During the last weekend in September, thousands of people from across the world will travel to Pierce, Neb. for one of the most unique car auctions ever held.
In the Northeast Nebraska town of Pierce, at the corner of Main street and Highway 13, sits Lambrecht Chevrolet.
Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News
Ray Lambrecht bought his uncle's car dealership in the 1940's. Ray's daughter, Jeannie Stillwell, worked at Lambrecht Chevrolet Company as a child, cleaning and polishing new cars for delivery. Stillwell said the work was both enjoyable and exciting. She said the town of Pierce had a "party-like atmosphere" when her father unveiled the latest Chevy models.
Inside the old brick building, the air is damp with the stale smell of mildew. Cobwebs and shreds of insulation hang from the ceiling. And under a thick layer of dust and dirt, sit some of the most valuable treasures a car collector can find.
Yvette VanDerBrink is the auctioneer charged with selling Lambrecht Chevy’s cache of cars.
“When I went into the dealership for the first time and opened the car door, I [said], ‘Oh my gosh, this is something special,'” VanDerBrink said.
That may be the understatement of the century, though, at least in the car collecting world.
The names of the cars read like a collector’s wish list. A turquoise 1958 Chevrolet Cameo Pickup with less than two miles. A 1969 Chevelle Super Sport with a 369 Big Block V8 engine. A 1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car that was only driven when it came off the truck from the factory. A new 1964 Impala, white with red interior, and the price sticker still on the window and plastic on the seats.
Photos by Ryan Robertson, NET News
Above: "The interior of a 1964 Chevy Impala. This four-door hard top is white with red interior. As you can see folks, the plastic is still on the seat. Best part the price on the window is the price you pay. $3,035." That's something Ray Lambrecht might have said 50 years ago, when this car was new. Jim Pickering of American Car Collector magazine said this car could sell for six figures during the VanDerBrink auction.
Despite the fact these cars are 50 years old, they’re still brand new. Some even have the original oil in the crank-case.
“This is highly unusual, to find this many new vehicles. In fact, when the news [about the auction] broke in June, I got e-mails from collectors that didn’t think it was real, because it’s so highly unusual to have this many new cars put away,” VanDerBrink said.
But the cars are real, and they’ll be auctioned off, to the highest bidder during the last weekend in September.
When word of the sale spread across the globe, residents in Pierce began to brace themselves for an influx of people.
“Eight to ten-thousand people. That’s what they’re talking as a possibility. Maybe more,” said Chris Griffith, a Pierce resident since 1981.
Griffith said she’s overwhelmed by the amount of attention Pierce is receiving, but she understands it.
When Yvette VanDerBrink brought the cars out of the dealership to organize them, Griffith was there.
“It was neat to see, they were old cars, but yet they were new, you know? Something different. One was close to the first I ever had. I had a ’63 Chevy Impala, and they showed a ’64 Chevy Impala. With one mile I believe it had on it. It was red. That was the color of mine too,” Griffith said.
She met Ray Lambrecht, the man who owns the dealership, several times. Yet, she never knew just how unique the small town car dealer truly was.
Up until he closed the dealership’s doors in 1996, Ray Lambrecht was a very successful car salesman. What set him apart, though, was his business model. If you wanted to buy a car from Ray, it had to be a new Chevrolet, no exceptions.
“He loved to sell new cars. He didn’t sell his trade ins—wouldn’t let you buy them—and if he had leftover inventory at the end of the year, you couldn’t buy them,” VanDerBrink explained.
A car salesman who wouldn’t sell cars is definitely an oddity in the auto-industry. And it’s that history and the story behind these cars that experts say is driving up the interest.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and I doubt we’ll ever see this again,” said Jim Pickering, the editor of American Car Collector, a magazine that covers car auctions all over the world.
According to Pickering, after people in his industry began finding out about the Pierce auction, he was flooded with hundreds of e-mails about it, and the mysterious car salesman who kept hundreds of new cars.
Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News
Ray Lambrecht parked more than 500 classic cars in a field north of Pierce, Neb. Years of exposure to the elements have taken a toll on many of the vehicles, but weather isn't the only cause for damage. Auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink said many of these classics have become targets for thieves. VanDerBrink said the parts off these cars are extremely valuable to collectors.
“That just flat out doesn’t happen. This is kind of urban legend material and the fact that it’s actually happening has really kind of turned the world upside down, at least in the car world,” Pickering said.
But perhaps the strangest aspect of this whole ordeal is what Lambrecht did with most of the unsold cars. Instead of parking them indoors, the vast majority were taken to a field north of town. They’ve sat in the field for decades, uncovered, and left to the elements.
VanDerBrink said she had to dig out many of the cars after they’d sunk into the ground.
They’re now parked in rows a quarter mile long for the auction--windows broken, rust eating away the undercarriages. Some even have tree limbs growing out of them.
But Jim Pickering says they’re still valuable.
“It’s something that’s going to generate a lot of interest, and that’s going to generate a lot of money,” Pickering said.
Just how much money? Pickering said some of the cars that were stored indoors should top six figures. As for the cars parked in the field?
“That’s really the million dollar question right there. It all comes down to who is in the room and what is their motivation for buying,” Pickering said.
Lambrecht’s health won’t allow him to attend the auction. He’s 96 years old now. But his daughter, Jeannie, said he’s excited to share his love of cars with a new generation.