As readers and fans of MotorTrend Group’s digital content, we hope you’re enjoying the mini-features that editors are producing about vehicles being sold at Mecum Auctions events held throughout the U.S. In 2021, MotorTrend locked-in a multiyear broadcast agreement with the auction giant, and now provides exclusive live coverage of Mecum sales on MotorTrend+ (subscription service) and the MotorTrend channel (satellite/cable).
With on-road pickup trucks as well as overland vehicles and other off-road rigs being our group’s wheelhouse, Senior Content Producer KJ Jones has followed Mecum’s website since the start of the 2022 auction season in January, in search of cool or unique rigs to preview before they crossed the auction block.
In this report, we take Mecum Auctions coverage a big step beyond feature stories, and give you an insider’s look at the Houston, Texas, auction (March 31-April 2), an event that featured nearly 1,050 vehicles (244 registered as pickups, and an unknown count of SUVs) and closed with sales totaling $34 million.
For three days, KJ embedded himself deep inside the Mecum machine and watched it operate with Swiss-watch precision at NRG Center, and learned there’s a lot more to the process than only the bidding action presented on MotorTrend’s broadcasts. A Mecum auction is an experience. It’s highlighted by the exciting sale, of course, but it’s also a fantastic truck, car, and motorcycle show for enthusiasts who otherwise wouldn’t have any chance of seeing such a brilliant assembly of machinery.
Read on for insights into exactly who’s-who at Mecum, and how the high-end auction works, from opening bid to final hammer.
All in the Family
Founded in 1988 by Dana Mecum, Mecum Auctions is the world’s largest collector-car auction company. And, when you look at the org chart, calling it a “family business” couldn’t be truer. Founded by Dana, the company has several family members in various positions throughout the company.
Important People You Don’t See
MotorTrend’s live broadcasts make it very clear that a Mecum Auctions event is truly a spectacle to behold. The events feature vehicles, people, sounds, and frenetic energy that’s largely generated by the caller and auctioneer. Together, this pair sets the pace of each sale with their calls of information and price status for each item being auctioned.
While it’s impossible to miss the things and people shown on TV, a group of office staff personnel works behind the scenes and does the lion’s share of administrative heavy lifting for all the events. This team handles vehicle check-in (assigning alphanumeric ID numbers) and all-important staging, general administration, vehicle titles, and so on.
Have you ever wondered how every vehicle that crosses the block is perfectly synched with the announcer’s short rundown of highlights about it? Mecum’s office staff has that responsibility. They lay out the entire sales day and produce the order that each car, truck, motorcycle, etc., is auctioned in. The rundown is shared with Drivers, the Caller and Auctioneer, as well as with the people who are doing the bidding, through a daily “Green Sheet,” a document that lists (in order) the vehicles being sold.
There also are several audio/video, IT, and social media people involved with Mecum productions. They’re never front-and-center, but they all have big responsibilities behind the scenes.
Important People You Do See
When you watch an auction, in addition to Guests ($30/day), Standard Bidders ($200 cost), Gold Bidders ($500 cost) and VIPs, the block area is where you see Mecum Auctions staff members (all wearing black shirts) who are directly involved with getting vehicles sold.
Of course, the group is headlined by the Auctioneer, but several other people play critical roles in ensuring the most important part of the operation runs smoothly, with satisfied customers being the primary objective.
People: Caller and Auctioneer
From their position just above the auction floor, the Caller (also called “Color Reader,” at left) and Auctioneer (right) are the pair in control at Mecum events. The Caller basically is like an MC; the person who introduces each lot as it approaches the block and keeps the room’s energy up, before handing off to the Auctioneer for the actual call. Caller/Auctioneer teams rotate every 30 minutes, and throughout almost nine hours of nonstop sales each day, their collective energy remains consistent … high!
The Auctioneer’s main job is to interact with the crowd and the Bidders, with the main purpose of getting a response from them. That response typically is buying vehicles. “We’re literally asking them questions [about spending large sums of money], at a high rate of speed,” says Auctioneer Matt Moravec. “The auction industry has turned toward entertainment. This is an experience. And if you haven’t witnessed it in person, then you don’t know Mecum Auctions.”
People: Jimmy Landis, Auctioneer
Jimmy is the OG in Mecum Auctions’ barker unit. He says he literally grew up in the classic car auction business, and over the course of many years he has developed a unique “chant” (an official term for the rapid-fire blathering of words and numbers that auctioneers recite for each vehicle) that’s focused on getting Bidders to up the ante. If you listen closely, you’ll hear Jimmy ask, “do you wanna give ($XX)? … ” over and over, as the constant amid extraneous comments (“filler phrases”) that run the gamut from comments or questions targeted directly at a Bidder, to talking about a vehicle, or almost anything else that’s happening in the room.
People: Matt “The Hat” Moravec, Auctioneer
A 22-year Mecum veteran (he started as a Ring Man); Matt is easily identified by the black cowboy hat he wears while calling the auction action. Like Jimmy, The Hat also grew up in an auction household. As a young boy, he would attend auctions with his dad, developing chant skills that have been honed to their current perfection over a long period of time. “The filler phrases really aren’t gibberish, per se,” says Matt. “We’re basically trying to bounce our chant off the fillers and keep the energy high while people are bidding.” Matt says it’s never scripted. Everything you hear comes from the top of an Auctioneer’s head, typically based on whatever the situation is. “I don’t want to say the same filler phrase over and over. It’s kind of like a show on television. We have to say things that will keep people engaged … in person, as well as viewers watching on MotorTrend. I don’t want people to change the channel between all of the numbers I call out.”
Tools of the Trade
Affectionately known as “the Hammer,” a gavel is the longtime equipment that Auctioneers use for controlling the flow of on-the-block activity at a Mecum Auction. Note the uniqueness in each hammer’s make-up.
People: Bidder Assistants
Bidder Assistants are the links between Auctioneer, Bidder, and occasionally the Consignor (seller) who identify Bidders and use unique yells (typically very loud versions of “yeah!“) and hand signals to communicate with an Auctioneer during the bidding process, and they also subtly repeat the Auctioneer’s “do ya wanna give ($XX)?” question, directly at people who are on the fence about pushing forward with their bid. “They are an extension of us,” Auctioneer Jimmy Landis says. “Their communication with us is key, and we find Bidder Assistants when parties are engaged in bidding battles.”
The above video captures a Ring Man and a Bidder Assistant hard at work …
The Big Prize
… guiding John Burg to winning this immaculate 1993 Ford F-350 Centurion dually for $18,500 at Mecum Auctions Houston.
People: Bidder Assistant (Floor Clerk)
The next time you’re watching a Mecum Auctions event on MotorTrend TV or MotorTrend+, pay close attention to activity around the buyer immediately after an Auctioneer bangs his gavel to announce a sale. After the Ring Man shakes the consignee’s hand and steps away, a Floor Clerk swoops in and gets the all-important signatures that officially bind individuals to their purchase. Felicia is the Floor Clerk in the aforementioned video.
People: Clerks, Internet Bidder
Sitting just behind the Caller and Auctioneer are Clerks, and the Internet Bidder is positioned in a space that is immediately to the right (when facing the block). The Internet Bidder position requires a lot of concentration, as they watch a computer screen for bids, and must yell (loudly) to alert Auctioneers that someone is making a play on a vehicle from cyberspace.
People: Sticker Girl
Sale or no sale, every vehicle that crosses the block is stopped by “Sticker Girl,” who affixes a decal that affirms its post-auction status. “Sold” needs no explanation. Read on to learn what happens when a rig isn’t sold.
People: The Bid Goes On …
“The Bid Goes On” is a station that sits at the end of the Mecum auction block, and it’s the place where efforts are made to keep potential deals alive for vehicles that haven’t met their reserve (a price established by the Consignor that is the lowest amount he or she will accept for their vehicle). Consignment Director David Purvis and his team basically are arbitrators who work on behalf of sellers and finish closing sales that didn’t close on the auction block.
People: MotorTrend Hosts
Scott Hoke (standing with headphones), John Kraman (seated), Bill Stephens, and a stellar lineup of auto experts make up the announcer team for the auctions that are broadcast live on MotorTrend+ and MotorTrend TV. KJ Jones was called on to make a guest appearance as an analyst, after one of the commercial breaks on Friday afternoon.
People: Drivers and Pushers
We would be remiss if we failed to recognize the Drivers and Pushers of the auction block. These volunteers (from a local chapter of the Classic Thunderbird Club International), are responsible for all vehicle movements throughout the weekend, and definitely are unsung heroes at every Mecum auction.
People: Finance and Transport
Finally, for Bidders who find themselves a little short on funds, Mecum Auctions offers on-the-spot financing to help ensure sales are made. And when a deal is done and it’s time to get your purchase home, vehicle transport can also be immediately arranged.
Trucks and Buyers
At any auction, the vehicles are the stars, and with Texas being one of the largest truck markets in the U.S, we knew Mecum’s Houston event would be perfect for seeing a diverse assortment and some of the best rigs that the Lone Star State and its surrounding areas have to offer.
With nearly 250 registered vintage and late-model pickups on the floor, being sold independently or as part of collections, and all of them ranging from bone stock to heavily modified and/or wickedly customized, there also were several rigs that weren’t in the greatest shape.
While Mecum is known for being “high-end” and presenting exotic, luxurious, and ultra-high-performance rides, the organization also doesn’t discriminate or reject vehicles based on their appearance or condition. And after a quick reconnaissance walk around the hall on Thursday morning, it was immediately evident we were in for an exciting three days of auction action.
One of the cool things about Mecum Auctions events is that every rig is accessible for inspection each day, from the moment the gates open all the way up to the point where a truck is pushed onto the block and being hawked by the Auctioneer. Bidders carefully examine the trucks they plan to bid on and, when possible, ask owners (or representatives) for details that go beyond information that is available.
That’s one of the more interesting things about the process. In many cases, the vehicles being auctioned and a lot of the purchases are handled by representatives from consignment groups such as the Triple J Ranch Auto Collection from Oklahoma. Triple J had several outstanding rigs at the Mecum Auctions event in Houston, including a perfect custom 1937 Ford pickup (the first truck to cross the block on Friday) that closed at $59,400.
Trucks: 1937 Custom Ford Pickup
This is a clip of Lot Number F2. The letter typically indicates the day (“F” = Friday), and the number is the vehicle’s position in the auction order. Lot F2 was the custom 1937 Ford pickup that was first across the block at the start of the Mecum auction on Friday morning. Jimmy Landis hammers the rig “sold!” for $54,000, and additional buyer’s premium makes the final price $59,400.
When it comes to inspecting a truck, prospective buyers thoroughly examine everything. Vehicles are staged per the day they’re scheduled to go across the block (“Thursday,” “Friday,” and “Saturday” for Mecum Houston). The staging areas are open to everyone attending the auction, but we noticed actual shoppers did things like look under trucks to check out drivetrain components, suspensions, and exhausts.
Trucks: 1988 Ford F-150
Dispelling the theory that Mecum Auctions only accepts pristine, ten-point, concours-perfect vehicles for presentation at a sale is this well-used 1988 Ford F-150. The unrestored truck was auctioned with no reserve price. And despite the dented fender, we totally understand the appeal: regular-cab, shortbed.
Trucks: 2005 Dodge Ram SRT-10
Today, a sport truck with a 500-horsepower, 8.3-liter V-8 engine and six-speed manual transmission is a steal for $40,700. That’s the way things can go at Mecum Auctions’ sales.
Buyers: Roderick Sellers
We met several people who bought trucks at Mecum’s Houston Auction. They shop for many different reasons. Some are collectors, others buy to sell, and many simply are car- and/or truck-people who are fortunate enough to have the means to purchase the things they want. That’s it, that’s all. Roderick Sellers (right) isn’t a car collector (he calls himself an admirer), but says he attended the auction with a mission to buy three old-school vehicles. A custom 1941 Ford pickup from the Triple J Ranch Auto Collection is the rig he scored for $21,450, and it’s the first truck he’s purchased in two years of attending Mecum auctions.
Trucks: 2017 Ford F-250
You read details about Tim Donelson’s 2017 Ford F-250 in KJ’s preview about the Mecum Auctions Houston sale. Tim, and Texas Metal co-star Bill Carlton were in attendance, meeting fans, signing autographs, selling swag, and raking in $187,000 for the tricked-out Super Duty.
2022 Mecum Auction Schedule
Here are the remaining 2022 Mecum Auction events that can be viewed on the MotorTrend+ streaming service (sign up for a free trial today!) and on MotorTrend TV.
- May 18-21: Indianapolis, Indiana
- June 10-11: Tulsa, Oklahoma
- July 28-30: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- August 19-20: Monterey, California
- September 8-10: Dallas, Texas
- October 14-15: Chicago, Illinois
- November 11-12: Las Vegas, Nevada