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News Article  
Merritt bidders move on vintage motor models
By Eric C. Rodenberg

LAKE ODESSA, Mich. – July 14 on Ottland Shores in this village of Ionia County, population a little more than 2,000, made Auctioneer Tim Tobey feel like it was “a great day to be an auctioneer.”

It was a beautiful day; the inventory was good – including several vintage automobiles (most with more “potential” than value) and the people were turning out in droves.

Tobey is the third member of the third-generation Merritt Auction Service which found its roots in Greenville, Mich. in 1951. The family business was started by “Red” Meritt. Today, the business is owned and operated by Red’s son Doug Merritt and grandson, Tim Tobey. Tobey has been an auctioneer since 1997.

The sale was Part 1 of the Estate of Erwin Fahrni, a late General Motors employee who loved auctions, according to Tobey. He was also said to have bought cars “from California to Michigan” for restoration. Many of these cars – of which several qualified as classic vintage models – were in various stages of repair. As a result, they were being run in the auction as “barn finds.”

As many as 500 persons turned out for the auction, Tobey said, with more than 300 registered bidders. Up to 10 telephones kept buzzing, throughout the auction, which started at 10 a.m. There was no Internet bidding.

Two rings were running most of the day, with more than 800 lots to be sold. It was a “fast and furious” auction, with everything sold out by around 3:30 p.m. Among the numerous household items, tools, lawn and garden, and fishing and boating items, the most vied-for items were the vintage automobiles.

The “hands down star” of the sale was a rare 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad station wagon. The buyer came prepared for the car, paying $17,500 (all prices quoted do not include a 10 percent buyer’s premium) and brought his own “wheels” to insert under the car and pull it back to Ohio.

The car had no keys, an incomplete interior, no dash board and flat tires. But, the car had a clear California title.

Another California-titled vehicle, a 1957 Chevrolet pick-up truck with a turbo 350 engine and 4 by 4 suspension, despite not running and having flat tires, brought $10,000.

A 1974 Chevrolet Corvette, with a high performance 350-cubic inch engine and a 4-speed manual transmission, despite not being able to start, sold for $7,250 to a local man from Ionia, Michigan. The car came with both a hard top and soft top.

Another Corvette, this one a 1971 Chevrolet Corvette, with a 4-speed manual transmission and a 350-cubic inch engine, which was not in running condition sold for $5,400 to a phone bidder.

What was thought to be a 1952 GMC truck, with no keys or a title, sold for $3,950. “That was bought by a son, for his father,” Tobey said. “He knew his dad had a truck like this one, or very similar, and he could use it to put a complete truck together.”

A 1979 Ford F 350 Ranger, with no engine, came with a 1-ton heavy duty automatic transmission and transfer case, brought $1,700, with all tires having air.

In other sales, a 1972 Kawasaki 350-cubic inch motorcycle sold for $700, a pontoon boat brought $775, and a pair of enclosed, double-axle trailers sold for $2,700 and $2,900.

An Allis Chalmers B tractor, which had been “sitting out in the weeds for at least 12 years,” Tobey said, brought $425.

Behind the barn on the Lake Odessa estate was a patch of brush, poison ivy and “trash” trees that contained to GEO automobiles and a small aluminum boat. That lot went to a strong-backed entrepreneur for $600. “That was probably worth it,” Tobey mused, “but it had to be a lot of hard work.”

Part Two of the Erwin Fahrni estate will be conducted July 21 at 1594 Marquette Road, Ionia, Mich. Tobey says he expects it to be another “great day to be an auctioneer.”

Contact: (616) 754-9437 or