Bow-tie lovers flock to Nebraska for front row seat as historic stash is sold off
By Angelo Van Bogart
The hearty Nebraska wind that blew across the 507 cars collected by Ray Lambrecht of the defunct Lambrecht Chevrolet Co. in Pierce finally carried the cars across the world following the auction of the collection on Sept. 28-29.
Starting at VanDerBrink Auctions’ preview on Sept. 27, thousands of people — some reports as high as 20,000 — came from as far as Australia and Brazil to see the USA and Lambrecht’s unsold Chevrolets, and to have their questions surrounding the “Lambrecht Legend” answered. Why did Lambrecht hold back more than 40 trade-ins? Why didn’t he sell his 55 new, leftover Chevrolets after the new models came out? What is the condition of an unsold 1959 Chevrolet after it has been sitting outside for decades? What does a 1958 Chevrolet Cameo or 1963 Impala Sport Coupe still on a manufacturer’s statement of origin (MSO) look like after sitting in a dealership for 50 or more years?
Throughout the weekend, droves peered into the emptied dealership on the corner of Pierce’s Lucas and Main streets looking for the answers. As Lambrecht quietly looked on from his nearby home, the contents of the brick building he built in 1946 to sell Chevys were emptied on Sept. 26 in preparation for the sale. For the first time in decades, several dusty vehicles emerged: a 1.3-mile 1958 Chevrolet Cameo in turquoise and black; an 11-mile 1963 Impala Sport Coupe in red and white with a 327 and automatic; a white 1964 Impala Sport Coupe with 4 miles on the 327 and three-speed manual transmission; a 1978 Corvette Pace Car with 4 miles; and two 1963 Corvair Monza coupes, each with 17 miles.
These and a few of Lambrecht’s preferred trade-ins from inside the dealership were moved to the farm on the outskirts of Pierce where Lambrecht parked the majority of unsold and unavailable trade-ins and “new” vehicles. Cars and trucks from a second storage building in Fremont, Kan., also were moved to the farm field to finally join the many vehicles Lambrecht refused to part with.
The answers to some visitors’ questions had recently been addressed by Lambrecht’s daughter, Jeannie Lambrecht-Stillwell, who told Firsatsaatleri in previous interviews that her father had the foresight to know some cars would be collectible. He also cut people such great deals on new Chevrolets, and preferred to sell new cars to families for safety purposes, that he rarely sold his used-car trade-ins. All of the unsold new vehicles had been stored inside at one time, but when the roof of a storage building collapsed, Lambrecht was forced to park most of the unsold cars in the farm field with his trade-ins, where he and neighbors worked to keep out trespassing thieves. The effort paid off, and nearly all of the cars remained complete. Even the 1959 Chevrolets, which had been targeted by thieves who were eventually caught, had their missing trim placed inside the trunk or passenger compartment by the auction.
The farm field eventually grew into a forest, but by the September sale of Lambrecht’s collection, VanDerBrink Auctions had returned Lambrecht’s property into a field again for the absolute auction. For spectators and bidders, the lines of Lambrecht’s unsold and low-mileage trade-in vehicles formed a field of dreams.
“Interest-wise, this is the most interest I have had in an auction,” Yvette VanDerBrink said. “It’s lived up to our expectations.”
VanDerBrink Auctions prepared the cars in lines, with the best unsold vehicles crossing a blue carpet to welcome bidders at the entrance to the field. The best-preserved examples were those that whispered the secret of Lambrecht’s collection from their place in the dealership window, and they were the first to be auctioned. Yvette VanDerBrink chose to leave the decades of eerie dirt and dust on the vehicles, essentially allowing the vehicles’ first owners a chance at new-car prep. Once in their hands, the winners would decide whether to install the hubcaps long hidden in some trunks, or how to properly handle the shipping plastic covering the seats of some cars or the rubber mats behind the seats of several trucks.
It was clear many of the indoor-stored vehicles simply needed a bath to look nearly new again. However, the 18 unsold 1963-1966 Chevrolet trucks and the five unsold “Slimline Design” 1959 Chevrolets four-doors were certainly going to need more than a cleaning and a mechanical overhaul to be revived. An extended period of outdoor storage left some vehicles marked with dings, dents and even rust. Despite weathering, many of these vehicles still told the story of how Chevrolet built its vehicles. Frames still showing semi-gloss black paint, floor boards of red-oxide primer with body-color over spray along the outside edges and exhaust manifolds covered with orange overspray educated close observers on how to authentically restore their own Chevrolets.
On Sept. 28, the first of two auction days, the field from which Lambrecht had worked so hard to deter trespassers was overrun with enthusiasts. From curious locals to hard-core foreign collectors, all were all welcomed by VanDerBrink Auctions without an admission fee. From the moment Yvette VanDerBrink auctioned off the first piece of Chevrolet memorabilia from Lambrecht Chevrolet Co.’s inventory — a Value Center Chevrolet sign — it was obvious that the “Lambrecht Legend” had left bidders drunk with excitement.
Crowds piled around VanDerBrink’s moving trailer and obscured the parts, yet bidding for yard sticks printed with the Lambrecht name sold for more than $200 each before they were bundled into sets of five, then sold for $400 or more a set. Bidding for parts and memorabilia from inside Lambrecht Chevrolet climaxed when the rare 1956 Corvette Eska pedal car that Chevrolet awarded to Ray Lambrecht sold for $16,000.
A mob of hundreds or more bidders and spectators then followed VanDerBrink’s trailer to the first vehicle to be offered — an unsold 1958 Cameo Series 3100 six-cylinder truck with just 1.3 miles. Just 1,405 Cameos were built in 1958, making it the rarest from the 1955-1958 Cameo run. VanDerBrink told Firsatsaatleri that she expected it to be the top seller, and she was right: the Cameo’s original $2,231 base was far exceeded when bidding hit a record $140,000 and VanDerBrink declared “Sold!” to a cheering crowd.
Reportedly, the Cameo went to a trust in New Hampshire that plans to leave it untouched.
The momentum continued to the next vehicle in the Saturday sale. A shortbox stepside 1958 Chevrolet Apache Series 31 with 5 miles and also still on MSO sold for $80,000 just before a ’78 Corvette Indy Pace Car L48 with 4 miles sold for an identical $80,000 record bid.
“Late Great Chevy” Impalas also did exceptionally well: Lambrecht’s white ’64 Impala two-door hardtop with 4 miles and a 327 V-8, which had long drawn enthusiasts to peer into the window of Lambrecht Chevrolet Co., sold for $75,000. It was immediately followed by the ’63 Impala two-door hardtop with 11 miles and a 327 V-8 and automatic, which sold for a stronger bid of $97,500. A representative of the buyer said the owner plans to simply wash the car.
Two 1965 Impala two-door hardtops with 325-hp 396 V-8s and automatic transmissions immediately followed. As identical models that were similarly optioned, they illustrated the contrast in how storing a car inside and outside affects a vehicle’s condition and value.
The Artesian Turquoise example that Lambrecht had stashed inside for most of its existence still wore its window sticker and showed 12 miles on the odometer, and thus sold for $72,500. The white example with 10 miles immediately followed and sold for $45,000.
Its lower price can be attributed to the surface rust around the back window and some rust-through on the front fenders from a period of lean-to storage, which had also stripped the Impala of its window sticker.
After an unsold, 326-mile 1964 Bel Air station wagon with a 283 V-8 sold for $30,000 and a 1966 Bel Air sedan with 7 miles sold for $14,500, Corvairs set records. A “resale red” 1963 Corvair Monza coupe that had been stored inside Lambrecht Chevrolet with 17 miles sold first for $42,500. Its white 1963 Monza coupe stablemate from inside the dealership immediately followed, with VanDerBrink declaring it sold from her moving platform to a high bid of $40,000.
A mix of low-mileage trade-ins long stored inside the dealership were then bid to far-above-average prices: Jeannie Lambrecht-Stillwell’s personal 1962 Corvair Monza coupe with 44,500 miles sold for $13,000, while a 1962 Impala two-door hardtop with a 327-cid V-8 and four-speed and 57,500 miles sold for $36,000.
Although several unsold Chevrolets set records, nothing left the crowd scratching their heads more than the $27,000 winning bid by a Texan for Lambrecht’s 75,000-mile “trade-in” 1969 Chevelle SS396. The SS396 had an automatic transmission and its share of rust, as well as a crushed roof.
After the 1969 Chevelle SS sale, bidding slightly cooled as VanDerBrink ran through the line of five unsold 1959 Chevrolet four-doors, which was interspersed with a few used trade-in 1959s. The unsold 1959s had been stored outside for a period, leaving them in varying conditions, but like Lambrecht’s other unsold “new” cars, each ’59 still carried its MSO.
Prices among the unsold 1959 Chevrolet four-doors varied from $11,000 for a Bel Air hardtop to $16,000 for an Impala hardtop. The best buy among the 1959 Chevrolets was the Bel Air four-door hardtop with 2 miles, which sold first. It may have been the rarest of the 1959s, and it may have sold for the lowest price, but that’s not what made it the deal among its bat-winged peers. Unlike the other 1959 four-doors, the Bel Air four-door hardtop retained a solid trunk, a fact that didn’t get past its winning bidder, Firsatsaatleri reader Myron Smith.
“I’m going to keep it original and get it running, but I am not sure we’ll drive it,” Smith said, adding he plans to enter the car in the AACA’s Historic Preservation of Original Features class for unrestored vehicles. The Nebraska resident added that a good friend prodded him to buy the Bel Air, but despite his reservations about bidding, the Bel Air found a good home. It is joining a collection that includes five other 1959 Chevrolets, one of which is the El Camino that Smith’s father bought new.
After the five unsold and three of the trade-in 1959 Chevrolets went under VanDerBrinks’ energetic calling, the unsold vehicles on MSO were more interspersed with the trade-ins. Highlights include the 1960 Chevrolet Apache 10 stepside with a six-cylinder and three-speed and 2 miles that sold for $46,000 before the 1959 Chevrolet Viking 40 cab-and-chassis truck with 7 miles and no radiator went for an even more astounding $60,000.
The final grouping of unsold MSO vehicles was the line of 1963-1966 Chevrolet half-ton trucks. Nearly all of the trucks showed fair to significant amounts of weathering, and none had a wood bed floor any longer. Some of these longbox trucks had their boxes crushed by a fallen tree or a building, yet winning bids ranged from $10,500 to an astronomical $39,000, with most selling from $17,500 to $24,000. The $39,000 top sale went to the black, six-cylinder 1964 Chevrolet C10 with a common odometer reading of 5 miles, but such features as a chrome front bumper and grille and small rear cab window.
Patina is hot among unrestored-original enthusiasts and hot rodders alike, and vehicles of the Lambrecht collection had plenty. Perhaps that patina and the widespread media hype helped explain the far-above-average prices attained by VanDerBrink Auctions throughout the sale. That hype extended through the second day of bidding, which ended at nearly 7 p.m. on Sunday night.
On the second day, third-generation Lambrecht customer Bill Kuhl hoped to buy his grandfather’s 1951 Studebaker Champion coupe, which had been traded in to Lambrecht for a new 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne two-door sedan. (That year, Kuhl’s father also bought a new 1959 Chevrolet — a four-door sedan — from Lambrecht upon trading in a 1953 Pontiac.) The Biscayne two-door eventually became Kuhl’s car, but when the college student was returning from reserve duty in June 1968, he cooked the engine.
“The red (oil) light was on and there was no time to stop, so I shot to town and figured I’d fix it there,” said Kuhl, an Firsatsaatleri reader.
By the time Kuhl arrived in Pierce, it was too late for the Chevy. Like his father and grandfather, he went to see Ray Lambrecht, who lived up to his slogan, “It will pay to see Ray.”
“I was one of the few who bought a used car from Lambrecht — a 1962 Bel Air two-door post with a six-cylinder stick and overdrive and just 27,000 miles,” Kuhl said.
For years, Kuhl stared into Lambrecht’s storage field from the adjacent golf course where he works and been teased with memories of the decaying cars he, his father and his grandfather had traded in to Lambrecht.
“I never asked Ray to buy (the Studebaker), and I looked online and the bidding was too high in the auction,” Kuhl said. The Studebaker went to another bidder for $3,000. The 1959 Biscayne two-door that was bought new by Kuhl’s grandfather and then passed to Kuhl was also in the auction. Like many of the used trade-ins, especially the rough trade-in two-door 1959 Chevrolets, it sold for a relatively high price of $7,000 (a 1959 Bel Air two-door sedan sold a couple lots earlier for an inexplicable $18,000).
By the time Yvette VanDerBrink yelled “Sold!” for the final lot — a lone Oliver tractor — the auction tally had reached $2.88 million. Even detractors who felt Ray Lambrecht “hoarded” cars and trucks, or faulted him for having to leave so many of the vehicles exposed to the outdoors, could agree that Ray’s ways brought the hobby together for one big party and a never-to-be-repeated experience. Truly, the old Lambrecht slogan “It will pay to see Ray” proved true one last time.