Report and photos (unless noted) by Rick Carey, Auction Editor
Collectors have been bemoaning the fate of American Muscle for some time, not without good reason.
Into this environment bravely strode RM Auctions with the twenty plus year collection of Georgia meat entrepreneur Milton Robson who’s moving to Florida and cutting back. Milt was ever-present, talking about his cars, introducing their former owners and restorers and describing his experiences with them.
With estimates up to a million bucks for a GTO Judge convertible, this was a choice collection of a later generation. No Cadillac V-16s, Bugattis or Duesenbergs here, Robson had concentrated on finding, pursuing, acquiring, restoring and preserving the very finest examples of Detroit’s Golden Age in the Fifties and Sixties, refining his collection over time by deaccessioning cars most collectors would sell their firstborn to own to add even better examples.
A heavy emphasis on Pontiac’s metamorphosis from bland Silver Streaks to Super Dutys challenged collectors to assign six-figure increments to subtle distinctions between outwardly similar GTOs and Judges.
The sale offered cars in place in Milt and LaClita Robson’s museum, an imaginatively decorated steel-framed barn with a village décor and neon inside and a broad front porch with rocking chairs and wagon wheel benches out front. The cars didn’t run across the block, but their condition was ample testimony to their readiness to do tours and even Power Tours that needed no verification.
RM’s confidence in the consignment was apparent from the beginning, first by making the whole sale No Reserve and then eschewing warmup lots to offer a beautiful ’57 DeSoto Adventurer and ’70 Shelby GT500, both convertibles, as the first lots across the block. At $341,000 and $335,000 respectively they didn’t disappoint and set the tone for the next few hours.
The fourth car across the block was a superlative ’54 Mercury Monterey Convertible. It sold at a thrilling $118,250 to bidder number 6091. That bidder number would be announced a further sixteen times for some of the most important and valuable cars in Robson’s collection. As the afternoon wore on it became apparent to onlookers that something remarkable was happening. ’57 Bonneville, Yenko S/C Camaro, Airbox ’57 Corvette, ’58 Bel Air Impala Fuelie, SS 409, Buick GS Stage 1, ’57 Bel Air Fuelie, Catalina Super Duty, E-Bird, ’69 Firebird Ram Air IV, ’64 LeMans GTO, 396/375 Pace Car and, finally, the Diamond T Wrecker all were gathered into 6091’s burgeoning collection. It totaled at least $2.9 million at the end of the day, a third of the $9.1 million that changed hands and 30% of the 55 lots offered.
It was a smart move by the collector. These were tried and true cars with a great “ex-Milton Robson” provenance that establishes them among the best of the best and will enhance their recognition, and their value, forever. Buying the very best carries lasting satisfaction, and that’s what bidder 6091 got.
Milt Robson and his wife have kept some of their favorite cars, but the significance of this sale is, to paraphrase an ad phrase, that the beat goes on. The fascination with Detroit Iron is alive and well. The very best cars – in this case identified in perpetuity by their ex-Milton Robson provenance – command superior prices.
By my count no less than ten cars from the Robson Collection brought world record prices. In some cases they were obscure or esoteric variants like the unique 300F factory 4-speed but many others have counterparts that have crossed the auction block and not come close in value to their prices in Gainesville.
The pattern has been seen in prior sales of single-owner collections, but they have been pre-war Classics. Never before has a collection of mid-century American Muscle been offered and achieved such consistently extraordinary results. It cements the appeal of mid-century Muscle with a landmark set of transactions that will have Value Guide editors puzzling over their tables for months to come.
‘Bravely’ is an understatement in the concept of this sale. RM Auctions and Milton Robson stood up and demonstrated by their commitment and confidence that they could take a risky concept – mid-century American performance cars – and singlehandedly prove its enduring value.
The fate of American Muscle is brighter today than it was a week ago.
Milton Robson Collection Auction Report – RM Auctions (listed by lot number)
Lot # 255 2008 Dodge RAM 3500 Mega Truck & Featherlite Aluminum Trailer; S/N 3D7MX49A38G118203; Estimate $50,000 – $70,000; Not evaluated, condition; Hammered Sold at $65,000 plus commission of 10.00%; Final Price $71,500 (picture unavailable).
[Source: RM Auctions]