As cathartic as it was to see the calendar year change to 2021, the realities of 2020 are still with us. That applies to January auctions, which have historically been the most important of the year for the collector car market. Barrett-Jackson has postponed its legendary sale—long synonymous with “January” for collector car enthusiasts—leaving Scottsdale to host only a smattering of smaller sales that most bidders will be following online. The closest thing to “normal” will be Mecum’s gargantuan annual sale in Kissimmee, Florida, so we’ll be paying it more attention than ever.
It’s about time. Mecum has been around since 1988 and became the biggest and busiest collector car auction company in the 2010s. Its Kissimmee sale, which grossed more than $90M each of the last three years, has for some time been the largest single auction on the calendar. Yet the collector car community—including we at Hagerty—tend to focus our gaze on Scottsdale. There’s justification for that. The Scottsdale sales are older and feature more high-priced consignments. And Barrett-Jackson essentially created the auction-as-spectacle format.
Mecum Kissimmee, however, has the spectacle thing down, too. The auction takes up 60 acres in Osceola Heritage Park with multiple buildings and tent after tent after tent protecting the auction vehicles—sometimes more than 3000—from the Florida sunshine and occasional rain. Even if you leave your checkbook at home, walking the grounds is an all-you-can-eat buffet experience for a gearhead, with cars as far as the eye can see.
Although Mecum Kissimmee offers a little bit of everything it is, critically, a proving ground for muscle cars, a segment that we’ve seen slow considerably during the pandemic. From 2011 to 2020, a total of 996 Ford Mustangs, 2085 Chevrolet Corvettes, and 990 Chevrolet Camaros have sold here. There are always flashy headline sales—last year it was the Bullitt Mustang for $3.74M—the bulk of the cars here are more attainable than what you’ll find at Scottsdale. This makes Kissimmee a key reference point for the sort of cars the typical collector actually owns.
Mecum says this year will be no different in terms of scale, with some 2900 cars consigned on the eve of the sale, which kicked off January 7th and continues through the 16th. “I think Kissimmee 2021 is going to be super strong,” said John Kraman, the director of company relations. Attracting consignments has been more difficult in an era of pandemic and economic uncertainty, he admits, but the stability the market showed throughout 2020 has encouraged many to come off the fence.
“We get contacted all the time by people telling us they can’t wait to come back to the event; we have over two-dozen private collections consigned, and people are continuing to consign cars even as we speak.” Among the vehicles being offered are Carroll Shelby’s personal 427 Cobra, a Shelby GT350R, several Ford GTs, and a Plymouth Hemi Superbird.
Of course, the elephant in the room is COVID-19. Osceola county, like many other parts of the United States, has experienced rising infection rates and hospitalizations in the wake of the winter holidays.
Kraman says Mecum has complied with local restrictions wherever it has hosted live auctions this year and takes “self policing” of the events—masking in particular—very seriously.
“We don’t want to have a situation where someone says, ‘We’re going to shut this down.’ That’d be the ultimate train wreck,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to get this thing.”
Spectators won’t have access to the auction arena, which itself will feature more spaced-out seating, and most of the cars will, of course, be outside, but there won’t be limits on registered bidders, and the state of Florida currently is not restricting in-person attendance at events.
“We don’t tell event organizers whether they can or can’t host something,” said Jeremy Lanier, public information officer for the Florida Department of Public Health in Osceola County. The department does connect organizers with up-to-date CDC guidances, and Lanier added that Osceola Heritage Park has plenty of experience hosting large numbers of people during the pandemic, given that it has been a COVID testing site and will be a vaccine distribution site.
“I feel very confident events are held with utmost care there,” Lanier said.
For those who prefer to stay home, Mecum has, like just about every other major auction house, ramped up its digital tools. Kraman said online bids at Kissimmee will be processed in less than 1 second, allowing remote bidders to compete with those in the room. Online buyers, he added, now account for some 20 percent of Mecum sales, up from about 3 percent in 2019.
Still, Mecum makes no apologies for prioritizing the in-person experience.
“It will continue to be a blend, and we will continue to refine the absentee bidding process, but live events are our identity. It’s who we are,” Kraman said.
Live or online, restrictions or not, vehicles are crossing the block at a scale we haven’t seen since COVID began and likely won’t again for the rest of the year. Mecum Kissimmee will be the first and perhaps best public test of the collector car market in 2021. That’s why we’re finally giving it our undivided attention.
Mecum Kissimmee vs. Scottsdale, by the numbers
To get a sense of how big Kissimmee is in terms of the market, we can compare it to the Scottsdale auctions. Note the comparison is not quite apples to apples. “Scottsdale” is made up of half a dozen or more separate sales conducted by different companies over the course of a week, while Kissimmee is a single auction that takes 10 days.