Meet master auctioner Joseph Mast
As a specialist in putting classic “American muscle” and super-cars under the hammer, Mast regularly generates double or treble the expected price.
This smooth-talking salesman auctioned the Batmobile from the first Batman movie for a mind-boggling
$6,4 million and raised $100 000 for the Bumblebee, from the Transformers movie. Other movie star cars he’s auctioned came from The Fast and the Furious series, some perhaps a little bashed and battered.
When he sold a car owned by
Steve Tyler, frontman of rock band Aerosmith, the deal included an overnight stay at the singer’s home for the successful bidder.
If you’re buying a car, on the other hand, perhaps you don’t want motormouth Mast on the podium, because you might get carried away and spend twice as much as intended.
There’s a well-recognised mood called the “auction phenomenon”, when people get swept away and bid well beyond what an item’s technically worth.
“That’s part of what we do. We try to create that frenzy and that atmosphere where you don’t necessarily bid based on what you think the value of something is, but on what you want. It doesn’t matter that it’s worth $2 500 – you’re going to pay $3 000 because you’re there that day, you want that specific one and you’re having fun doing it,” he says.
Mast runs his own company, Mast Auctioneers in Ohio, specialising in cars, real estate and thoroughbred racehorses. He also hires himself and his team out to Barrett-jackson, which runs the world’s greatest classic car auctions. It attracts enthusiasts from around the globe and is screened live on the Discovery and Velocity TV channels. Up to 400 000 people attend its sales in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the course of a week, when about 1 800 cars are on the block.
Quite what constitutes a classic car seems to be debatable. Mast defines it as “anything that’s collectable, anything that’s rare, anything that’s just old but well kept. People’s definitions of ‘classic’ can be wide-ranging: some people fall in love with a car and suddenly they think it’s classic.”
Even after 18 years in the trade, some sales are unexpected. “We take vehicles that we don’t think will have much value and suddenly we find that everybody wants it. We sold a vehicle last year that should have been worth $30 000, but ended up bringing in
$250 000 simply because two rivals fell in love with it. That’s what they remember driving as youngsters.
Now they have plenty of money and felt they just had to have it.”
In January, Mast auctioned a car for Barrett-jackson flanked by chat show host Jay Leno and former President George W Bush on the block. The two men had signed the vehicle and it raised $1,4 million, with the money donated to the Military Service Initiative. It was technically worth about $250 000, Mast says, but it bore Vehicle Identification Number 1, which made it unique.
His advice for buying a classic car at an auction is to know what’s real and what’s not. “There are many fakes, with people building vehicles to look like old cars, but they’re not originals,” he warns. It’s important to seek advice from experts and read the auction notes carefully, he stresses. Reputable auctioneers will put something in the description to say it’s not original, to protect their own reputation. “We obviously want repeat customers, so if we sell someone a car that we say is original and it’s not, next time they won’t be that confident buying from us.”
Besides specialising in early 1950s to late 1960s classics, Mast also sells newer super-cars. While he owns a couple of special models, he drives a pick-up truck most days. But he won’t arrive at an auction in a pick-up if it’s
Below: Top auctioneer Joseph Mast with Tim Mast, President of the National Auctioneers ‘ Association, and Joff van Reenen, Director of SA’S High Street Auction Company. Opposite, top: Former American President George W Bush Jnr assisted Mast at a charity auction. Opposite, below: The Toyota 2000GT and Lexus LFA are considered serious collectables. out of town. As a qualified pilot – who earns commission on every item he auctions – he flies himself around in a private plane.
Mast ventured into auctioneering as a teenager. “I was a sixth-generation dairy farmer. My father sold the farm when I was 18 and I had no idea what I was going to do,” he recalls. “He brought home a flier for auction school one evening and said to me: ‘You’ve got a good voice. I think you’d be good at this.’”
He does, indeed, have a good voice – a solid, reassuring, dependable one, even if he rattles off during bidding at such high speed that you only catch one word in five, or the figure that’s been bid and the incremental rise he’s seeking. It’s all part of the showmanship designed to generate
“PEOPLE’S DEFINITIONS OF ‘CLASSIC’ CAN BE WIDE-RANGING: SOME PEOPLE FALL IN LOVE WITH A CAR AND SUDDENLY THEY THINK IT’S CLASSIC.”
excitement, just as a horse-race or football match wouldn’t be as thrilling if the commentator weren’t becoming frantic.
The style of patter changes according to what he’s selling. “You have to be a chameleon,” says Mast. “You can’t sell classic cars the same way you sell real estate – you have to change your chant, as well as your speed and style.” The “chant” is the auctioneer’s patter, marked by a particular rhythm and cadence.
“For classic cars, it’s pretty traditional to have an English chant, but I use a very American, very fast, upbeat one with very high energy. You’re also slurring a lot of words. Instead of asking: ‘How many?’, you might say: ‘Howmny?’ It creates a rhythm, like the way you tap your foot to music. It keeps you engaged, keeps things fun and keeps things moving along quickly. We might have 1 800 cars to sell in a few days, so we have to move very fast and methodically.”
Besides, we’re not supposed to understand everything he says, because much of the time he’s speaking in code to the spotters – his colleagues who scan the audience for bids. You might think an auctioneer has his eyes everywhere, but often there are far too many people for him to monitor. There might be 20 000 people in an arena, with anyone likely to bid at any time. Each spotter has a specific area to watch and signals to the auctioneer when someone in their turf bids.
“It takes quite a bit of co-ordination and communication between the bid spotters and the auctioneers to know whether you’re in, whether you’re out, whether you got in first or second – it’s like conducting an orchestra,” he says.
Many people buy these cars as investments, while others want the pleasure of actually driving them.
The stock market also influences investment car purchases. “If the stock market’s really strong, the collector car market can dip because people put their money into stocks. When the stock market goes down, people invest their money in cars because they don’t want to lose it. They put it into something that they enjoy, they can drive and they can touch and feel. They know their money’s in something solid.”
The most compelling reason to sell valuable assets by auction is that you get the highest price. With a traditional sale, you put a price on something and the buyer negotiates you down, but in an auction, bidders are negotiating upwards – particularly if two people compete against each other in a bidding frenzy.
Sadly, SA’S auction business isn’t as vibrant as it is in the USA, says Joff van Reenen, Director and Lead Auctioneer of The High Street Auction Company in SA. He expects that to change in the coming years and says used vehicle company We Buy Cars already shifts 4 000-5 000 vehicles a month through auctions, or roughly 50% of its stock.
With a local heritage extending more than 50 years, Toyota SA has its fair share of iconic cars in its possession. Many of them are being preserved at the museum at the Johannesburg head office.
The two-seat sports coupé – with its beautiful, curvaceous lines – was jointly developed by Toyota and Yamaha, and only 351 units were produced from 1967-1970.
The example that’s in the care of Toyota SA was imported to this country in May 1968 and was originally painted in Pegasus White. It’s unclear when it received its red coat, but it was initially used by Toyota SA’S founder Dr Albert Wessels’ daughter, Elizabeth (later Bradley) as a daily runaround.
Nowadays, the 2000 GT is widely acknowledged as a seriously collectable motoring icon. There are only two in the country and they’re each valued at over R10 million.
“We didn’t just make a super-car – we made history,” Lexus famously announced. It took more than a decade to produce the Lexus LFA, which set the stage for all Lexus performance vehicles that followed. Limited to just 500 units, only three of which are in SA, the two-seater super-car is valued at about R6 million.