Owls Head museum gears up for auto auction

Posted Aug. 19, 2009, at 8:11 p.m.

OWLS HEAD, Maine — Despite a slumping economy, the Owls Head Transportation Museum is looking forward to a successful 32nd annual New England Auto Auction being held this Saturday.

“I’m always excited, but I’m really excited about this one,” museum director Charles Chiarchiaro said Wednesday. “There seems to be a lot of interest this year. People are calling, saying they’re looking forward to coming. With times changing, some people have had to sell, but there are other people looking for something that won’t go down in value.”

Chiarchiaro has attended every auction and recalls the first having 14 cars. That grossed $52,000 and contributed $5,000 to the museum’s endowment. Last year’s auction grossed $1.9 million and netted the museum $210,000. Chiarchiaro said his goal for this year is $190,000 for the museum. All told, the auctions have raised more than $2.8 million for the endowment.

“The auction serves many purposes, but the main purpose is to raise money for the museum,” he said.

Chiarchiaro described the auction as having everything from DeSotos to Duesenbergs. A beat-up 1953 DeSoto sedan might get a few hundred dollars, while a 1935 Duesenberg J Sedan should draw bids in the $500,000 range. The museum gets a 10 percent commission on all sales up to $25,000.

“This car should be in the Union Fair demolition derby next week,” Chiarchiaro said while tapping the hood of the DeSoto. “I go every year and see cars I sold 20, 30 years ago there. Someone will buy this. You always have a few of these for sale, and I happen to have a lot of them this year.”

Two of the rarest Volkswagens known will be in the auction: a 1950 shipped from Stuttgart, Germany, and a 1953 convertible. There also is a 1918 Cadillac 57 Phaeton specifically designed for Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing to use on the battlefields of Europe during World War I. The V8-powered Caddy can hit speeds of 75 to 80 mph. The car was still on the dock in America when the war ended.

Up to 3,500 people should be on hand to watch and take part in the sale of the approximately 200 cars and trucks “from all over” that will go on the block. Chiarchiaro said the list is populated by cars with a strong demand and those considered a bargain. Station wagons are big this year because more families are looking to get involved.

“The best of the best and the affordable will do well; it’s the in-betweens that have depreciated some,” he said.

Chiarchiaro added that he turned down 92 cars because he did not think they would attract buyers.

“It was very hard to read the tarot cards this year,” he said. “Either people were thinking too much about their car or there were just ones I felt just may have been overvalued. We’re going through a re-valuation period these days. People don’t want midrange projects this year. They’ll buy for $800 but won’t pay $20,000 for a project. Old cars are like putting kids through college forever.”

Chiarchiaro said the museum had to be creative this year, and one of the best decisions it made was to offer free admission to children under age 18. Where the auction used to attract mostly adults, more and more families have shown up this year. In response, the museum instituted exhibits and events geared to the younger set. The admission policy has resulted in many more Maine residents visiting the museum, and Chiarchiaro expects that will be the case Saturday.

When they do arrive, they will come in contact with the more than 110 volunteers who will staff booths, move cars and work the auction. The museum has 260 volunteers overall.

“Without them, we couldn’t do it,” Chiarchiaro said.

The museum is located on Route 173 in Owls Head, three miles south of Rockland. Admission to the auction is $15 for adults and the gates open at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 22. A listing of vehicles and photos is online at www.owlshead.org. For more information, call 594-4418.

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