t do financing and probably wouldn’t get as much out of it.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Wow, that Cutlass brings back memories! The car business was fun when we sold every one we could build! I drove quite a few of them over the years, though the Olds 260 V8 was no ball of fire!

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    The Land Cruiser stood out to me as well. I know they have a reputation for durability, but is someone really going to pay $8k or more for a vehicle with 211k miles?

    • 0 avatar
      PintoFan

      I was on ebay recently and saw a listing for an 07 Camry Hybrid with north of 200k miles, being sold by a Toyota dealer. The asking price was around twelve grand. I couldn’t envision who would possibly think that was a deal.

    • 0 avatar
      84Cressida

      Land Cruisers, Hiluxes, Tacos, 4Runners, basically any Toyota truck, even with high mileage have insane resale value. I’ve seen a ’91 Hilux, 2WD regular cab, vinyl seating, no luxury or comforts to speak of with 455,000 miles fetch over $3K. And yes, people do pay those prices. And they’re worth it.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    It’s been many years since I’ve been to the auctions. But if memory serves, there were few bargains to be had EXCEPT the old oddball cars. I saw a BMW CS 3.0 go for a very low price at an auction back in the 90’s.

  • avatar
    twotenths

    Any opinions on what the tight used market has done to the margins of the used dealers? Have they been able to pass on similar mark-ups, either in dollar terms, or in percentage terms? I’d assume that volumes would be up.

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    The price for that Cutlass isn’t out of line. G-bodies are an appreciating commodity, even the lower-trim cars.

  • avatar
    itsgotvtak

    Steven- Can you tell us more about that civic? Body, trim, trans? That seems wicked low for even a 4dr dx auto. If it was a manual EH of any variety I would have left a trail of bodies in my rush to own it at (almost) any cost. It’s at a point where guys are paying almost the same number on stock cars as they would on swapped/modified cars because so much of the work is of dubious quality and it’s ultimately cheaper to do it yourself and do it right than in is to fix somebody else’ hack job. People are asking the moon but are actually getting 3500-4000 for stock, no rust hatchbacks, it’s out of control.

    As for the number on that M3… I’ve seen a couple of tastefully and correctly modified coupes get 10k with a 100 clicks or more but that’s generally within an enthusiast community that values quality modifications… I don’t know if I see 15k on a low mileage convertible but it doesn’t really make my eyes pop out. It would be a tough sell on a retail lot but I could understand an enthusiast seeing value there. That said, it would probably be less expensive to find a higher mileage car for a fraction of the price and spend some money getting it up to spec.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Nissan Quests/Merc Villagers are a favorite of Latino familes/workers. They seem to be the only 90’s minivans still running. I see many former top of the line Villager Nauticas/Eddie Bauers used for contracting too.

    And Cutlasses were hugely popular with Baby Boomers in the 70’s, before the Accord took its place as that Gen’s ‘iconic car’.

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