From the moment AJ Palmgren learned of Lot 397, he knew he had to have it.

But he had never bid at an auction before, and as he took a seat toward the back of the gallery, his nerves took over.

"I hoped I wasn't going to space out," he said.

A mustachioed auctioneer was disposing of lots quickly, sounding off prices and signaling winners with a rap of his gavel. Nearby, several employees sat at a long table, receiving bids from clients on the telephone and Internet. All around them, collectibles gleamed behind glass in hulking display cases.

It was time for Lot 397. Palmgren fidgeted in his seat, gripping paddle No. 129 tightly. Early online bidding had already pushed the price to $3,700.

Palmgren listened as auctioneer Michael Doyle shouted out the asking price. Palmgren made his move.

He thrust his paddle into the air, making a bid at $4,000. The room fell silent. Doyle asked whether there were any other bidders. Palmgren scanned the gallery, trying to suppress a smile.

When the gavel came down, Palmgren let out a "whoop!" that sent the room into wild applause.

He'd just won the front bumper of a KITT car from the 1980s television series "Knight Rider."

The company putting on the event, Julien's Auctions, had expected the item, being sold by star David Hasselhoff, to fetch as much as $800. But Palmgren, 42, a commercial real estate investor who has dubbed himself a "Knight Rider" historian, believed he had scored a deal at five times that much.

"I have a special place in my home for it," he said.

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Palmgren was at a swanky auction in Beverly Hills, but the two-day event last month wasn't your typical sale of Old Masters paintings or vintage wines.

He's just the sort of buyer that Julien's cultivates.

"For me, that is the reward — when you have given someone like him the chance to buy something important to him," said Martin Nolan, executive director of Beverly Hills-based Julien's. "He may take a few months to pay off his credit card, but for him, he has a treasure."

Founded in 2003 by a former Sotheby's consultant, Julien's is a major player in the world of Hollywood memorabilia. The company has held auctions of collections related to or from Cher, Barbra Streisand, the Beatles and Michael Jackson.

Its next sale, a music-themed auction to be held Saturday in New York, will feature items connected to Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley.

As part of the company's for-the-masses bent, its auctions are free and open to the public.

"Sotheby's and Christie's … they have this persona that you have to be a moneyed person to attend — that's one of the things that we've tried to break down," said Darren Julien, the company's founder and president. "We want fans here. You never know who is going to become a long-term client."

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