Thursday, April 24, 2014
The Associated Press
This family photo which was provided by Jeannie Stillwell, daughter of Ray Lambrecht of the Lambrecht Chevrolet car company in Pierce, Neb., shows Mildred Lambrecht, wife of Ray, and their son Mark in a brand new 1953 Corvette, in front of the dealership.
PIERCE, Neb. — Seventeen years have passed since Ray Lambrecht closed his Chevrolet dealership, a small-town operation in northeast Nebraska with a big and valuable secret.
For decades, the owner of the Lambrecht Chevrolet Co. in Pierce held on to new cars and trucks that didn't sell right away. He stashed them in warehouses, at his farm and in other spots around the town he worked in for 50 years.
Now, his automotive nest egg — about 500 vintage cars and trucks — will go on the auction block. Next month, visitors from at least a dozen countries and throughout the U.S. will converge on the 1,800-resident town, or bid online.
The two-day auction will feature mostly unsold Chevrolets that have sat untouched for decades. They'll go on the block in as-is condition. About 50 have fewer than 20 miles on the odometer, and some are so rare that no one has established a price. The most valuable, including a rare Chevy Cameo pickup, could fetch six-figure bids from collectors who view them as works of art to display or as restoration projects.
"To find this many new, old vehicles is unheard of," said Yvette VanDerBrink, the auctioneer coordinating the event. "It's like a white buffalo."
Preparations for the auction began in June, and VanDerBrink has taken calls from as far as Iceland, Singapore and Brazil. The two least-driven cars, a 1959 Bel Air and a 1960 Corvair Monza, each have one mile on their odometer. The oldest vehicle with fewer than 20 miles dates to 1958; the newest is a 1980 Monza with nine miles.
On a recent afternoon, VanDerBrink stepped over hubcaps and engine parts in the cramped, dust-caked dealership that closed in 1996. In the corner sat the sky-blue 1958 Cameo with 1.3 miles, a cracked windshield and a dented roof — but its interior is unblemished.
Nearby, a red-and-white 1963 Impala waits with 11.4 miles logged. Manufacturer's plastic covers the seats. The car was never titled. A yellowed, typewritten window sticker touts its original price: $3,254.70.
Ray Lambrecht opened the downtown dealership with his uncle in 1946, on the corner of Main Street and Nebraska Highway 13. Live elephants meandered out front that day, with Chevrolet banners across their backs.
The U.S. Army veteran quickly established himself as an unusual salesman: He gave his lowest price up-front, without negotiation, and encouraged hagglers to try to find a better deal elsewhere. He rarely advertised, but was one of the first dealers in Nebraska to lease vehicles.
His low-price, high-volume approach helped secure regular government contracts, and he often sold cars to the state. In 1954, Lambrecht drove then-Gov. Robert Crosby down Main Street in a parade celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Nebraska as a territory.
Lambrecht rarely sold cars or pickups that were more than a year old, and he used holdover models as a kind of rainy-day fund. Unlike most dealers who lowered prices to move out-of-date inventory, he assumed the older cars would appreciate over time.
"I believe that Dad's sales approach reflected his personal style," said his daughter, Jeannie Stillwell. "He is a very honest, straightforward man who was focused on giving his customers the best price right from the start. Negotiating over price was a waste of time, and so that element of the sale was eliminated."
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