This year, RM Sotheby’s Auctions has held three “Cars & Coffee” days at its headquarters in Blenheim (near Chatham) Ontario. This is like a standard cruise-in day held at the RM facilities, but with the added bonus of being able to visit the collection of cars in the so-called “Exhibit,” and to get a peek into the restoration shop, which is attached to the main world headquarters building.
At the two previous C&C days, they also let a few lucky visitors put their cars up on the shop’s dynamometer. In July, the restoration shop was going full out to get about 10 more cars ready for the Pebble Beach show in mid-August – either for the concours or for the RM Sotheby’s Auction there, so they were not able to spare the hands to show off the dyno this time.
Despite being under pressure to get ready for Pebble Beach, Mario Van Raay, manager of the restoration shop spent time with me explaining the operation and taking me on a guided tour through the different parts of the shop. The whole place has an air of extreme quality and efficiency that are reminiscent (to me anyway) of the pristine shops of Penske’s racing operation in North Carolina – the kind of place that you can produce concours-winning and auction-starring cars.
RM Sotheby’s has become one of the world’s leading collector car auction houses – if not the leading one – and its restoration shop has to be one of the best in the world. So, we’re talking serious money here and high-roller customers as clientèle.
Despite this, RM has chosen to throw its doors open for a low-key get-together for mostly local enthusiasts. I can’t imagine it is getting them much business, but it has to make for good relations in the Chatham-Kent area community.
The main attraction of the day has to be the so-called RM Classic Car Exhibit. This is a large warehouse crammed with a remarkable collection of over 60 collectible cars, both pre-war and post-war. You might think this has been set up as a museum because this collection would rival some of the better car museums in the world but it’s not. This is actually a working storage facility, part of the RM operation, which is used to store cars temporarily. Most of the cars are on their way through – waiting for their turn in the restoration shop, for delivery to customers, waiting to go to an upcoming auction or concours, or in storage for collectors. I did see a few cars I’d seen on an earlier visit, so I assume there are a number of cars on long-term residence here, making it somewhat of a de facto museum.
The staff is busy herding all the visitors and their cars around during Cars & Coffee, leaving most visitors to the Exhibit on their own trying to figure out what all of those extraordinary cars are. However, the Exhibit is open pretty much every day; and on regular days the attendants have time to walk visitors through the assemblage of cars and tell their stories.
One car I was able to identify was a pre-war Adler. This 1,700 cc front-wheel-drive streamliner ran at Le Mans in 1937 and somehow managed to survive the war and end up in the States afterwards. Now fully restored, it had been scheduled to cross the block at the RM’s Monterey auction in August. Among the riches of the assembled cars, there are a few Ferraris and a couple of Bugattis; I think some of them were scheduled for auction at Monterey as well.
Of course, the yard outside happened to be filled up with the visitors’ collectible cars, and this made for an interesting show in itself as there were several quality cars among the visitors. Two that caught my eye include a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria with the transparent roof and a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino that had been customized and featured full air bag riser suspension.
While plans for next year have not been finalized, RM has been pleased with the response this year and it’s expected the Cars & Coffee days will continue again next year.
For sure, RM’s exhibit is worth a trip to Chatham. My recommendation would be that you go there a day early and take in the guided tour before the crowds collect, stay overnight in Rob Meyer’s Retro Suites Hotel in Chatham (RetroSuites.com) and then show up for the Cars & Coffee day the next morning. For more information on the Exhibit and the Cars & Coffee days call 519-352-9024 or go to “RM Cars & Coffee” on Facebook.