Follow @OWHDavidHendee for live updates on the car auction Saturday via Twitter below.
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PIERCE, Neb. — Welcome to Motor City USA.
For car enthusiasts around the world, all roads lead to Pierce, if only for this weekend.
Thousands of people — ranging from serious bidders to barbecue eaters — are pouring into this rural county seat town of nearly 1,800 people for a peek or a piece of automotive history.
The lure is a two-day auction of the leftover inventory of the closed Lambrecht Chevrolet dealership in this northeast Nebraska community. It's a mother lode of nearly 500 vintage vehicles with hard-to-find classics from the 1950s, '60s and '70s. The cars and trucks include Bel Airs, Corvairs, Apaches and Impalas. The best of the lot have less than 10 miles on the odometer and factory-wrapped plastic on the seats.
“For a collector, this is a field of dreams,” said auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink of Hardwick, Minn. “To a car guy, this is a mecca.”
The collection goes on the auction block Saturday and Sunday.
More than 3,600 potential buyers from 50 states and seven countries had registered by Friday to bid in person or online. Two thousand of them were already in Pierce. Online offers, which will jump-start the bidding, totaled $700,000 by Friday morning. The online catalog has received more than 3 million hits, according to Omaha-based Proxibid.
The first vehicle to be auctioned Saturday morning will be a 1958 Chevrolet Cameo pickup truck with 1.3 miles on its odometer. Online bidding for the pickup was climbing toward $50,000 Friday.
VanDerBrink said the vehicle rolled off a transport truck in 1958 at the Lambrecht dealership and sat idle. The engine has never been started in Pierce County, she said. The turquoise and black pickup attracted crowds of admirers during Friday's public preview.
The collection is the legacy of Ray and Mildred Lambrecht, who operated the local Chevrolet dealership for a half century until retiring in 1996. The Lambrechts still live across the street from the shuttered dealership.
VanDerBrink said the Lambrechts are appreciative of the interest in the vehicles but that the auction will be bittersweet.
“They want all the cars to go to good homes,” she said.
Yet, when vehicles were moved from the dealership to the auction site in the Lambrecht's oat field on the edge of town Thursday, it was tough on 95-year-old Ray Lambrecht, VanDerBrink said.
“It's kind of like marrying off your daughter,” she said. “Some daughters you want to get rid of and some you don't. For car guys, the cars are their babies. So he was watching all of his girls go away.''
Visitors from Australia, Germany, Norway, Sweden and South Africa are among the thousands of people expected in Pierce this weekend. By one estimate, 10,000 had walked through the grounds by mid-afternoon Friday. Hotels in at least a 50-mile radius — some say 100 miles — sold out in mid-summer. Campgrounds are full. Residents in the region are renting rooms in their homes to out-of-town guests.
Former car restorer Terry Lockner of Black Hawk, S.D., was among the throng that flooded the auction site Friday for the first public look at the collection. Lockner, 71, is camping with a sleeping bag in the back of his pickup truck. He described himself as a “baloney” visitor.
“That means I'm not staying in a motel, and my wife made me sandwiches,'' he said.
Everywhere across the 80-acre field, people were peering under hoods, admiring chrome trim and peering with flashlights at undercarriages.
Body shop owner Steve Borges of Plaistow, N.H., jotted in a spiral notebook as he inspected a yellow 1956, two-door Chevrolet Bel Air sedan.
“You know in a car this old that you're going to have floor rot,” he said. “What you're looking for is how everything else ties into the frame.”
He graded the Chevy a C+.
Borges said the jetfighter-like design of the sedan — with wings, fins and chrome eagle hood ornament — is classic, especially when he compared it to the pudgy 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster parked a few feet away.
“These cars are pretty cool,” he said.
The auction drew the History channel to Pierce. The cable network will broadcast “History Made Now: Wheels of Fortune'' from the auction from 7 to 10 p.m. CDT Saturday.
VanDerBrink said she's not surprised the Lambrecht collection has attracted so much attention.
“Everybody remembers the car they got married in, car they dated in, car they (pregnant pause) had lunch in, the car they brought home babies in,” she said. “They always want those memories back. The car you remember riding in with your dad. These are memories and history.”
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