Head West: Nebraska auto auction is one of the biggest

Fred Blumenthal (right) with his 1932 Ford hiboy roadster, stands with Bob Catton and his find in Pierce, Neb., a 1936 Chevrolet Master Deluxe two-door sedan, after returning from Lambrecht Auction.
Fred Blumenthal (right) with his 1932 Ford hiboy roadster, stands with Bob Catton and his find in Pierce, Neb., a 1936 Chevrolet Master Deluxe two-door sedan, after returning from Lambrecht Auction.

When Horace Greely made popular the John Soule phrase “go west, young man,” he probably didn’t have the town of Pierce, Neb., in mind.

When the reference to the west was made in the mid 19th century, Greely was talking about California. But when my super car buddy Bob Catton, who lives in Orlando, Fla., said about the same thing, he was talking about Nebraska.

Bob called me in late June and asked me what I was doing Sept. 27-28. Before I could look at my calendar, Bob said, “if you have plans cancel them.” He said we were going to the biggest automotive barn find on this planet. He sent me to vanderbrinkauctions.com, and after visiting the website, I called him back and said “I’m in.”

The Lambrecht auto auction is the biggest collection of original, nonrestored vintage tin that I or anyone else has ever seen. There were 475 cars and pickup trucks that had been lost to time for more than five decades. Some were stored inside of old buildings and others were sitting outside in a farm field suffering the ravages of plains winters.  All were hidden away in the rural town of Pierce and were to be sold to the highest bidder.

The auction draws so much interest not just because of the number of vehicles to be sold, but because about 60 of the vehicles going up for sale had super low mileage on them.

For example, a 1958 Chevy Cameo pickup truck had only 1.3 miles on it.

How can cars and trucks have that low a mileage on them? It happened because the owner of the local Chevy dealership from 1946 to 1996, Ray Lambrecht, kept all the used cars he took in as trades as well as any new vehicles he didn’t sell at the end of any given model year. Imagine 50 years of unsold cars and pickup trucks. 

Bob drove to my house from Florida , and we left for Pierce Thursday morning. Once we hit Interstate 80 west, it was hammer down – well as much as you can put the hammer down on a 30-foot RV.  We arrived in Norfolk, Neb., late that night. Driving around checking out various campgrounds, we found they were all filled up. One nice guy told us we could park at the CENEX truck stop down the road, so that’s what we did. We didn’t sleep well, though. We were too pumped up thinking about all the neat tin we’d see in the morning.

We left Norfolk heading northwest to our final destination, Pierce, the holy grail of four-wheeled relics. There were so many distractions along the way that it was difficult to keep our eyes on the road. It seemed every farmer along Highway 13 had dragged every old car and pickup out of their barns and lined them up next to the road with a handwritten “for sale” sign on them. There wasn’t too much from the 1930s, but there were plenty of rides from the 1950s, ‘60s and early 1970s, especially pickup trucks.

There were stepsides, smoothsides, 6-foot boxes, 8-foot boxes, half-tons, three-quarter tons and one-tons. If you wanted a pickup to work on, it was on the road to Pierce. Bob spotted a very rare, green 1954 Mercury woodie station wagon that was in excellent condition. It was very hard not to stop and look at these rides, but we were on a mission.

Though it was early in the day, traffic leading into Pierce was heavy. A bunch of cheerful and pleasant local folks helped direct traffic to Lambrecht farm, a few miles outside of town. Neligh Road, which leads to this once-in-a-lifetime historical automotive event, sits about 6 to 8 feet above the farm fields on either side of it. From this lofty position, we could see the roofs of the close to 500 cars and pickups sitting off to our right.

Despite all the traffic and people, it was quiet, probably because of the vastness of the location. It was a sight to behold. In a freshly cut wooded area surrounded by soybean fields lay the largest collection of new and never-titled vintage automobiles and pickup trucks I had ever seen. In addition, there were hundreds of very low mile used cars and pickups, all rusting away, waiting for this time, their time of redemption.  

We pulled into a parking area directly across from all the vintage cars that was a corn field freshly cut for hopeful car collectors to park their vehicles. We wasted no time heading for all that rusty gold we had come to see. Signs nailed to fence posts led the way.

The overall look and feel of the place was that of a boom town. There were the old cars and pickups everyone had come to see. There were local folks setting up food tents, information tents and tents where you could sign up for a bidder’s card. There were hundreds of loose Chevy parts, signage and memorabilia from the long-closed original Lambrecht Chevy dealership in the middle of it all. 

Across the field was the History Channel’s king-size support truck with dish antennae pointing skyward. The History Channel was shooting a special called “History Made Now: Wheels of Fortune” hosted by Brian Unger and featuring “Top Gear’s” Rutledge Wood and Tanner Foust. I don’t know how many other TV, radio and newspapers were represented, but the whole thing seemed to be quickly morphing from a newly built town to preparation for the Daytona 500. It was a wild scene.

Bob headed over to one of the tents to get a bidders card, and then we headed to where the shop memorabilia was on display. The first thing we spotted was the early-’50s Chevy Corvette pedal car everyone was talking about. The toy car, which is one of only a handfull left in the world, sold for an impressive $16,000 the next day. There were a lot of new old stock parts still wrapped in factory-marked brown paper and loose hub caps, fenders, glass, and all sorts of signage and advertisement displays from Chevrolet from back in the day.

Next we hit the field where the cars and pickups sat. I noticed immediately I wasn’t the only one amazed by the sight. It seems everywhere I looked, heads were shaking in wonder. Dust, dirt, and bird droppings covered the first 60 or so vehicles. These were the rides that had been stored inside the old Lambrecht dealership in town and other locations in and around Pierce. 

Then came a shock and thrill. When I opened the door to the vehicle with the lowest mileage at the auction, a very rare and desirable 1958 Chevy Cameo pickup, it was like stepping back in time. The truck was a true time capsule – funky on the outside from neglect over time, and brand new inside. It still had a hint of that new-truck smell!  Everything was perfect – no dents or dings on the dashboard, no scratches on the vinyl covered seats. And the odometer read 1.3 miles. I was sitting inside a brand new 1958 Chevy truck  As far as anyone knew, this was the very last, lowest mileage, never titled, never sold Chevy pickup ever.

This was better than Disneyworld, and it was free. Bob and I spent hours hopping in cars, looking at the interior and checking the low mileage, enjoying every minute of it.

Next it was on to the low mileage used cars that Ray Lambrecht had taken in trade for 50 years. Many years ago, automobiles with less than 60,000 miles were traded in for new models. The remaining almost 400 cars at the Lambrecht auction fell into this fairly low mileage category.    

The used tin, it turned out, was just as much fun to look at as the brand new stuff. Once again, perfect trim work on the outside and complete engine compartments for the most part. But the bodies, oh boy. The only word that comes to mind is rough, and in many cases very rough. But hey, if you were left out in a field for 40 or 50 years without protection, you’d look a little shabby too.

We thoroughly enjoyed the entire car trip back in time. We talked to a ton of other car enthusiasts. I was interviewed by Kay Hall, producer/director for Nebraska Stories/NET TV, and Bob and I both got to talk with TV “Top Gear” personality Rutledge Wood and “History Made Now” host Brian Unger about the auction and old cars in general. In short, the Friday auction preview was an over-the-top, once-in-a-lifetime car deal.

After looking at the Lambrecht car collection, we headed back to our trusty 30-foot Ford mini condo on wheels and washed up. We sat down to have a cold beer, but the ice in the cooler had melted. We decided to go into the town of Pierce and pick up a few bags. This is where the Lambrecht car experience turned into the Lambrecht car adventure.

We had wanted to go to this event just to be part of it, but Bob also thought he might be able to take home a 1936 Chevy two-door sedan or 1964 Chevy two-door hardtop Impala. Both were listed as vehicles available at the auction and are two of Bob’s favorite cars. The ‘36 at the Lambrecht farm wasn’t beyond restoration, but it would be way more of a project than Bob wanted to take on. The ‘64 Impala only had 4 miles on it and would have been great to restore, but after seeing the amount of attention the event generated, we knew the low mileage beauty would go for big bucks.   

Across the street from the little grocery store where we picked up our ice and some chips was a former 1950’s gas station. It had been turned into a very small used car lot/repair shop. In front of the establishment facing the street were a number of vintage rides, brought out for sale because the owner of the business knew there were going to be a whole lot of gearheads passing through town on the way to the auction. A black 1936 Chevy caught our eye almost immediately. We couldn’t believe it – after looking at time machines for hours on end at the Lambrecht farm site, the exact model and year Chevy Bob had been looking for appears miles away in town.

We literally ran across the street to look at the car. Visually, it was stunning – all the class and good looks of a mid-1930’s classic. Bob went inside and asked about the car, and surprisingly, the price was very fair.

We had the car taken into the shop and put up on lift. The lift itself was a collector’s piece, the style with the large single hydraulic cylinder used in the 1950s. The underside of the car looked as good as the top. There was no rust, and a brand new set of running boards had been installed recently.

The car ran great with a certified and guaranteed 79,363 miles on it. We took the car for a spin, and it ran straight and true, the overhead valve straight six, 206-cubic-inch motor humming away smoothly.

This car is such a big hit with my buddy because of the built-in trunk on this model. He just loves the way it looks on this car, and they are hard to find. After checking the car out for over an hour, Bob made a verbal deal with owner. The next morning, we found a U-Haul trailer and loaded up the ‘36 Chevy. We took care of the finances at the bank and headed back to the auction site.

When we arrived at the Lambrecht farm, it was overflowing with people. I estimated at least 15,000 car junkies were in attendance. All the memorabilia had been auctioned off, and the VanDerbrink group was just starting the bidding process on the cars. First up was the 1958 Camino pickup with 1.3 miles on it. It sold for a cool $140,000 in less than three minutes, and the crowd went nuts with cheers and screams. The next five low-mileage vehicles all sold in the blink of an eye. The total spent on the first six rides was just over a half million dollars. Bob and I enjoyed watching all the old tin go for mega dollars.

Back in Crystal Lake the next morning after a long drive, we washed Bob’s new purchase, and he headed back to Florida to start on his new project.  His son, Rob, who lives in Crystal Lake, made the trip back with his dad so they only had to stop for gas and to check the tie downs on the ‘36.

The Lambrecht auction was unforgettable. My best friend found the car he always wanted, and we got to see the largest auction of vintage unrestored automobiles in the world.

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