Car dealers can easily become as well-known as the brands they sell and service.
In this context, to mention names such as McGrath, Suttons, Zupps, Mance, Buckle, Motors of Tasmania and many more, conjures up images of shiny showrooms, business suits and lots filled with new and used cars.
In country towns, to simply mention the last name of the dealer (‘down at Smith’s’) is usually enough.
But there’s a special place in history reserved for the Holden dealer called Canowindra Motors, located in the small New South Wales central-western town of the same name.
Principal Charlie McCarron had been in business continuously since 1959, although the final few years have seen the dealership become more of a museum. Unlike most car dealers, if Charlie liked the look of something or thought it might be of value down the track, he kept it.
Three years ago, McCarron was tied up and robbed by a pair of criminals. Being 81 years of age at the time, anyone might have forgiven him for deciding at that point to give the game away.
But Charlie has soldiered on, deciding in 2016 at the age of 84 that this would be the year his famous collection was broken up and sold.
The sale took the form of a huge three-day auction over the October long weekend in NSW and during the lead-up to the 2016 Bathurst 1000. Combined with Holden’s imminent departure from Australia as a carmaker, the timing was perfect.
Canowindra had never seen the likes…
McCarron recounted the beginnings of his career ahead of Sunday’s main auction (the one the people came to see).
It all effectively began in 1954, when Charlie was selected to take part in a Farm Youth Exchange program with the Junior Farmers Club.
This saw Charlie pack his bags for the US, during which time he visited Detroit and saw a pair of Henry Ford’s famous Model Ts, which had been preserved.
From that moment, McCarron decided he would operate his as-yet unfounded business in a similar way, preserving the best Holden items he could get his hands on.
It also drove him to seek out the earliest example of an Australian-built Holden in the best condition, which ended up being the 46th Holden 48-215 (dubbed ‘FX’) to roll down the production line.
Books, posters, spare parts and other antiques had been amassed over the years in a collection that required more than 1800 lots to clear.
The Auction - Parts And Posters
Burns & Co from Mildura in Victoria was tasked with the massive job of cataloguing and selling Charlie’s collection.
The cars alone occupied around 90 of the 1800 lots, ranging in value and condition from the ‘seen better days’ collection, some of which fetched only $50, to highly-desirable models.
Around a month out from the auction weekend, it became apparent to Burns & Co that two days would never be enough to bring the hammer down on all 1800-odd lots.
The decision was made to add a third afternoon to the schedule, which would see 503 lots cleared on the Friday afternoon ahead of the long weekend.
Despite the trying weather and travel limitations caused by flood waters in surrounding areas, Canowindra was packed with hundreds of would-be buyers keen to secure anything from a $1 book to the prized 48-215. The council even made the wise call to close half of the main street while the auction took place.
Friday and Saturday items included hundreds of ‘new-old stock’ (NOS) spares, such as badges, gauges, chrome strips, body panels and addenda, wheels, lights and much more right down to spark plugs. “They’re not made in China” said the auctioneer on several occasions, as another piece of genuine Holden chrome trim that had never seen service on a vehicle went under the hammer.
And it wasn’t just items for car nuts, with plenty of ‘general’ antiques such as an army helmet sold together with an antique iron, old glass soft drink bottles, three movie projectors and even a Morse code machine.
Of McCarron’s hundreds of car posters (95 percent of which featured Holdens), prices ranged anywhere from $10 to $2200.
Notable items from the rest of Saturday’s sale include an old white GM workshop coat, which sold for $3500, and Charlie’s triangular Holden service sign - which went for $25,000.
The Auction - Sunday
With all and sundry from the Canowindra Motors workshop having passed to new owners, attention turned to the 60-odd cars that were the major drawcard for many.
For the auction’s final day, proceedings shifted from the Canowindra Motors workshop to Canowindra Showground, as the workshop would never have held all of the potential buyers.
Cars lined Main Road 81 (connecting it with nearby Orange and Cowra) and plenty of ‘outsiders’ had taken the opportunity to present their own vehicles with ‘For Sale’ signs, knowing that the town would be full of potential buyers.
First up, around 200 lots consisting of workshop manuals, parts catalogues, brochures and more posters were cleared.
Prices ranged from a token $1 for Holden Nova and Apollo manuals, along with some from Isuzu, right up to $500 and more (a HT manual and a 48-HR parts catalogue being two examples).
A framed commemorative picture from a shed company in Mildura, signed by Peter Brock, went for $4000.
Later, with the showground packed and the sun finally shining, the main event finally got underway.
Burns & Co said buyer interest in these lots had been registered from all over the world, and of those present at the showground, some had travelled from as far as Perth.
Two corflute signs advertising the sale at the Canowindra Motors workshop in Gaskill Street were auctioned for cancer charities ahead of the first car, with the signs selling for $950 and $1100.
Cars from the ‘needs work’ category went first, but buyers quickly recognised potential bargains - snapping up a VL Commodore for $1250, a trio of VH Commodores for $2750, $1500 and $1750, while a TD Gemini coupe went for $6000. Even a 1984 Ford AR Telstar found a home at $1250.
There were plenty of early Commodores to choose from as the best from Charlie’s collection went under the hammer, and prices ranged from $7000 for a VB SL/E V8 on LPG through to $23,000 for another VB V8 and $48,000 for a VH SS.
Several bidding wars ensued over the likes of a HR ute, which eventually sold for $48,000, and a HD Premier, which went for $43,000.
The best was saved until the very end, naturally, with the HK Monaro GTS 186S going for $80,000, and the LJ Torana UX-1 cracking $100,000.
Only one item in the entire auction had a reserve attached to it, and besides the odd book (which was then bundled in with the next lot), it was the only item that did not sell.
Of course that item was the prized Holden 48-215 Number 46, which was passed in as bidding stalled at $200,000.
What will happen to the 48-215 now is unclear.
All up, the collection sold for an estimated $1.5 million.