The auto auctions of the 20th century are often remembered for their bizarreness, for the weirdness of the cars they represented.
But they also represented a big shift in how people buy and sell cars.
A car, even a used one, was just as valuable as a house or a small business.
They were also a way for people to earn a living and live in peace.
“People were living in a very different world,” says Peter Steeg, the director of the Center for Automotive Research and Development at MIT.
Cars are now ubiquitous and they’re more likely to be seen in your living room than a house, he says.
And that’s not just a matter of the rise of the internet and the rise in mass media.
Steege has studied car auctions in the U.S. for the past five years.
The auto industry’s rapid expansion and consolidation meant there was never any shortage of new cars.
“There were always more cars out there,” he says, “and you just never knew where they would go.”
Now, though, the car industry is experiencing a slowdown, and so are the auctions.
Stieg has watched auctions go from one frenzy to another.
In 2005, he had a conversation with a former auctioneer in the Auto Club of America who told him, “The auto auction is about the most valuable thing I’ve ever seen.”
That’s not exactly true.
The car that was sold for $1.4 million, the Cadillac CTS, is now worth $2.3 million.
The same car is being auctioned off by another former auction house in Los Angeles this week.
That $1,848,000 car was sold in 2004 by a private buyer.
Stiveg thinks the private buyer is selling it to a company called Sotheby’s International Realty.
It’s one of a number of companies selling off cars, most of them in the last decade.
The sale is one of the biggest in the history of the auto auction, and it will be watched closely because of the value of the old car.
The new car has never been auctioned before.
But the auction is not only a way to keep people’s cars, it’s also a great way to help people pay their mortgages and other bills.
When a buyer buys a car and wants to sell it, he or she often has to find a new buyer.
“The auction has always been about the buyer,” says John Loomis, a professor of finance at Northwestern University.
“It’s the buyer, the seller, and the seller is a car dealer.”
Stiega says that the auctioneers that sell the old cars often take the old ones back and sell them to a buyer who then has to decide how much money to pay.
The buyer usually has to choose between paying the new buyer, who is the seller.
If the buyer is too broke to pay, the buyer will sell the car back to the seller and keep the old one.
But if the buyer’s credit score drops, the old seller can sell the vehicle and pay off the old buyer.
Loomiss says this process is called auctioning.
It takes place in a closed room and the auctioneer is only allowed to see the cars he’s auctioning off.
Stikeg says that for every car sold, there are hundreds of cars that are still in storage.
He says that when the new owner comes around to a lot of cars, the former seller has to come back and fix the cars and then sell the cars.
That’s where the auction houses come in.
They can help the old sellers sell the newer ones.
And when the old owner has paid off the new one, the auction house can sell it back to a new owner.
This is how auctions work, says Stieger.
“You’re putting the buyer in a position where he can pay off somebody else.
He can pay the buyer and he can sell to somebody else.”
So, in essence, the auctions are just a way of helping people buy new cars, he adds.
And they’re not just for collectors.
“They’re a way people can make a living,” he said.
“And the reason it’s important is because they’re just another tool in the economy.”
This story was produced by NPR, and produced by Strive.
You can find more NPR stories about the auto auctions at NPR.org/autos.