The automotive business fosters a unique blend of passion-the passion of mixing business with pleasure. And for many, it’s a family affair.
Enter the Mecum Collector Car Auctions, and its father/son front of Dana and Frank Mecum who-along with a host of other family members-exhibit their passion every day as they work to find homes for grand rides that have a lot of love to give themselves.
In time for June and Father’s Day, this dad and son duo share not just a love of cool cars and the ability to read the collector, but an inspiring family tale of how to build a successful automotive business. Enjoy the read, enjoy the ride.
A Growing Business
“I was the sticker boy,” jokes Frank Mecum, describing his first job slapping SOLD stickers on the windshields of Corvettes and Mustangs as they drove off the auction block.
When you’re dad is Dana Mecum, president of one of the industry’s most well-known collector car auction companies, you might expect to toil in an odd job or two during your youth. In fact, the automotive industry in general is one where the presence of mom-and-pop stores and dads that pass the family business down to sons and daughters is still common.
Mecum Auction has delivered quality cars, customer service and high-energy auctions to the collector car crowd for more than 20 years. The company has grown from a small business buying and selling muscle cars to a leading auction house offering enthusiasts a wide variety of collectible vehicles, from winning racecars to rare exotics.
Frank Mecum began working for his dad full-time when he was 21, after earning a degree in business.
“My main responsibility is consignments-taking care of people who have anywhere from a single car to a large collection they’d like to auction,” he says. “Onsite, I work as a ring man. I love talking to people about their cars. If I could do it in my sleep, I would.”
Mecum Auction has come a long way since its first event at Rockford Airport in Illinois back in 1988.
“I started my first auction with the intent of selling off an inventory of 25 collector cars that I had traded for a fleet of over-the-road tractor trailers, and we’ve just grown consistently since then,” says Dana Mecum. “We’re really a ma-and-pa store that grew up and got big. Our goal has always been to give Mecum Auction attendees an amazing experience and unite them with an incredible car they will enjoy.”
That first auction was interrupted by a tornado that swept through the airport, downing trees and destroying the vehicle tents in its path. Miraculously, there was no physical damage to the cars, and the event appeared on magazine and newspaper covers across the country.
The following year, Mecum had a second auction to recoup money and pay the bills. A third auction in 1990 was its first success, and with that Mecum Auctions was born.
“Not being a part of the old guard of collector car auctions, we soon developed our own clientele by offering Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelles when the rest of the market was selling Packards and Model As,” Dana Mecum explains. “At one point we had 28 auctions a year. We made the decision to grow vertically with fewer auctions, right at the time the muscle car market took off. That market has really become part of our DNA, but we’re continually expanding to bring all makes and models to auction.”
West Coast and TV
As a testament to its growth in the collector car industry, Mecum established a new auction in Monterey, Calif., in August 2009 to highlight the team’s knowledge of selling exotic sports cars, classics and other high-end collector vehicles.
It was at that inaugural event that Mecum Auction sold the championship-winning 1965 Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe CSX2601 for $7.25 million-”a price tag that set the record for the highest price paid for an American car at public auction.
The company is now also featured in its own television series, “Mecum Auto Auction: Muscle Cars & More,” airing on HD Theater, Discovery Communications’ first 24-hour high-definition cable network offering compelling real-world and motorized content.
Mecum was the first auction to broadcast in high-definition, creating an exciting window into the world of classic car buying.
“I can’t believe how far our business has come and how many people approach my dad about the cars they’ve watched him sell on the TV show,” says Frank Mecum. “I think Mecum Auto Auction is so popular because it gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at collector car auctions: the buying, the selling and even the no-sale aspect of the business. Television has helped us reach new people we’ve never been able to communicate with before.”
And that’s saying something, considering the family’s history in this business.
A True Family Business
Edward Mecum started selling Studebakers and Packards at Mecum Pontiac Buick in Marengo, Ill., during the 1950s.
“Grandpa has always been in the car business,” says Frank Mecum. “I remember going to his car lot when I was little, and watching him race when I was just 6 or 7 years old. He used to race Camaros in SCCA and in the Firestone Firehawk Series. He still races today, taking a Thunder Roadster out on a road course for club events.”
Now in his 70s, Ed owns Speedway Auto Mall in Machesney Park, Ill., and continues his passion for selling used cars.
There’s no doubt this love of the industry was passed on to Dana Mecum who, after selling Pontiacs with his father, opened a Corvette shop as a division of his older brother Eddie Jr.’s dealership. Called Mecum Sports Center, Dana began buying and selling Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelles in 1976 before starting the Mecum Collector Car Auction company about a decade later.
In 2001, Mecum Auction moved into its current headquarters in Marengo, Ill.
In his spare time, Dana enjoys his personal car collection, which he started in the mid-1990s by purchasing mostly American high-performance, vintage racecars, Corvettes and muscle cars. He also serves as president of The Harry A. Miller Club and enjoys participating in the annual Millers at Milwaukee event.
Today, Dana’s wife Patti works in the Mecum office and, in addition to Frank, their three other sons are part of the business as well:
• Dan Mecum works in the Mecum accounting office and handles deposits onsite at auctions. He is also leading a new tractor department for the company.
• As a full-time school teacher, Ben enjoys working onsite at the auctions in “The Bid Goes On” department, where he focuses on selling cars that didn’t meet reserve on the auction block.
• And Harry operates the Mecum Webstore and gear booth onsite, where he sells T-shirts, hats, die-cast cars and other Mecum memorabilia to enthusiasts. He also works in the accounting department.
The close-knit atmosphere has extended beyond the family members to the entire team of Mecum employees, with some staffers marking 20 years with the company. Lead auctioneer Mark Delzell has been with Mecum since the first auction, and auctioneer Mike Hagerman has been with the company since the second year.
Without a doubt, Mecum Auction has turned its passion for automobiles into a tremendous success during the past two decades. But it takes more than passion to keep a business growing, and Frank Mecum thinks his grandfather’s work ethic is one important skill that has been passed on to his family.
As Frank states, “My Grandpa will never retire, and I don’t think my Dad will ever retire either.” Of Dana, he adds, “he loves this industry way too much to walk away. He loves talking with customers, finding the perfect car for bidders and being up on the auction block. I’ve never seen anyone work harder than him, and Mecum Auction is bigger and better than ever as a result.”
As you can see, it’s the blend of family and the closeness of a father and son creating excitement and passion that translates to keeping automotive history very much alive. I can attest to the passion of the Mecum family for I had just such an experience with my Dad, and the memories are unequaled-”forever a part of my daily passion for an industry like no other.
I’d like to thank Casey Milano at McCullough Public Relations, Uniontown, Ohio, for the assembly of the Mecum background and this special father, son, family story. For more information, visit www.Mecum.com.