how to be a car auctioneer

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The Independent Culture
"Strong market, strong market," murmurs the motor-trade motor- mouth in between quick sips of tonic. "The bidding is brisk, very brisk."

It has taken only 30 minutes and 30 sales for Glenn Moore to suss out this morning's buying pattern. Glasses perched on the end of his nose, gavel raised to the skies, he could be an eminent, grey-haired judge about to pass sentence.

But the blue blazer, blue tie and, in particular, blue handkerchief draped in the top pocket, give it away. That, and a tendency to address each bidder, regardless of age or sex, as "Young man".

"Young man, when I auction, nobody sleeps... we're not giving cars away, young man... 21, 21, 21-50, 2-2, 2-2, 2-5 - your car, young man!"

The bidding for the next vehicle begins even before the young man's newly-acquired five-door, low-mileage model has been driven away. For time, as the ace auctioneer knows only too well, is money. "Guys don't want to spend the whole day in here. My job is to turn metal into money, as fast as possible, for the best possible price."

He has been turning metal into money now for 27 years, during which time car auctions have been liberated from claustrophobic back-streets, where traders struck shady deals in seedy versions of the BBC's Swapshop, to come up for air in large, post-modern monoliths, like the 35-acre site at Frating.

The National Car Association headquarters is, according to the company's glossy brochure, part of a "national network of strategically located auction centres". Such marketing jargon reflects the new up-market image.

"We've won respectability," says Mr Moore - a master personal interfacer if ever there was one - "and extended our customer base. This means Joe Public now turns up in much greater numbers."

Joe Public is easy enough to identify. He is sitting on one of the red benches, small notepad in one hand, Glass's Guide To Car Values in the other, laughing loudly at Mr Moore's jokes and, generally, enjoying the show. Occasionally, he will nervously wave his hand in the direction of the rostrum.

The cool, leather-jacketed, mobile phone-holding dealer, strategically located on the auction floor, is far more discreet. He turns his ring, touches his tie and, in the manner of Roger Moore, raises one eyebrow. Anything to stop rivals seeing him bid.

But how does Mr Moore spot such quirkily unexpansive gestures? "Well, I know all of these people and I know all their funny signs." He does his homework before every sale, inspecting vehicles, chatting up traders, getting a feel of the market. This helps him work an audience. He banters with a couple called Smith and Jones, and picks on an unfortunate young man wearing a black shoulder bag: "Got your handbag with you?... sold to the young man with the handbag."

A car sold every minute, a joke told every half minute. As fast as a horse-racing commentator, as sharp as a stand-up comedian, he crushes hecklers with consummate ease and converts potential cock-ups into rib- tickling triumphs.

As cash-strapped companies offload reps and debt-ridden motorists fail to keep up with payments, more cars pour on to the market. He runs several auctions a week, each one lasting three to four hours. "At the end, I need to be left alone. I can't answer the phone. My brain is going round at a hell of a pace."

An Essex County Council car is driven in at a snail's pace. Across a crowded floor, Moore spies a young man with a "walrus phone" and urges him to start the bidding. "Buy this and keep your rates down." The young man starts bidding.

The market is strong, very strong. "The feeling is there," says Mr Moore. "I think I'll up the pace."


National Car Auctions, Colchester Road, Frating, Essex, (01206 250 230)