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Money, Modern Muscle, And A Monstrocity Meet At Bonhams Wally Lewis Sale

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On: Mon, Jun 27, 2011 at 5:51PM | By: Andrew W Davis

Money, Modern Muscle, And A Monstrocity Meet At Bonhams Wally Lewis Sale

In the stuff-selling world there’s a definite hierarchy. At the bottom you have the worthless tchotchke hawkers of eBay, and at the top are the established, old-world auction houses that have lot fees with more zeros than the price of the actual thing anywhere else.

Right at the tippy-top of THAT pile are firms like Bonhams. Founded in 1793—no, that 7 isn’t supposed to be a 9—this ''privately owned British auction house'' is ''one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The Bonhams name is recognised [sic, silly Brits] worldwide throughout all sectors of the fine art, antiques, and collectors' market.''

So why the hell are they selling—between sales of ''Fine English Furniture'' and ''Art & Antiques''—a Ford Pinto-based kit car from 1994?

Blame Wally.

The Wallace ''Wally'' Lewis for which the collection—and, therefore, this sale—was named is one of the few particularly-American small businessmen that turned their hard-scrabble labor into enterprise-sized corporations.

For unfortunate reasons I need not explain here, on June 11, 2011, in Portland, Oregon, the “Wallace ‘Wally’ Lewis Collection”—48 lots of ''Mechanical Parts and Spares'' and 96 ''Collectors’ Motorcars''—went on sale.

Beginning with the oldest vehicle on offer (Lot 101, a 1930 Ford Model AA 1&1/2 Ton Stakebed truck ($8,190) through to its newest ''collector’s car'' (Lot 190, a 2005 Dodge Ram SRT-10 truck I’ll cover later), Wally’s collection found new homes, for amounts ranging from a hair over $4k (for an Oldsmobile 98 Series Sedan) to just under $100k for a ’57 Fuelie Vette.

Nearly every vehicle on offer shattered its pre-auction estimates, with some—like the GMC Syclone and Ram SRT-10 I’m about to go into—quadrupling or more their anticipated high estimates. Most of the vehicles on sale were pure American iron from the 1930s to the 1960s, in every body style imaginable, plus the pickups and trailers required to shuttle them from show-to-show

Here are five oddballs—in both good and not-so-good ways—from the sale.

Lot 182: 1994 Gazelle SSK [Pinto] Kit Car (estimate: $4k – $5k; sold at: $8,190)


I’m going through these rides in Bonhams’ own lot-number order, and as it puts this one first, it will coincidentally allow me to get it out of the way. Here’s how poor Bonhams had to spin stooping to sell this thing (with that noise you hear whilst reading the [unedited] description being the sound of the auctioneers’ teeth grinding competing with the sound of this thing sucking):

''The Gazelle kit car was offered by Classic Motor Carriages of Hallandale, Florida, to fit on either a Ford Pinto or Volkswagen chassis. It was designed to resemble a 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK but its proportions and performance leave much to the imagination.

''This car was licensed in 1994 in Washington State, reportedly built by a retired bodyman. It's based on a Ford Pinto, with a 2-liter OHC engine and a 4-speed manual transmission. The body is fiberglass, finished in gray with brown fenders. The paint is good and the brown vinyl upholstery and tan vinyl top are in good condition.

''The car is equipped with ‘wire basket’ chrome wheels, and the wire covers are in an accompanying basket, since they can be self-detaching. The drivetrain was rebuilt when the car was assembled 1,200 miles ago. This is an ideal summer car for Palm Springs, or the Oregon coast, where it will not rust.''

If there was a Pulitzer for non-political sow’s-ear conversion this would win hands-down. After a snarky-yet-factual first paragraph they packed all the pertinent info and praise they could muster into the second. But it’s the third graph that REALLY sells it: Making ''self-detaching'' (otherwise known as ''randomly flung from vehicle'') wire wheel covers—and their location in another mysterious ''basket'' (and not installed in the photo)—a selling ''feature'' is second only to selling this thing geographically on the basis that it easily rusts.

Well played, Bonhams. Your wildly-optimistic bid estimate of $4k-$5k was passed like this thing would be by anything short of a toddler on roller skates.

Lot 184: 1991 GMC Syclone (pickup) ($4,500 – $5,500; sold for: $24,570)


You can read this flatback’s full sporting credentials in another feature—someone else’s—elsewhere on this site, but what you should know about this wundertruck is this: GM LOST its DAMN MIND when it let these go into production. Granted, it was for only one full year—1991—and only 2,998 were built (three of them in 1992), but even Bonhams saw the Syclone’s inherent insanity: ''Since it lived on the ragged edge and invited destruction, about the only survivors… exist in collections like the extremely nice example owned by Wally Lewis.''

Now, I have my pride and all regarding my writing, but I’m going to stand aside and let Bonhams’ own copywriter tell you just how nice Wally’s really is: ''Showing only 3,153 miles, it's virtually new and will need all its fluids replaced before anybody releases the tiger.''

If the Pinto SSK passed by its estimates, the Syclone screamed beyond its $4,500 – $5,500 estimate like, well, a psycho-driven Syclone blowing past a parked plastic-bodied Pinto. Still, $25k for a near-new careless-driver-disassembly-unit seems like a deal to me.

Lot 186: 1993 GMC Typhoon (SUV) ($4,500 – $6k) ($12,285)


Called (by Bonhams) a ''rather-more-useful SUV variant of the exciting Syclone pickup,” the Typhoon was also more plentiful (4,697 sold) and available in eight additional colors—unlike the only-black Syclone—including three reds, three blues, a green, and “Frost White” like Wally’s.

While not as minty-fresh as the Syclone, this mechanically-identical (and nearly as insane) Typhoon “is very straight with good paint and has obviously been garaged. It has negligible wear to the gray leather interior and indicates 62,043 miles.” That the Typhoon’s been driven more is no surprise, but the fact that ANY of Wally’s cars got that much exercise is. Then again, with this lot doubling its $6k high estimate, it seems the distance didn’t hurt this beast’s bottom line.

Lot 189: 1996 Chevrolet Impala SS sedan ($4,500 – $6k) ($14,625)


Yet another overpowered Wally-mobile brings a more-than-estimate-doubling result. My favorite auction-oriented copywriter seems to have taken the day off when the listing for this super-Caprice came due as it’s done in pure Joe Friday-style, listing just the facts.

Hay is made of 1996 being the last year (of three) for this model, therefore making this “improved” model year’s cars “the one to have.” It also mentions it being bought new by someone else in 1997 and sold to Wally ten years later, though I’m not sure why. It has 19,900 miles showing and is “unmarked, with only light wear to the… driver’s seat.” Seeing as how it’s a last-year model—and despite its being in the most common color that year—I could think of better ways to spend $15k on the hottest of all non-cop Chevy “Shamus,” but not many.

Lot 190: 2005 Dodge Ram SRT-10 (pickup) ($4,500 – $6k) ($33,930)


“You can read this flatback’s full sporting credentials elsewhere, but what you should know about this wundertruck is this: GM LOST its DAMN MIND when it let these go into production.” Sound familiar? Just substitute “CHRYSLER” for “GM” and “EFFING” for “DAMN” and you STILL can’t adequately describe the mass-psychosis—or hard drugs—that had to be ruling the roost for cramming a Viper’s 510-horsepower, 8.3-liter V-10 engine, and six-speed manual transmission into a standard-cab RWD-only Ram pickup to make sense.

As Bonhams says, this idea was first “floated” in 1996, but as everyone in Mopar land was taking their medication, it didn’t come to pass. Come 2002, however, the bigwigs were ripe for an SRT- (and intoxicant-) fueled takeover, and one year later the Dodge Ram SRT-10 started down its three-year—and 9,527-unit—trail of terror.

While I’d prefer MY version of Satan’s supertruck in its more fitting throat-slashy-red, Wally’s mid-production 2005 was one of 280 spawned that year in silver. Though it lacks the more desirable four-door “Quad Cab” body, Wally’s bought-new hellspawn sports just 750 miles and looks it. And even though it sold for an extravagantly estimate-multiplying amount, at $66.53-per-horsepower it’s STILL a better deal than the pricey Syclone, as its 280 ponies were $87.75 each.

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)


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