With apologies to General Motors jingle writers of the past, see what's new today in an old Chevrolet.
More than 500 vehicles — some vintage Chevys with less than 10 miles on the odometer — will be sold at auction this September. The collection from Lambrecht Chevrolet Co. in Pierce, Neb., is a time capsule of automotive history.
The prospect of dozens of unrestored, low-mileage originals dating to the 1950s and '60s has car enthusiasts' oil pressure rising. But as the cop says as he directs cars past a traffic accident, there's nothing to see here, folks.
Come back in three months.
Jeannie Lambrecht Stillwell of suburban Orlando, Fla., says so. She is the daughter of Ray and Mildred Lambrecht, who owned and operated Lambrecht Chevrolet from 1946 to 1996. When they retired, hundreds of unsold vehicles were left behind.
Stillwell has worked for six years to prepare her parents' collection for liquidation. The inventory list is being tuned up. An auctioneer is running a high-octane promotional campaign. Overwhelming views crashed her website. National car magazines, blogs and television crews picked up the trail.
And four scofflaws picked up felony theft convictions.
Stillwell has no patience for scoundrels who think they can help themselves to someone else's property just because the lights are out at the dealership.
“Vandalism and theft have been a huge problem for decades,” she said.
Stillwell is adding surveillance cameras and armed security patrols to guard the collection, which is stored at different sites.
“Trespassers will be prosecuted,” she said.
Auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink of Hardwick, Minn., said security is a constant problem with big automotive and farm machinery auctions. Lug nuts come from near and far.
“Local people think they're entitled to walk around because they're local,” VanDerBrink said. “And I had a guy call from California. He was obstinate and insisted that he could come look at the collection now. I've had about 25 people call and ask to buy the entire collection and call off the auction. All we do is chase people off.”
But in 12 weeks, Stillwell and VanDerBrink will welcome the world to Pierce, population 1,767, in northeast Nebraska. VanDerBrink Auctions will conduct the sale Sept. 28 and 29. Online bidding will be available. Since the Lambrechts retain their dealer license, the old “new” cars will be sold to the highest bidder as new cars.
Preview Day is Sept. 27. Auction attendees will be able to see all of the cars, tools and advertising material to be auctioned. The inventory, photographs and auction rules are available at VanDerBrink Auctions' website.
Many of the unsold new cars still have the manufacturer's stickers on a window and original oil in the crankcase. Never-installed floor mats remain rolled up behind a 1958 pickup's seat. Plastic covers a 1963 Impala's upholstery.
Wheel covers for a 1964 Impala remain in the trunk.
Several weeks ago, Stillwell and VanDerBrink pulled out cars to inventory and photograph. It stopped traffic on West Main Street. A 12-minute video of the process posted on the auctioneer's website quickly generated phone calls from Australia, Brazil, Norway, Scotland, Sweden and across the United States.
“There's a real hunger for these rare, collectible cars,” Stillwell said.
The 1958 Chevy Cameo pickup truck and a 1963 Chevy Impala both have less than 10 miles. VanDerBrink said she wouldn't be surprised to see winning bids of 10 times the vehicles' original value. For the Impala, that would be $26,000 for a car that cost $2,600 on the showroom floor.
Most of the collection is an assortment of cars that were traded, parked and not sold. The list includes Tri-Fives, Chevelles and Corvairs, plus Fords, Plymouths and Studebakers.
“Not everything's in great shape,” Stillwell said. “Sadly, the elements took a toll. But for collectors looking for something to refurbish and make new, or someone looking for parts, some of these will be highly sought.”
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In preparation for the auction, Stillwell wrote the story of her parents' dealership for car enthusiasts. The following is based on her account and interviews with Stillwell.
The genesis of Lambrecht's car collection was in his preference to sell cars and trucks when they were still new.
“He felt very strongly about the issue of safety for families with young children,” she said. “He would strive to put those families in new cars that were safe and reliable rather than selling them a used car.”
He sold thousands of new cars and pickups. The trade-ins were parked on his farm and gradually grew into a huge collection. Unsold new cars were also stored.
Lambrecht, now 95 and still living in Pierce with his wife, was born on a Pierce County farm. He served in the Army in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. He returned to Nebraska and married Mildred Heckman.
Before the war, General Motors distributed franchises across the Midwest. One was given to Lambrecht's uncle, Ernest Lambrecht. Ray Lambrecht joined the dealership in 1946 as a partner and designed and built the structure that still stands. Ernest retired two years later.
Ray became the sole owner of the franchise. It was tucked between a cream station that bought eggs and cream from farmers and a business that sold Plymouths for a dealership in Norfolk. The Lambrechts operated their dealership with only one employee, a mechanic.
“My parents worked six days a week for 50 years, never taking one single day of vacation or one sick day,” Stillwell said.
Ray ran the dealership and handled all sales. Mildred did the accounting, made daily runs for parts and served as notary public for the dealership.
The dealership was allotted 16 cars for the entire first year of business, Stillwell said. They were black or gray with cloth interiors and no heaters. They sold for $600 to $800. They also received six pickups that year.
“They came with no box,” she said. “Dad got the local lumber yard to supply wooden boxes for the pickups.”
Some of Lambrecht's first customers were Army buddies from across the country.
“They were so pleased with the experience of buying cars from Dad, they and their families became life-long repeat customers,” Stillwell said.
She said her father was one of General Motors' top volume sellers and received many sales awards. Lambrecht's success stemmed from a philosophy of not dealing or negotiating with customers, Stillwell said.
“He gave his best price the first time,” she said. “When a potential customer arrived, Dad would pick up a pencil, make a few calculations and then give him a number. That was it.”
In 1959, Lambrecht created the “It Will Pay to See Ray” motto for his dealership.
Lambrecht's reputation was global. Stillwell remembers a man from Switzerland ordering a white 1969 Corvette.
“He called before flying out, and asked if Pierce, Neb., was anywhere near Los Angeles,” Stillwell said. “Dad told him to fly to a place called Omaha, and we picked him up from there.”
Stillwell recalled the household excitement when new cars arrived on transport trucks from Janesville, Wis. The Lambrecht home was across the street from the dealership.
“We would hear the loud clang as the transport driver lowered the heavy metal tracks onto the brick street,” she said, “and we would run out of the house in anticipation.”
Announcement Day at Lambrecht Chevrolet was an event for the entire town. Unlike today, one select day in September of each year was the first opportunity for anyone to view the new car models. Cars would be delivered in advance and hidden away. Early that morning, Lambrecht would move one shiny new Chevrolet into the showroom.
“There would be balloons and banners, coffee and doughnuts, souvenirs and lots of built-up excitement,” Stillwell said. “Everyone in town would come to see the new car and truck models.”
Lambrecht Chevrolet remained a small business. In the 1980s, the Lambrechts made the transition from typewriter to computer for communications with General Motors.
“But Mom still used an adding machine for maintaining handwritten financial ledgers and paper files,” Stillwell said.
“The original cash register from 1946 still sat on the front counter and was used daily.”
The decision to auction the inventory was difficult.
“The collection of more than 500 true survivor vehicles comprises a lifetime of hard work, tears and joy for both my parents,” Stillwell said. “Looking back at the history of Lambrecht Chevrolet, my parents have no regrets and are proud of the thousands of new cars and trucks they sold to many generations of happy customers.”
Stillwell said her parents hope these rare collectible vehicles will now be a source of enjoyment and inspiration for new generations of car enthusiasts.
But not until September.
Before then, rather than admiring a 1959 Bel Air four-door with two miles on the odometer, thieves, vandals and trespassers are likely to become intimately familiar with the backseat upholstery of Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt's 2009 Ford Expedition and the concrete walls of his three-cell jail.