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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / A 1937 Pontiac Slantback rolls off the auction block after being sold at the Chattanooga Convention Center in downtown Chattanooga on Friday, October 15, 2021 during the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival.

Talk about moving some metal.

The Mecum classic and collectible car auction at the Chattanooga Convention Center this weekend expects to ring up sales at the rate of about $1 million per hour.

Auction officials say the two-day sale, featuring 600 vehicles and more than 1,200 registered bidders, will likely bring $15 million to $20 million in sales. That's the equivalent of a $30,000 sale every two minutes.

If Friday's turnout is any indication, the Mecum auction is the new beating heart of the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, which continues through Sunday downtown.

Road races, a road rally, car exhibits and the Mecum auction continue in full array Saturday with an abbreviated schedule on Sunday headlined by a concours d'elegance in the West Village.

Single-day passes to the festival are $39 (plus fees). Two-day passes are $69. Festival officials said Friday they were pleased with ticket sales so far but did not release specific attendance figures for the day.

Thousands packed the Chattanooga Convention Center on Friday to see the Mecum team auction off everything from bicycles to Bentleys. Trucks, SUVs and mid-century muscle cars were the stars of the show, which has a blue-collar vibe.

"You're not going to see any sports jackets or tuxedos in here," said David Morton, a Mecum spokesperson. "It's a spectacle."

Bidders paid $200 each for the right to bid on vehicles, which were rolled across the auction stage at a 30-car-per-hour pace.

Photo Gallery

Day 1 of the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival

As many as a dozen "ringmen" and "ringwomen" fanned out through the crowd to gather the bids. Any ticketed Motorcar Festival attendee can view the cars waiting to be auctioned and see the bidding inside the convention center.

Dennis Stewart of Lexington, Kentucky, had his eyes on a 1966 baby-blue Corvette. Stewart, who spends his winters in Florida, said he has been to several Mecum auctions across the nation.

"I use it for a car show," he said.

While this week marks Mecum's first visit to Chattanooga, it may not be the last. Chief Operating Officer Sam Murtaugh said the world's largest car auction company doesn't typically do one-off sales.

"We don't make a decision to go somewhere new unless we want to do it on an annual basis," he said.

This month marks the first time in the company's 33-year history that Mecum has attempted back-to-back-to-back auctions. The Chattanooga event is sandwiched between auctions in Las Vegas last week and Chicago next week.

The last 18 months have been a growth period for the car collecting hobby. Mecum sales are up about 20 percent year over year, officials said, and the sell-through rate — the percentage of cars that are actually purchased and not held back due to "reserve" thresholds set by owners — has been topping 80 percent.

Typically, Mecum events are televised on NBC Sports Network and the Peacock network, but because of the heavy October auction line-up, the Chattanooga sale will only be streamed on Mecum.com.

 

Grand Prix

Friday marked the debut of the two-day Pace Grand Prix at the Bend, a series of wheel-to-wheel races on a two-mile road course built around the Bend development on the 121-acre former Alstom plant site at Moccasin Bend.

There are eight automotive categories ranging from early 20th century brass and tin cars to modern electric vehicles. Races pit up to 12 vehicles at a time.

"This has been magic," gushed Joseph "Corky" Coker, the grand marshal of the festival, as he took a short break from providing commentary at the race course's start-finish line.

Dale Kritz and Richard Papy of Savannah, Georgia, are here with their 1911 EMF Race Car, one of only two of the Detroit-made tin era models still in existence.

"We're not really racing, we're just testing them out," said Papy, noting that the cars technically have a top speed of about 60 miles per hour.

Race course gates open at 7:30 a.m. Saturday near the intersection of M.L. King Boulevard and Riverfront Parkway. Trams run in continuous loops from the Westin Hotel downtown to the race course. Races continue through 6 p.m.

 

Car clubs

Most festivalgoers spend several hours strolling the streets of the West Village in the blocks around the Westin Hotel. Each street has its own automotive identity. Chestnut Street, for example, is Corvette Row, while West 8th Street is lined with MGs and other British sports cars. The plaza around the Westin is Ferrari Circle.

Ben O'Brien of Ooltewah had his 1989 Saleen Mustang on display, a special-edition car customized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the iconic Ford model.

"This is heaven," said O'Brien, a retired Tennessee Valley Authority worker. "I'm seeing cars I never really had the chance to see, right here in Chattanooga."

David Denham, who operates Lakesite Wine and Spirit, was at the festival showing off a new, Red Mist Corvette C8.

"Come around and look at the license plate," he beckoned.

"IT8A4RE."

Translation: It ate a Ferrari.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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