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Love and money drive buyers, sellers of collectible cars


When Peter Nelson steps up to the auction block tomorrow, he'll have more than a passing empathy with the folks selling their collectible cars at his annual winter collector car auction.

As a boy, he was swept up by his father's 30-year love affair with collectible cars. Now, the Ellicott City businessman now has his own private collection.

"Sometimes there is real heartache at these auctions. I've seen grown men cry after I sold their cars for them," he says.

Some, however, smile all the way to the bank. The appreciation in value of some highly sought after models, such as Thunderbirds, Corvettes and Ferraris, has been sharp.

Tomorrow, Mr. Nelson will try to stir high-roller investors and weekend hobbyists alike at his company's winter collector car auction, which begins at the Howard County Fairgrounds at 11 a.m.

His All American Auctions is one of the few auction houses in the mid-Atlantic area that specialize in collector car auctions. The company holds about four such auctions annually. There are about 125 collector car auctions nationwide each year, trade experts say.

Mr. Nelson expects about 300 people at tomorrow's auction. All American has registered about 100 cars for the sale, which will dovetail into a collector motorcycle auction -- a hot market these days.

"It's a love of the automobile thing," says Earle Biedling, a Pasadena businessman who has eight cars in his private collection and has bought and sold cars at collector auctions. His fancy: cars built in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Some people are driven to make money off buying and selling these cars," he says. "And indeed you can. Most, if restored and kept in good condition, will appreciate" in value.

"But most men are buying these cars because they something that they really wanted when they were young but financially couldn't afford," he says. "As they get older and come into the means to afford nice things, they buy the car they always wanted. They realize that old dream. I did."

Some cars registered for the auction are clearly meant for the serious collector or investor.

Consider a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette that will be on the block tomorrow. If it's in good condition, it could carry a value of about $20,000, says Trefor Thomas of Collector Car News, a California magazine. The Corvette's value could be $6,000 higher if it has a unique engine.

Many others will sell for far less. Cars registered for the sale include a 1948 Plymouth coupe, a 1970 Cadillac convertible and a 1968 Oldsmobile, each valued at less than $10,000.

The collector car trade is dominated by men between the ages of 30 and 55. Most get involved with a small investment, Mr. Nelson says.

"Most of the cars sell for between $2,500 to about $8,000," he says. "Most of the guys into this can write a check for that #F amount and it won't affect their kids' college education money."

After making a purchase, he says, it is easy to befriend others who might own a car of the same make and model, if not the same year. "There's a national club with local chapters &r; everywhere for almost any car made," he says.

"On almost any Saturday night, you can get together we a bunch of these folks," Mr. Biedling says.

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