John Kraman, a broadcaster for Mecum Auctions, has been enamored by automobiles for as long as he can remember. His father was a Pontiac and Oldsmobile salesman in the 1960s in Southern California, and his employment locations were Kraman’s after school playgrounds.
As family legend details, Kraman began to identify cars at age 2. Nearly 60 years later, vast auto industry knowledge has served him well.
With three broadcast colleagues, more than a half-dozen auctioneers, 40 television crew members and 200-300 auxiliary staff, Mecum Auctions was back this year at Classic Car Week on the Monterey Peninsula with its four-day auction at Del Monte Golf Course.
While Classic Car Week has several auctions and shows with overtly priced tickets, Mecum Auctions is the best bargain of the annual event on the Monterey Peninsula. It cost $30 per day. The auction action is fast and entertaining with vehicles auctioned every two minutes.
Kraman, a former automotive and aircraft mechanic, pilot and car collector, is also a high-energy broadcaster and analyst with an authoritative voice. It’s all ideal for his position with Mecum Auctions and its corresponding television broadcasts.
“We get in a zone; it’s called the auction chant,” said Kraman, 60, now in his second decade of auction broadcasting. “It gets people stimulated. It adds energy. That’s why there are auctions. Otherwise, we could just bring all the cars there and just put a for sale sign on them and stand there and sell cars. But there’s something magical about the auction chant, that pattern.
Mecum, headquartered in Walworth, Wis., has 14 auctions scheduled this year. Its presence in Monterey is one of its three featured events and will have an estimated 600 vehicles for sale — the largest collection of the week.
In contrast to other classic car week auctions, Mecum’s event is the only auction televised. It was broadcast live Thursday, Friday and Saturday on NBCSN and will have repeated telecasts.
“Since we’ve only been here seven years, we feel like we get lost in the shuffle a little bit,” said Kraman, emphasizing the word seven. “We’ve had some great success and we are responsible for bringing a lot go great cars and a lot of big sales into this auction. We anticipate that this year won’t be any different.”
As Kraman described, Mecum’s “bread and butter” is primarily American performance cars — Corvettes to hot rods to custom cars from the 1950s. But high-end European vehicles were also in the mix, including two LaFerrari offerings
“Unlike some of the other auction companies where it’s slower British-style where gate (attendance) isn’t really important; it’s high-end buyers,” Kraman explained. “But for us, it’s the opposite. We’re bringing in spectators and we encourage it. We are a rock concert and a tournament basketball game all rolled up into one.”
Vehicles in the auction are prepared like they’re in a concours. But the cars move, the engines are started and the automobiles aren’t off limits for fans. Auction attendees can watch the auction process at close range and view other vehicles ready for auction on the golf course.
While the fast pace of the in-person Mecum auction is its signature, as much 10 percent of buyers are absentee or proxy bidders via the website:
“We will have a lot of affordable cars; cars that aren’t normally on anyone’s radar screen,” said Kraman, who owns six vintage muscle cars. “But cars that are important to a lot of people. Then again, we will have high-end cars. We will have cars that sell for more than one million dollars and cars that sell for $5,000. That’s what makes it interesting for everybody — buyers, sellers, dealers, spectators.”
In recent years, air-cooled Porsches have become high-profile, with more than 10 percent of this year’s auction likely 956 and 911 models from the late 1950s to mid-1960s. Vintage Mercedes-Benz models as well as exotic from Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati.
A 1970 Volkswagen Westfalia camper, a 1953 Buick Skylark Convertible and a 1958 Pontiac Bonneville convertible were among the diverse vehicles sold this year.
“It’s non-stop; there are no breaks,” Kraman said. “The auctioneers will be on a half hour, off a half-hour. It’s also tremendous responsibility for us. It’s not only going keep the auction going, but it’s also to be knowledgeable and weave in car facts about what was happening in that time era. It’s part of history.”
“The biggest increase we’ve seen on a percentage basis are air-cooled Porsches. There’s a very strong market right now. They’re high-profile cars. I saw a chart about five years sales for auctions on the Monterey Peninsula but now there’s a crossover. The No. 1 seller are Porsches. Over 10 percent of our inventory will be Porsches.”
“It’s the demographics. When I said air-cooled Porsches, it’s the 956 Porsches from the ‘late 50s and the early to mid-60s, they’ve always been sought after. And there’s the 911 from the 1960s. Those are very important cars. Not a lot of those cars survived and the ones that do, get a lot of attention.”
(Video by Bruce Aldrich/www.tahoetuckeeoutdoor.com)