CUMBERLAND – Phil Hall knew he was onto a good thing when he bought a 1939 Plymouth for $50, then turned around and sold it a couple of weeks later for $75.

He may have been barely a teenager, but that transaction in 1955 convinced Hall there was money to be made in buying and selling cars.

“I thought, ‘Hey that’s not a bad profit,’ ” Hall, now 68, remembered Saturday morning, standing in the bright sunlight at the Cumberland Fairgrounds surrounded by dozens of cars he’s bought over the years.

Hall recently came to the conclusion that it’s time to downsize, so on the auction block went more than 100 cars, some nearing 80 years old, along with a handful of motorcycles, tractors and old small engines. Keenan Auction Co. handled the sale, taking in more than $1.3 million after about five hours of bidding on the items.

A red 1939 three-window Chevrolet Coupe — like the cars seen in ZZ Top music videos — was the top car, bringing in $45,100.

Hall said maintaining the collection was getting to be a bit much.

“It’s too many to handle and I’m not getting any younger,” Hall said, noting that in the past week he had to buy 49 batteries for the cars and countless tires just to get them ready to sell.

Saturday morning, auction company workers scurried around, dusting, opening hoods and starting the cars. One worker, significantly younger than the car he was sitting in, was relieved to learn that the fourth pedal on the floor of one model was actually the starter button that had to be depressed for the car to roar to life.

“Most people wouldn’t even know how to start many of these cars,” Hall observed.

The cars run the gamut of 20th century trucks and autos, ranging from pre-war rarities to ’50s chrome-laden behemoths and ’70s muscle cars.

Hall said he acquired them slowly over the years, buying and selling as a side business in addition to running the Blackpoint Body Shop in Scarborough and Highland Avenue Auto Parts in South Portland.

“I’ve always liked cars — anything with a motor,” he said.

He “made a buck or two” on the sales, he said.

His biggest purchase was $100,000 for a Rolls-Royce that was bought soon after he took possession. A Texan flew in to Maine, took one look and bought it, Hall said.

“I made $3 or $4 on that,” Hall said, smiling, as he declined to reveal the actual sales price. “That was a good score.”

Hall was unsentimental about the cars. He kept about 20 or 30 back from the auction, including his favorite, a 1954 Chevrolet Corvette, but “they’re all for sale,” he added.

His attitude was in sharp contrast to Greg Long, who pored over a 1924 Pierce-Arrow 7-seater.

“This is very much a nostalgia-driven passion,” said Long, who came to Maine from his home in Holly, Mich., to check out one of about 2,500 Pierce-Arrows known to still exist.

The deep blue car had been lovingly restored, he said, with soft leather on the seats, although the paint was beginning to show signs of wear and he couldn’t be sure if the cloth drop-top was original, since 7-seaters were supposed to come with a removable hard-top. The Pierce-Arrow factory and dealers were known for trying to satisfy customers, he said, so it could have been fashioned at the time the car was made, rather than added decades later.

Long ended up landing the Pierce-Arrow in the auction, paying $40,700.

Not far from the Pierce-Arrow, Tom and Eileen Raposa of North Attleboro, Mass., were checking out the pre-war models.

Tom Raposa has been looking for a car from that era with running boards and suicide doors — the rear doors that open “backwards,” compared to modern cars.

After getting three children through college, the couple has been indulging their whims a bit more and going to the Cumberland auction was one more indulgence.

“It’s time for him to get a toy,” Eileen Raposa said as her husband checked out a couple of possibilities. “I went to Hawaii last year, so it’s a good deal.”

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]