UPDATED: 3/5/17 5:33 pm ET – corrected
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the auction partnership handling Hackenberger’s vehicles. JF Marketing/Auction & Real Estate Service is the primary contractor, working in partnership with VanDerBrink Auctions.
When Ron Hackenberger was 15, he borrowed money from his grandfather to buy his first car: a 1948 Studebaker. Then he kept buying.
In July, that Studebaker won’t be on sale, but about 700 other vehicles collected by Hackenberger, now 81, will be.
“I would guess there’s probably going to be a lot of bidding activity,” says Craig Jackson, CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction Co.
JF Marketing/Auction & Real Estate Service, in partnership with VanDerBrink Auctions, is handling the sale for Hackenberger, a private collector from Norwalk, Ohio, which is roughly midway between Toledo and Cleveland.
Private auctions of this size can generate great enthusiasm among classic-car collectors. In 2013, thousands of buyers convened Woodstock-like in a Nebraska field for a weekend auction of nearly 500 vehicles owned by Ray Lambrecht, a former Chevrolet dealer. The auction yielded about $2.8 million in sales.
One year later, Sam Pack, a Ford dealer and antique car collector from Dallas, sold nearly a quarter of his 473 vintage automobiles.
The collection to be auctioned is especially heavy on Studebakers, with more than 250, including Champions, Commanders, Avantis and trucks. But Hackenberger’s tastes also included such classics as a rare Kaiser Darrin Roadster.
The luxury Avanti coupe, designed by a team led by legendary stylist Raymond Loewy, launched in mid-1962. When Studebaker collapsed in late 1963, rights to the design were sold, and a string of owners continued production of the fiberglass-bodied car, largely unchanged in design, for three decades.
Hackenberger will keep the Studebaker that was his first purchase. “I would keep the ones I had when I was young, a ’48, a ’52 and a ’56. I’m a fan of the ’50s cars,” Hackenberger said.
Some of the vehicles are “all restored,” he said, including Studebaker Golden Hawks and horse-drawn wagons from Studebaker’s early years. “They’re ready to go in a museum, really.”
Rethinking a museum
A museum was exactly where Hackenberger intended the vehicles to go.
Hackenberger’s collecting hobby, which began in 1962, was sustained by his trucking career that reached into the late ’90s. He would haul vehicles back to his home by the semi-full, planning to curate the vehicles himself, he told Automotive News by phone.
But the cost of opening such a museum proved too much after the recession bit into his savings. Hackenberger’s family, including six daughters and five great-grandkids, are his most immediate concern.
“I can just help them more with their colleges and the family, and I feel that’s a more viable place to put the money,” he said.
The auction will be held July 15-16 at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, with a preview July 14. John Froelich of JF Marketing/Auction & Real Estate Services, had worked with Hackenberger in his quest by finding some unusual storage facilities.
The vehicles were stored within miles of Hackenberger’s home at four locations, including an old department store and an abandoned lumberyard. All of the cars and trucks will be relocated for the auction.
The vehicles range from fully functioning models to ones that are all show and no go. They run the gamut from restored to those in original “barn find” condition, some of which haven’t been touched in years.
A few images posted on the auction site show road-ready models. Other photos reveal the dusty rows of picked-over vehicle carcasses.
Auction organizers have only just begun the process of cataloging the vehicles, but Hackenberger estimates just 15 percent of his vehicles are in working order. Many will be purchased mainly for their parts, though Hackenberger insists he bought some of them in mint condition.
“It gets expensive. Parts aren’t getting any cheaper. The quality of the restoration can cost as much as what you’ve got to bid on the car,” Jackson said. “Whatever you think it is, I would double that cost. It’s just all the unknowns.”
Hackenberger’s collection of mainly hard-to-find independent auto manufacturers’ nameplates and orphan vehicles strays from the beaten path. Besides the Studebakers, Hackenberger boasts a selection of micro cars including Fiats, BMW Isettas and French-made Citroëns.
A press release also lauds muscle cars such as a ’65 Ford Mustang, ’66 Dodge Charger, ’67 Plymouth Barracuda and a ’57 Chevrolet.
“There are ones in here that I have never seen before,” said auction partner Yvette VanDerBrink, whose firm is based in Hardwick, Minn. “He said, ‘Well, everybody’s got a Chevy, and everybody’s got a Ford.’ He wanted what nobody else has.”
Eccentric doesn’t begin to cover it.
Preserving the Rockwell era are a fleet of Divco milk trucks and antique David Bradley tractors. About a decade before deciding to call it quits on a museum, Hackenberger attended an auction of a local fair in Pennsylvania and nostalgically purchased all its bumper cars.
“I have about 20,” Hackenberger said. “They said I could have one or all of ’em, so I took ’em all.”
Jackson’s advice for would-be buyers: Keep your head, stick to your guns and do your homework.
“On these cars, I would definitely suggest to go look at them. Just don’t go in blind and think because it’s held in a little town with a small auctioneer that you’re gonna rip a car,” Jackson said. “Usually, it doesn’t happen.”
Though they are the product of almost a lifetime, Hackenberger won’t be sorry to see the vehicles go.
“No, I mean, they’re just cars. My friend said, ‘You’re going to miss them,’ and I said, ‘They’re just iron,’” Hackenberger said. “My plan now is to make this auction as successful and as good as we can. After that, just kind of settling back and enjoying the few of them that I keep.”
For more photos, videos and other information about the auction, click here.