July 02, 2020

Passion reigns at Owls Head Museum’s auto auction fuels car lover’s dreamy-eyed fantasy

The ’76 Fiat convertible was bright cherry red and had the kind of leather interior that on a summer day would make a bare leg feel like bacon in a hot frying pan. The entire tiny car would have fit inside the trunk of my father’s beloved, frigate-sized Cadillac El Dorado. It was sleek, sexy, spicy and when I opened the door and sat in the driver’s seat, it fit as though it had been custom-made for me.

Despite the heat, my skin did not burn on the roasting leather; I was immortal, invincible, the perfect James Bond girl in the perfect car. I looked down to touch the pedals and push in the clutch as the car’s owner smiled, obviously noticing what a glamorous match the car and I were, and said, “Be a great little car to have, wouldn’t it?”

Ah, to be 15 again.

Cars evoke something in us. They transport us in both body and spirit. They reveal what we are, and sometimes what we wish we were.

There is no better playground for the mental (and metal) soul than the New England Auto Auction Saturday at the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum in Rockland. Held annually in late August, the auction draws large crowds of people and numbers of vehicles – antique, classic and special interest. Last year, 3,500 people flooded the grounds, wandering through the lines of vehicles and eating ice cream on the tarmac while antique airplanes did wifferdills overhead. More than 350 people registered to bid on 190 consigned vehicles. A 1909 Overland Roadster, featuring a rumble seat, was donated to the museum after purchase. More than $205,000 was raised. Proceeds benefit the museum.

Bidders sit in an open-air pavilion while spectators are in the shade of a large adjoining tent. For family members who aren’t so auction crazy, the museum itself is a delight. My mother enjoys watching my father, who loves the engines – the gigantic Harris-Corliss steam engine, circa 1885; the rotary engines of the early 1900s; and Wright Cyclone of the 1940s; and the 1946 Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major.

I love the airplanes, especially one in particular, the 1941 Stearman A75N/1 biplane, which I had the fortune to fly in as a child with my dad at the controls. That very airplane, the most beautiful I’ve ever flown in, was donated to the museum more than a decade ago.

Said to be one of the best in the world, the museum also has permanent exhibits of carriages, motorcycles, automobiles and bicycles such as the 1879 Harvard Highwheeler, with its one little wheel and one huge wheel, which museum volunteers sometimes ride around in. Other current exhibits include a tribute to the woodie station wagon, the evolution of air and ground vehicle technology and those who helped to advance it and an exhibit dedicated to the invention and development of the wheel. In addition, demonstrations, concession stands and aircraft fly-bys fill out the day.

I think the cars and auction are always exciting, however. The auctioneer extols the virtues of each proffered machine and then in amazing, superhuman speech, ignites the flames of passion among bidders. An antique baby-blue hearse or a much-maligned Edsel may inspire as much of a price war as my beloved Fiat. Spectators get to watch the tennis match of wallets and everyone cheers for the victor and his or her automobile.

It’s always fascinating. Last year, a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle went for $1,000 more than an ’86 Jaguar XAS and a 1980 Fiat Spyder 2000 convertible, each a fairly affordable $6,500. A determined bidder drove away with a 1994 AMGN UT Hummer for $43,000 and a 1942 Ford Special Deluxe woody went to an aficionado for $38,000. Antique is not necessarily expensive – several vehicles fell below $1,000. Included in the under-a-grand set were a ’62 Oldsmobile F-85, a ’73 Lincoln Continental, a ’29 Ford Model-A Doodle Bug, a ’79 Volvo 262 Bertone, and a ’72 Volkswagen Type II Camper.

This year like all others, amid the Jaguars, Cadillacs and Porsches, are the perfect cars to fulfill any fantasy.

For old-world glamour with a dash of Hollywood, try the sophisticated black 1938 Cadillac V16 limousine, the trademark winged, sterling sliver hood ornament gracing its smooth curves. A slinky dress, a dapper suit, fedora and chauffeur would complete the ensemble.

The cr?me-colored 1950 Hudson Pacemaker DLX convertible is the car for a dame in dark glasses and a silk scarf to drive down winding county roads on a sunny summer day. Head to the drive-in or soda shop in a classic 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible; in bright red (fuzzy dice and penny loafers not included) it’s still the perfect-date car. For those too shy to go alone, a chocolate brown ’57 Chevrolet Suburban could make it a double, triple or possibly quadruple date. And the not-so-shy date may prefer the two-seat white ’57 Chevrolet Corvette convertible with a rather passionate red interior.

International playboy millionaires are hard to come by but a road-hugging, red 1963 Porsche 356B Super 90 Coupe is bound to make anyone look (and feel) like one. (Don’t forget: Her Majesty’s Secret Service may have paid Bond’s speeding tickets, but as a free agent, you’re on your own.)

Bidding or not, it’s easy to get lost in the daydream.

As for me, well, I’ve outgrown the Fiat, I fear. But while looking about, I did find a handsome 1962 Chevrolet Stepside pickup truck. It’s black, which means it matches any outfit. It’s four-wheel drive, so it can go nearly anywhere. And it looks roomy enough to get me, a boy, a dog and a picnic basket to Canada for a little fishing – which is just about all the international intrigue I’m looking for now.

The 23rd Annual New England Auto Auction will begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, with a preview at 7 a.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children 6-11, free for museum members and children under 5. A family admission is available for $23. An automobile preview will be held 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17. To check out some of the cars up for auction, or for information and directions, consult the “2001 Special Events” section of www.ohtm.org.

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