Mecum Auctions a payday for some, but entertainment for all

Darick Barnhart of Raymore, Neb., and his 1969 Mustang that he restored and sold at the Mecum Auctions Dec. 4-6 in Kansas City.
Darick Barnhart of Raymore, Neb., and his 1969 Mustang that he restored and sold at the Mecum Auctions Dec. 4-6 in Kansas City.

Two days before his burgundy 1969 Ford Mustang went on the bidding block at the Mecum Auctions at the Kansas City Convention Center, Darick Barnhart talked to potential buyers and car fans.

Barnhart, from Lincoln, Neb., wore a perpetual smile as he spoke to one person after another.

He bought the car a year ago from a friend with the purpose of fixing it up to sell at the Mecum Auctions, which comes twice a year to Kansas City.

In many ways, Barnhart comes to the three-day auction, which ran Dec. 4-6, like an artist ready to sell a painting. He has put in a lot of hours to get the car in shape for sale.

At the auction, he hopes somebody appreciates his work enough to spend $55,000 to $65,000.

Barnhart was able to relax the first day of the auction, but he knew that would change when his car rolled out on the auction floor and the bidding started.

“You have lots of butterflies,” he said. “You are like an artist selling your artwork. You only get this paycheck once or twice a year. By that time, it is paycheck time; you are getting pretty low on money. House payments don’t quit.”

Barnhart received his payday. The Mustang sold Dec. 6 for $50,000.

“When you are putting them together and talking to the people, that is your payoff. That is your game day,” Barnhart said.

“I try to do something so the guy that buys it and drives it to cruise night doesn’t end up with five other ones sitting in the line that look just like his. I like to do stuff that is individualized.”

These types of stories are played out many times over the course of three days of auctioning at Mecum. More than 700 cars were put up for auction from mostly people from the Midwest. Their cars attracted buyers from all over the country.

For car lovers, the Mecum Auctions in Kansas City is a three-day extravaganza. Once the cars go up for bid, there is literally no break for five or more hours. Immediately after the bidding for one car is completed, the bidding for the next one starts.

“This is great. It is like when women go to buy shoes,” said Mike Stokes of Kearney, who was attending his first Mecum Auctions as a spectator. “My knees are shaking.”

For anyone who enjoys looking at all types of cars – ranging from the classics to cars only a few years old and also enjoys the action of people bidding on them – Mecum Auctions is the place to be.

It has definitely grown over the years to the point that part of the auction is now broadcast live on NBC Sports Network.

“I have seen a lot of growth over the years,” Barnhart said. “Dana (Mecum, founder and CEO) used to hold some of them on fairgrounds.”

It is almost nonstop for Mecum. This weekend (Dec. 12-13), Mecum Auctions is in Austin, Texas.

After a break for the holidays, Mecum Auctions will be in Las Vegas Jan. 8-10 where 750 motorcycles will be auctioned.

Following that show, Mecum Auctions will have a massive show in Kissimmee, Fla., where 3,000 cars will be auctioned from Jan. 16-25.

Mecum Auctions returns to Kansas City April 23-25. Ken Dougherty, 56 and from Leavenworth, said he will be back.

Dougherty was only an hour into his first Mecum Auctions on Dec. 4 and was very impressed by what he saw.

“This is great,” Dougherty said. “I am enjoying it. I thought this was for the big guys, but from what I have seen, I could have been in this. I thought it was way out of my range. I will make the next one. I will be ready for the next one.”

That is the beauty of Mecum Auctions. Winning bids on cars range from around $2,000 all the way up to $290,000 for a 2005 Ford GT, which was the top sale of the weekend. A 1969 Chevrolet Camaro that sold for $94,000 was the second-highest amount paid.

“I am fascinated by the whole thing,” Dougherty said.

Doug Michaelis, of Salina, Kan., brought a 1940 Ford Coupe hoping to make $41,000.

“I am in the restoration business, buying and selling some old cars,” Michaelis said. “We usually come to Mecum twice a year with one or two cars.”

Like Barnhart, Michaelis put plenty of hours and money into the car to increase its value. The coupe sold for $31,000.

“It gets to the point of do I make any money or not, or how much do I lose,” Michaelis said and then laughed.

Michaelis didn’t reach the high-end of what he hoped to get, falling about $10,000 short of the goal. Still, the trip to Kansas City for the Mecum Auctions is always enjoyable for him.

“My kids live in Olathe so we get family time with business,” Michaelis said. “I am just a fanatic for cars. I have always been. This is my opportunity to spend time doing what I enjoy doing.

“People are getting into the classics. Another generation is getting older and they want to go back and get their old high school cars that they had. It is what makes the business go around.”

For Stokes, that is one of the interesting things about the Mecum Auctions.

“Another thing that gets me is when some of these cars were brand new, they were $500, $600 and now they are worth $15,000 and $20,000,” Stokes said.

Admiration for the cars from the spectators means a lot to the sellers.

“It makes you feel really good when you are acknowledged for the work you have done,” Barnhart said.