Q: Hi Greg. I was just reading your response to a gentleman from New Jersey about car auctions and high performance cars. Well, you can’t find a bigger auction fan than me as my attraction to cars started back in the 1940s at a car auction.
My parents moved to Odessa, Mo., in 1949 and owned a café there in the 1950s. Every Saturday morning after I finished my café duties, I worked at the local car auction where I rang the “opening bell” to start the auction. I was only 10 years old back then and from 1949 to 1955 if there was a car auction in the Odessa/Bates City area, I was a part of it. I knew right away when I went to my first car auction that my life would be tied to the car as back then they had auctions for the general public. Today, most are big used car auctions for dealers only.
Over my lifetime, my grandfather taught me all the tricks of the trade at the auctions, including cleaning the motors, transmissions and engine bays to make them look like new. As I grew older I started to work at a gas station where I did a lot of tire work. A few years later, I worked myself up to become a service advisor for a Buick dealer in Kansas City, Mo., and then went and worked for Joe Ziem Ford in Farmington, N.M. Later, I worked at Parrish Pontiac-Olds-GMC in Phoenix, and also Cal Worthington Ford in California. I got called back to Kansas City where I took a job as Service Manager for Crossley Ford in Liberty, Mo.
But back to your columns!
I always felt the Flathead Ford V8s looked the best in the pre-1954 Ford/Lincoln/Mercury cars, while the Chevy small-block V8, introduced in 1955, was a great engine that took well to being dressed up. As for those Chevy 348 and then the 409 “W” head engines, they would blow off a good quart of oil when you drove at 75-mph for 10 or more miles but they were so fast it was unbelievable. Also, those Olds 442s you have written about in the past I feel were some of the best looking muscle cars of all time. As for the coolest of muscle cars, I give my vote to the Yenko Camaros, which as you explained were COPO (Central Office Production Order) specials that offered the 427 V8 power in the 1968 and 1969 Camaro. Yenko also had other performance cars, from Corvair to Nova. But the Yenko Camaro was my favorite.
Thanks for letting me tell my story of how I became a car lover that all started with the used car auctions and then working at the dealers during my car career. Yours truly, Dick Mansfield, still a car fanatic from Kansas City, Mo.
A: Dick thanks for your hand written letter and all of the great memories you have that revolve around the car business. As you mention, there weren’t that many car auctions back in the 1940s, but today it has become a huge business. I’m lucky that where I live, there is a highly respected and still growing car auction called “State Line” located just three miles from my house in Sayre, Pa. in the town of Waverly, N.Y.
State Line Auto Auction, Inc., founded in 1981, reminds me of similar growth experienced by one of the largest auctions in the country, namely Manheim Auto Auction, which is located not far from Lancaster, Pa. I know the auctions you rang the bell at were tiny compared to today, but they laid the groundwork for what has become an important ingredient of the used car business. Also, today’s auctions like State Line and Manheim offer special classic car days, proving the collector car business is getting stronger every year as a profitable business option for new and used car dealers.
In ending, you indeed recall the best of “car times” detailing the Flatheads, small and big block Chevys and the Olds 442s from the best eras in performance auto history. As for those Pennsylvania-based Yenko Camaros, they joined other famous COPO dealers like Baldwin-Motion (New York) and Nickey (Chicago) and Dana (California) in the late 1960s providing specially built and/or ordered muscle cars. Today these COPO muscle cars are worth six figures, and I also give a tip of the hat to Tasca Ford in Connecticut and Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge, Chicago, for their efforts in building and selling COPO style muscle cars, too. (Tasca built the first ever 406 and then 427 Fairlane Thunderbolt while Mr. Norm was noted for his exclusive 440 V8 GSS Dodge Darts).
Have a great holiday season, Dick, and thanks for being a regular Collector Car Corner reader.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader comments or questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia or old-time racing at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org).