RM Auctions, Inc.
RM Auctions, Inc.
Sales: C$200 million ($171 million) (2006 est.)
NAIC: 453998 Miscellaneous Retail Stores, Not Elsewhere Classified
Maintaining its corporate headquarters in Blenheim, Ontario, Canada, RM Auctions, Inc., is one of the world’s premiere auction houses for classic automobiles. Taking a boutique approach, privately owned RM offers fewer cars than its rivals but achieves a higher average price per car by concentrating on rarer, more expensive collectibles, especially American classics of the 1930s such as Duesenbergs, and on Ferraris and other classic sports cars of the 1950s. RM boasts a long list of high-priced auctions, including the $3.2 million paid for one of just four 1934 Packard Twelve Runabout Speedsters to have been produced, and more than $1 million each for a 1930 Duesenberg Model J. Dual Cowl Phaeton and a 1938 Bugatti T57C Aravis Drophead Coupe. RM restores vintage autos, which is the company’s original business, and also offers a vehicle maintenance program for classic cars.
In addition to its Canadian operations, RM maintains showrooms in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and an office in London to coordinate European operations. Auction sites include Toronto, Ontario; Monterey/Pebble Beach, California; Rochester, Michigan; Amelia Island and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; and Maranello, Italy. The company promotes its auctions through the bi-annual publication of RM Magazine. It also receives a great deal of media attention through major lifestyle and business magazines, as well as from television coverage of its auctions by such broadcasters as ESPN and Speed Channel.
RESTORATION BUSINESS LAUNCHED: 1976
RM was founded in 1976 by Rob Myers, the son of a factory maintenance man born and raised in Ontario. He became involved in car restoration as a 14-year-old when his father, Arsene, gave him the 1959 Edsel Corsair he had driven to work, not only to provide Myers with a car for high school when he was old enough to obtain a license but also simply because no dealer would give much for the Edsel as a trade-in. Myers had been working on cars with his father for years and accepted the challenge to restore the rotted-out Edsel. He soon became obsessed with the task, scrounging for Edsel parts on weekends. Once he completed the car he held it for just a few weeks before trading it for a Triumph motorcycle, the first step in a lifetime of buying and trading automobiles. Myers’ next project was to restore a 1940 Plymouth that had been kept in storage since World War II when its owner had been killed in combat. Although low in mileage, the car still needed interior and exterior work, which Myers completed himself. He then sold it for CAD $10,000 to a member of a local antique club.
Although hooked, restoring cars was still very much a hobby for Myers at this stage, and what he planned to do with his life remained an open question. He dropped out of high school to become a welder at a small manufacturing company, but then, unhappy with the job, he decided to take off for three months in 1974, bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and began a soul-searching tour of Canada and the United States. Near the end of his trip he was staying in a motel in San Bernardino, California, when he was awakened by the chorus of roaring Ford Thunderbird engines. By chance he had stumbled upon a classic Thunderbird auction. He spent the day at the auction, entranced, and for the first time in his life realized that he could make a career out of his car restoration hobby.
When Myers returned home he quit his job and began doing restoration work for two men who imported rust-free cars from the United States. Myers saved his money and in 1976 was able to a buy a small house with a garage in Chatham, Ontario, and strike out on his own. In 1979 he incorporated his growing business as RM Restoration, and in order to meet the rising demand for his services bought a building in Chatham where he built a 15-bay garage. He also hired his first employee, Dave Svehla, a man who had 14 years of experience in bodywork and collision repair at a General Motors dealership and had achieved a reputation as the area’s best body man.
While RM focus was on antique cars, Myers did not turn away any kind of repair and collision job that arose until years later. By the mid-1980s the company was generating about CAD $6 million in annual revenues. In order to make a more comfortable living. Myers decided to expand beyond mere restoration services and he began buying and selling classic cars. “I always had the right instincts as a trader,” he explained in an interview with the Swiss wealth management company Julius Baer, adding, “I was a good deal maker, and I enjoyed the art of the deal.” In 1987 Myers brought in a partner, Dan Warrener, who worked for an Alberta pipeline company but was a fellow classic car enthusiast and had already worked with Myers on a number of car deals. A year later they established RM Classic Cars, Inc., to pursue classic car trading, and Myers added another partner, a retired software executive named Mike Fairbairn, to take over the restoration business.
Soon RM was doing about $13 million a year and emerging as an important player in the classic car field, which enjoyed a strong run after a stock market crash in 1987 caused a number of investors to put their money in antique cars as well as art and other collectibles rather than stocks. RM worked through auctioneers, delivering as many as 100 cars each year to the major auction houses, but after a few years Myers decided that he had provided them with enough business and that the time had come for RM to conduct its own auctions.
TORONTO AUCTION HOUSE ACQUIRED: 1991
In 1991 Myers acquired an existing auction house in Toronto rather than start from scratch. He then took advantage of a lucky break to establish RM in the auction marketplace. A Toronto exotic-car dealership had just declared bankruptcy and Myers was able to convince the trustees to allow RM to auction off the inventory of Ferraris and Lamborghinis. The company’s first auction raised about CAD $4 million.
It’s the people who drive any business and we’re definitely a business of ‘car people.’ We’re all enthusiasts. We know our business in depth—all types of cars from all eras—and we’re extremely proud of the reputation we have established, both with our clients and in this industry.
The timing of RM’s entry in the classic car auction business was far from fortuitous, however. The North American economy lapsed into recession, classic car values plunged, and it would take several years for them to recover. Nevertheless, RM continued to expand. In 1994 the company added a pair of Michigan auctions and combined sales for the RM companies topped the CAD $20 million mark. An even more important step in the company’s development came in 1997 when RM acquired California’s well-known Monterey Sports Car Auction. Already the largest sports car auction in the world, under RM’s ownership it would increase its business sixfold over the next decade. RM closed the 1990s by conducting its first auction with the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance (“parade of elegance” in French), a five-year-old springtime auction held next to the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel on Amelia Island that had already developed into a prestigious event. RM put up 65 cars for sale, moving three-quarters of them for a total of CAD $13 million.
RM entered the new century posting about CAD $75 million in annual sales. In 2000 Myers formed RM Auctions, Inc., which was able to offer a full range of services to car collectors, from appraisal and restoration, to acquisition and sales. In that same year, RM established a new auction in Arizona at the illustrious Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa. In just four hours the company was able to auction off almost CAD $7 million worth of classic cars. Later in 2000 RM sold $6.5 million in Ferraris, Aston Martins, and other classic sports cars at a sale held at the famed Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. RM was scheduled to return to the Waldorf for another auction in 2001, but two weeks before the sale was to be conducted, terrorists toppled the World Trade Center towers. Although some customers were upset, RM canceled the sale. Not only did it seem inappropriate to engage in a luxury car auction so close to the still malodorous ruins of the World Trade Center, there were other practical considerations that factored into the decision. Many customers outside of New York were reluctant to travel to the city so soon after the attacks, airline schedules were volatile, and security traveling into the city was tightened, making it difficult to bring 50 classic cars into Manhattan by truck and air.
RM expanded its capabilities in 2002, establishing in-house design capabilities to handle the company’s magazine, catalogs, and need for other printed materials. The company also added its own advertising department. In that same year RM sold $11.7 million worth of cars in 5.5 hours at a sale held at the Arizona Biltmore, the headliner being a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster once owned by Hollywood mogul Jack Warner which fetched more than $3.6 million. At Amelia Island in March 2002 RM sold a Monza Spider Corsa for more than $2.5 million. In August a Ferrari 330 TRI/LM, winner of the 1962 24-hour Le Mans endurance race, was sold for nearly $6.5 million. RM returned to New York City in 2002 to hold a successful sale at the Waldorf-Astoria. The company also conducted its first sale in Houston in 2002. Over the course of the year, RM sold the top five classic cars in the world and six of the top ten.
In 2003 RM conducted its first auction in Boca Raton, Florida, attracting wealthy south Floridians to the Royal Palm Polo Grounds to bid on more than 500 sports and collector cars of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In addition to successful annual sales in Michigan, Florida, Arizona, and Houston, RM conducted some special catalog sales as well in 2003. It auctioned off one of the United States’ most comprehensive private automobile collection, that of John E. Morgan, founder of the J.E. Morgan Knitting Mills who sold his business and retired in 1984 and had spent the final 17 years of his life building his car collection. Because he had made no financial arrangements to maintain the museum of rare cars he left, the museum trustees decided to sell the entire collection, which included an number of incredibly rare cars, including a 1929 Graham-Paige Dual Cowl Phaeton, one of just two known examples left in the world. Also in 2003 RM handled the sale of the private collection of the former CEO of Lionel Trains, Richard Kughn. In addition to 50 classic cars, the sale included automotive artwork, model trains, vintage toys, die-cast and tin toy cars and fire engines, pedal cars, gas pumps, and auto and railroad memorabilia. The headliner of the $4.6 million sale was actually a custom-built model train layout, considered the world’s most spectacular, featuring 11 trains on five levels, which commanded a record $218,000. The highest selling car at the auction was a 1934 Duesenberg Model SJ Boattail Speedster, fetching $429,000.
- Rob Myers begins a car restoration business.
- RM Restoration is formed.
- RM Classic Cars, Inc., is formed.
- RM acquires a Toronto auction house.
- Monterey Sports Car Auction is acquired.
- RM Auctions, Inc., formed.
- Alliance is established with Sotheby’s for European and Asian sales.
Another sale of Kughn’s toy train collection was conducted by RM in 2004. Also in that year RM began offering American muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s, including Corvettes and Camaros. RM continued, however, to put on the block the rare and unusual, such as the 1962 “Kennedy Bubbletop” Lincoln Continental limousine, which was built for President John F. Kennedy and through the 1960s was used by countless dignitaries. It was sold in Arizona in January 2005 for $632,500, the most ever paid for a Lincoln in a public auction. The following year in Arizona RM sold cars owned by Al Capone and Hank Williams, Jr., and the Aston Martin sportscar used in the 1960s James Bond films Goldfinger and Thunderball.
POP CULTURE DIVISION FORMED: 2006
In 2006 RM launched a pop-culture division to sell entertainment, rock-n-roll, fine art, history and sports memorabilia. The first sale was held in Los Angeles in May of that year. RM also forged an alliance with the Sotheby’s international auction house in 2006 and established an office in London, England, to service European markets. It planned to conduct sales with Sotheby’s in Asia as well. The first European sale for RM was scheduled for May 2007 at Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, Italy.
Barrett-Jackson Auction Company LLC; Kruse International; Mecum Auction Inc.
Bargmann, Joe, “Wheeling and Dealing in the Desert,” New York Times, February 4, 2005, p. F1.
Beard, Alison, “Classic Car Market Idles in Low Gear,” Financial Times, April 10, 2002, p. 24.
Edsall, Larry, “From Restorations to Auctions,” AutoWeek, July 19, 2004, p. 22.
Martin, Keith, “A Few Raindrops Fall on the Big-Money Parade in Arizona,” New York Times, January 28, 2007, p. 12
_____, “A Hobby Offers Solace but Uncertainty, Too,” New York Times, October 5, 2001, p. F1.
Rowe, Robert Campbell, “Joy Rides,” Barron’s, February 20, 2006, p. 32.
Schatzker, Mark, “The King of Cars,” Globe and Mail, September 22, 2006.
Shaw, Kevin, “On the Auction Block: America’s Premier Classic Auto Auction Houses Unveiled,” Corvette Fever, September 2006, p. 20.
Weingarten, Tara, “Hot Wheels: The Classic-Car Market Is on Fire, Thanks Mostly to Nostalgic Baby Boomers with Plenty of Cash,” Newsweek, September 25, 2006, p. 40.
“What Is Excellence? Rob Myers, Restorer & Auctioneer of Vintage Cars,” Interview, http://www.juliusbaer.com/excellence.