Car enthusiasts by the thousands flocked to the midwest two weeks ago for a once-in-a-lifetime chance at a rare collection of nearly 500 vintage vehicles and memorabilia from Lambrecht Chevrolet of Pierce, Nebraska. This sale of leftover inventory captured international attention and big money. More than 3,000 bidders were on site – in a crowd estimated at 15,000 – and there were more than 3,300 registered online bidders.
The Lambrechts are my family, cousins but closely intertwined. My mother was born and raised in Pierce, a town of about 1700, and aunts and cousins still live there. In a place where everyone knows everyone else, the idea of thousands of people descending on this town was a little intimidating. Where would they sleep? There are only two B&B’s. How would it handle the traffic? The national attention is surely something that will be talked about for years to come … who would have thought that anything could put Pierce, Nebraska on the map?
But Ray Lambrecht did, unintentionally. Whether you think he was a shrewd businessman or a local eccentric (and family sentiments tend toward the latter), his actions created a stir in the car world 50 years on. My aunt called that Saturday morning to report that traffic coming into town was bumper to bumper eight miles out. Word was that Tim Allen, Will Farrell, Matthew Broderick, Mick Jagger, John Travolta and Jay Leno were all in town. And there was an Elvis sighting. Of course.
Contrary to what the media presented, Ernest Lambrecht – not Ray – founded Lambrecht Chevrolet in December of 1940 (he was also the sheriff and the county commissioner in Pierce). He asked Ray to join the business and sold half the interest to him in 1955. (Ernest’s wife, Signe, was known simply to me as Aunt Signe – a beautiful lady who lived to be 93. She and my stepdaughter shared a birthday party one year: 9 and 90.) Ernest’s sister was Elizabeth, my great-grandmother. When his health failed a number of years later and he had to sell the business, Ray bought it.
These cars, parked out in a pasture (not a soybean field), were Lambrecht’s leftovers. He rarely resold trade-ins, and he declined to sell newer cars if a brand new model was available. When the dealership closed in 1996, he had hundreds of cars and pickups sitting scattered across town and countryside. Auction promoters described the collection as a time capsule of automotive history. It also was a boneyard. Most vehicles were stored outside on farmland he owns near Pierce. Wild trees grew up amid the vehicles. Thieves stole radiators and chrome trim. Vandals broke windows. Steel rusted.
So this past June these 496 cars abandoned in a field in the middle of Nebraska suddenly became the center of the car-collecting nation’s attention. There was, it was discovered, a 1928 Durant with wood spoke wheels, and an Indy pace car with 4 miles on the odometer, and a 1963 Corvair with the factory plastic still on the seats. A ’55 Chevy had a tree growing up through its front bumper. There was talk of the “Lambrecht mystique,” this past weekend was “Woodstock for cars.” This is what happens when the media gets hold of a story – silly labels!
The 1958 Cameo, considered the rarest of the bunch, was the last of its Chevy line. Only 1,405 were built. Bidding started at $50,000. Within about 90 seconds, Steve Ames of Marlborough, N.H., was the pickup’s first owner. The auction description reads: “The vehicle was purchased new by Lambrecht Chevrolet company. It has 1.3 miles and has NEVER been sold to the public. It is on original invoice. The truck is turquoise in color with black roof. The body is excellent condition. The roof has damage from being in a building that the roof came down from snow load. The windshield is cracked from hit. The plastic is on the seats and the floor mat is rolled up behind the seat. It is a black and silver interior and bench seat. Manual windows and locks. It has not run recently. We were told that it was rolled off the truck and rolled in the dealership. NEVER offered for sale to the public till now. It has a straight 6 cylinder motor. Hubcaps. It has the original tires and belts. There is dust on the exterior but under the dust is a nice vehicle. Has shine to it. The interior is clean. The undercarriage is clean. It’s amazing.” And it sold for $140,000.
Ray Lambrecht’s daughter asserts that her father always intended to set these cars aside because he knew they would one day be worth something, and that it was his plan to hold an auction. However, I have to wonder that if this is true why did he park these cars in a field where trees grew up between the bumpers and the elements took their toll? Perhaps this is the real “mystique” behind Ray Lambrecht: why did he do it?
I wish I could have been there on September 28, a sentiment echoed by my mom and my brother (who probably would have brought something home with him). It was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and a family event at that. Instead we enjoyed the national attention of the Lambrecht name and of our little previously-unknown town of Pierce, whose name may from now on be associated with those 496 Chevrolets. I hope they’ve found a happy home and will in time be back on the street or in the hands of a loving family. I’ll be looking for that Cameo pickup on the backroads of New Hampshire.
[some text excerpted from David Hendee’s article on www.omaha.com ]
And thank you, Roene, for the photos of the auction!