Auction of exotic cars draws mostly dreamers

Randy Denchfield is a Caddy freak. Howard Byron indulges himself with expensive Mercedes-Benzes. And to Ralph Dovel, owning an antique or unusual car is a pleasant -- but expensive -- hobby.

They and a few hundred other sellers, buyers and dreamers were at Festival Hall yesterday for the Inner Harbor collector car event and auction, which continues today from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.


Mr. Denchfield, a roofing contractor from Chevy Chase, has collected nine Cadillac convertibles as a hobby, but decided to reduce his inventory.

"This is a real addiction," he said. "It could get out of hand and you have to be careful or you'll lose money."


If he was depending on a sale yesterday, he was in big trouble despite a hard-working, tuxedo-clad team of auctioneers from around the country. Gazers were numerous, but buyers were scarce.

Mr. Denchfield had for sale a 1948 dark-green Cadillac convertible that retailed for $3,450 when new. He was asking for $40,000-plus, but he still owns it.

"I love this model," he said. "I looked for this for 15 years, but I've got to get down to a manageable level. It's the first one I've tried to sell."

Mr. Byron, a car collector from Silver Spring who sells computers for a living, had an off-white, totally restored, 1955 gull-wing Mercedes-Benz 300SL for sale. He said only 1,400 had been made.

"This car won its division in a Baltimore car show two years in a row, and the promoters asked me not to come back," he said, laughing. He has had as many as eight Mercedes and still owns five.

"I sold two unrenovated Mercedes over the phone to German customers for $200,000 sight unseen at the peak of the market in the late '80s," he said.

Mr. Byron was asking $350,000 for the car he brought to the show. He drew applause when he drove it -- gull-wing doors agape -- to the bidding line, but no cash. The bidding started at $100,000, went up rapidly to $160,000, then stuck there like the needle gauge on an empty gas tank.

"I'll take it to the big show in Carlisle [Pa.] in two weeks," he said. "Maybe I'll have better luck."


Mr. Dovel, of Halethorpe, had a red and white 1959 Corvette on the floor, its glistening supercharger jutting through an opening in the sleek hood. He hoped to get $35,000 for it.

"I bought it at a car show for $30,000 four years ago, and I've put about 10 grand in it," he said. "The tires alone cost $400."

L The bid on his car went to $28,000 before it ran out of gas.

"Oh, well," he said, "I'm getting closer to my price."

Mark Gregory, who owns an exotic-car renovation shop in Cockeysville called Mark of Distinction, had a brilliant red 1967 Jaguar roadster with tan interior for sale. Mr. Gregory also buys and sells rare foreign cars.

He was looking for $65,000, but the bidding stopped at $37,500.


"You never know who's going to come up and make an offer, so the time's not wasted," he said. "I'll try to sell it in Carlisle."

There was a charitable side to the auction. Armand Levin, of Baltimore, had a 1936 Mercedes replica with plum-colored fenders and a cream hood for sale, made from a kit by Ed Paulson, of Bel Air. Mr. Paulson donated it to Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland.