A red 1972 Chevrolet Impala convertible was the very first car I bought at an auction. It was 1995. My then-wife Cindy Banzer and I drove seven hours north from Portland to Bob LeFlufy’s AutoClassic auction in Vancouver, B.C. Alexandra, just 4 years old, accompanied us. “LeFluf,” since deceased, was a classic-car raconteur, the Canadian equivalent of SCM regular Uncle Raymond Milo. When the two of them, both inveterate smokers, got together, the evenings were long, the wine consumption formidable — and the stories taller and taller. “And then there was the time I forgot I had a loaded .45 in my carry-on, along with $250,000 in cash to buy an OSCA. There was some excitement at airport security…” The cars on offer were a typical mixed bag, ranging from a Formula Ford to a late-model Ferrari. Rob Myers from RM Auctions was there, as LeFluf was attempting to sell his auction company to him. I recall Myers telling me one of his cardinal rules: “I only move a car twice, from auction to auction. At that point I sell it at no reserve.” We registered to bid, and I got a coveted piece of stiff cardboard with a number on it. Incredible! I was a bidder! Just like all the guys who were buying the Cobras and Ferraris at the auctions I was attending. Just with a lower limit.

A big old boat

I looked over the cars, and a 1972 Chevrolet Impala convertible caught my eye. It was red with black interior, a 350-ci V8, column-shift automatic and bench seats. The sides were no more wavy than the Pacific Ocean on a calm day, the interior didn’t look like dogs had been living in it and the engine sounded good. I showed it to Cindy, and she feigned indifference. “What would you do with a big old boat like that?” I shared her feigned indifference. I asked LeFluf “sotto voce” what the reserve was. He replied, in his nonchalant way, “Of course, I can’t tell you that, but I do think $2,000 U.S. would buy the car.” OMG! OMG! OMG! I could afford that. I could buy a classic car at an auction, drive it 300 miles home to Portland, probably resell it for $3,000 and make a profit. I didn’t realize it at the time, but a curtain of red mist was descending over my eyes. Cindy told me she wanted to step outside the auditorium to take Alex for some fresh air. I recall her looking at me and saying, “Don’t you buy a car while I’m gone.” I nodded my head in agreement, never taking my eyes off of the red convertible.

A quick sale

Before Cindy returned, the Chevy crossed the block. The bidding opened at $250. It crawled at slow increments until it stalled at $1,800. I raised my paddle at the last moment, the auctioneer saw it and cried out instantly, “SOLD, SOLD, SOLD!” He didn’t even wait for another bid. Now that I have a little more experience, I realize that my bid might have been the only real one in the entire process, which is why the car was hammered sold so quickly. Cindy returned, took note of my Cheshire-cat grin and commented, “You bought that POS Chevy, didn’t you?” I could only nod, mumbling something like, “It was cheap, red and I’d never owned one before” — a justification that has led to hundreds of purchases since. We had driven up in Cindy’s W123 Mercedes turbo-diesel. I followed them in the Impala as we headed south. We crossed the border, the car clearing customs without a second glance. After all, who would try to smuggle a tired old 1972 Chevy into the U.S.? The Chevy ran flawlessly.

The inevitable snafu

In the late afternoon, we reached Centralia, WA, which is about 80 miles from Portland, OR. As it began to get dark, I noticed that my headlights were dim and getting dimmer. The alternator light had not come on (I discovered later someone had pulled the bulb out — a clever pre-sale trick). The darker it got, the more closely I followed Cindy, using her headlamps to illuminate the road. Soon even that wasn’t enough, and I began to worry about the safety of being inches from her rear bumper, in near pitch-black darkness at freeway speeds. Once we got within our AAA towing distance, I gave up and called for help. Soon enough, the Chevy, the Mercedes, and Cindy and Alex were home safe.

Fun and profit

Cindy’s two sons, Eric and McKean, had far more than $2,000 worth of adventures in the car. They never put the top up that summer. I recall one of them taking it to his prom, eyeing the bed-sized front and rear bench seats with barely concealed teenage lust. I also remember seeing them driving off to our mountain cabin on Mount Hood with fishing rods sticking up out of the back seat. They may have named it “the Red Bomb” — or maybe I just wish they had. After having the alternator serviced, I never spent another penny on the car (something I have never said since with other cars). I placed an advertisement for it in AutoWeek for $4,200 (as a weekly, this was the fastest way to sell your car in those pre-Internet days). Three weeks later I sold it for $3,500. I had made a profit on the first car I bought at auction. And we had a lot of adventures with it as well. All things considered, I would call it well bought indeed. ♦

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