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The Globe and Mail

Montreal wheeler and dealer puts 400 vehicles up for bid at auction

Car collector John Scotti relaxes in a '48 Buick Roadmaster in his showroom in Montreal. He is selling 400 of his vehicles at an auction in Auburn, Ind.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Montrealer John Scotti may be selling more than 400-plus of his collectible cars, but one thing he is not selling is a piece of his heart.

Emotional connection to coveted old cars and trucks is what Scotti leaves to buyers. Their yearning will fuel bidding for his vehicles at Auctions America's sale May 8-10, at Auburn, Ind.

On offer without reserve, all going to the highest bidder, are an astonishing variety of vehicles. The Scotti offering is the largest consignment of vehicles from a single Canadian collection ever to go to auction, says Gord Duff of RM Auctions, the Blenheim, Ont.-based global auctioneer and parent of Auction Americas.

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Two Acura NSX are expected to command $25,000-$45,000, a Ferrari 308 GTS $30,000-$35,000. But American cars predominate. A total of 83 Chevrolets are on offer, from a Corvair to multiple Corvettes and enough Impalas to sate several prides of lions. A 1934 Chrysler Imperial Airflow is the prize of the bunch, at $100,000-$140,000. A 2002 Camaro Z28 is as low as they go, $8,000-$12,000.

Scotti's focus has been steely-eyed since he bought/fixed/sold his first Ferrari at age 23. "I've never owned a car, never had a car in my name," he says in a telephone interview. "Always it's business: In business I may have a car two days, a week, 10 days. We don't keep any car.

"For me, the thrill is in the hunt. I do 60,000 km a year driving to places like Goderich, Ont., on weekends, making five or 10 stops along the way."

Scotti's driving a Mercedes-Benz wagon his Subaru dealership took in as a trade. As you read this, it might be something else. He's always looking for opportunity.

He'll pay $10,000 or $5-million, he says. "If I can turn a profit, I'll buy it." The most he's paid: $1-million, three years ago, for a 1933 Duesenberg.

"Every car guy has a crystal ball, story, right? If only I'd had a crystal ball.

"In 1977, a friend calls, says he needs money and he has a Ferrari 275 GTB/4 alloy body, he's asking $15,000. I offered him $12,000, a lot in 1977, and we made the deal.

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"I put it in the Globe and Mail classifieds asking $15,900, and the very first call, from a gentleman in Toronto, I sold it for $15,000. So, $3,000 in profit in three days, pretty good – but today that car probably would sell for $3-million."

At age 58, he owns 14 Montreal dealerships, including the John Scotti Collection that specializes in exotics and collectibles. He's energized now as older cars gain new currency with international auctions, yielding stratospheric prices.

Duff says enthusiasts need to put pleasure first when making purchase decisions, then enjoy the consequences. "Buy what you love ... no question, that car is always going to go up in value," he says. The evidence is at hand.

A Ferrari 275 GTB NART Spyder sold for $27.5-million at a RM auction at Monterey, Calif., last August – reportedly to Lawrence Stroll, the Montreal fashion mogul – establishing a record for a U.S. auction sale. In July, at Goodwood, England, a 1954 Formula One Mercedes-Benz W196 raced by the great Juan Manuel Fangio commanded $29.6-million at a Bonhams auction.

But one needn't stand among the rich and famous to see old cars as attainable sculpture. Ordinary car buffs are emerging in such numbers that NBC Sports Network is covering the Auburn auction. Fox Sports featured the Jackson-Barrett auction at Palm Springs, Fla., this month.

And these Chevrolets, Fords, MGs and even Bentleys from Montreal are ordinary cars for ordinary enthusiasts, destined to be driven, not hermetically sealed in anticipation of another auction. They'll be seen at weeknight cruises rather than international concours. There are cruises where Ralph Lauren is worn, after all, and events where Ralph Lauren appears in person with his own cars. He's a better bet at RM's auction at Monaco than at Auburn.

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Scotti grew up in Ville Saint-Michel, now part of Montreal, home of Cirque du Soleil, where Dingy's garage formed him. "The late John Dingman was my mentor," he says. "I started as a mechanic – I still wrench – but got into buying and selling cars, and drag racing, working for Dingman while I was finishing high school."

He loves drag racing so much, the memory of doing the quarter-mile in 8.08 seconds at 170 mph so strong, he hardly ever sells anything from his collection of 51 race cars, although one raced by Quebec legend Alban Gauthier was a notable exception.

Duff grew up in Chatham, Ont., and at 18, drove trucks for RM, going on to become a "car specialist," engaging with both buyers and sellers.

Duff spent last week driving his 1966 Shelby GT350 in the Copperstate 1000 rally in Arizona, for the third straight year, great fun and value in terms of contact with prospective clients. "It's 100 per cent relationships," he says of his work. "You don't keep up with collectors by telephone or e-mail, you go to see them, spend time with them."

A year and a half ago, Scotti ran into Duff at an auction. They already knew each other well. "Gord said, 'What have you got right now?' and one thing led to another, to the idea of one big auction," Scotti says. "I've known Rob Myers (RM's founder) since 1977, but Gord is a good asset for that firm, he was the key to this coming together.

"Normally I sell 600 classics in one year. With this, I can sell 400-450 in a one-shot deal, with the U.S. exchange rate 10 per cent, I'm taking advantage of all that. If it goes well, I'll repeat the auction in a year."

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