Remember 2004? Homes were still viewed as smart investments, and you didn't wince when your 401(k) statement arrived in the mail. Heck, the Dow Jones average was above 10,000 for all but a couple of brief periods that year.

Seems like the good old days, huh? For the collector-car market, it sure was. Prices were rising, but hadn't hit their peak. It was a good time to buy and sell.

What a difference five years make. According to auction magnate Dana Mecum, it's 2004 all over again-at least when it comes to collector-car prices. While attending Mecum's recent mega-sale in Indianapolis, where more than 1,200 cars crossed the block during four days of marathon hammering, we gleaned some insight from the man who's been at the center of selling American muscle cars and Corvettes for years.

"The market is holding to 2004 prices," says Mecum. "It's important to remember, however, that 2004 prices were still double and triple those from 2000, so even though prices have gone down recently, they're still holding at strong levels."

That was evident at Indy, where we witnessed some comparatively good deals, some surprising sale prices, and a number of sellers who, apparently, didn't know it wasn't 2006 any longer.

"Prices [at the Indianapolis auction] were very fair," says Mecum. "There were a few cheap bargains, but also a few cars that broke the bank."

More than a snapshot of the current state of the market, the Indy auction brought some truly wonderful Corvettes out of the woodwork, including a '55 that served as a test mule for Zora Arkus-Duntov, a '60 model carrying VIN 0001, and the '68 coupe owned by Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell-Houston, we have a small-block. There was also a green '69 L88 coupe that really stirred up the bidders, and while its high bid of $425,000 seemed very strong to us, it rolled off the block unsold.

By the third day of the event, the sell rate had topped 65 percent, and Mecum reported a sell-through rate for the entire event of about 70 percent, suggesting that, despite the tough times, enthusiasts with means weren't sitting on their wallets. In fact, with nearly $40 million in sales, the Indy event was the best in Mecum's history.

"I'm a realist. I think the economy is tough, but we're taking the position that we're going to exist above it," says Mecum. "We spent more to promote this auction [Indianapolis]; as the economy gets tougher we're ensuring that in five years we'll be here. Our customers feel comfortable at our events and they have fun."

Indeed, you don't need to be a bidder to enjoy a Mecum auction. It's an extravaganza of American iron (and fiberglass), with open access to all of the cars in the auction catalog, as well as vendors hawking all sorts of memorabilia. Mecum has also been doing a great business in vintage neon signs, which adds an endearing glow to the event. So, whether you're going to buy, research a future purchase, or simply check out the cars and bidding action, a Mecum auction is a great place to gauge the state of the collector market and enjoy hundreds of vintage cars.

And if our experience at the Indy sale was an indicator, now may be a great time to buy the Corvette of your dreams.

Author's note: Details on Mecum's upcoming auctions are available at www.mecum.com.

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