In another time, a driver used the sleek orange 1970 Plymouth Superbird to deliver pizzas for a guy named George who dubbed himself the “Pizza King.” Like many Superbirds back then, it had a reputation as an unattractive workhorse of a car likely to hang around waiting for the right suitor to come along. “They were considered ugly back then and would just sit around dealerships,” said Jack “Crazy Jack” Struller, whose specialty is digging into the history of vintage cars like the Superbird.
But today, in a warehouse along Route 17 South, the Superbird was declared the prettiest ride of all, fetching a winning bid of $575,000 during a first-of-its-kind auction of vintage muscle cars run by the U.S. Marshals Service.
The nine cars up for sale today tallied $2.535 million in bids. The money will go toward paying off some $50 million in restitution owed by David Nicoll, the former president of Parsippany-based Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services. In June, Nicoll, 40, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newark to running a seven-year-long bribery scheme that netted $100 million and led to the arrest of 16 doctors. Prosecutors say Nicoll paid off physicians to get them to send their patients’ blood specimens to his lab. During its long history, the marshals have sold off cars, homes, even horses, but never so many vintage cars “in one fell swoop,” said Juan Mattos, the U.S. Marshal for New Jersey.
“These were the mean machines built back in the ‘70's to rule the roads,” Mattos told the crowd before the bidding got underway at the warehouse for A.J. Willner Auctions. The winning bid for the Superbird went to Tod Oseid of Big Red Sports Cars in Illinois. Oseid conceded that at $575,000 he may have paid too much for a car with more than 63,000 miles on it but was confident he could find a buyer to put down even more. “There are people who have so much money this would change their net worth like me buying a cup of coffee,” Oseid said.
John Ursini of Long Island plunked down $315,000 for a 1969 Chevrolet Yenko Camaro, one of just 200 manufactured that year. It was Ursini’s first time at an auction and, after winning the Camaro, was asking Oseid for help finding someone who could transport the car back to New York. He said he has plans to “flip” it to a new buyer.“But I’m going to hold onto it for a while,” Ursini said. The Camaro got its name from Don Yenko, a race car driver from Pennsylvania who specialized in customizing Chevrolets with race-ready engines.
Yenko died in 1987 but his daughter, Lynn Yenko, has kept the family’s hand in the business. She was standing in front of a green 1969 Chevrolet Yenko Nova that had just sold for $400,000. When it first went on the market it sold for about $4,500, she said. “That’s some markup,” she joked. The third Yenko car up for auction today – a 1969 Chevrolet Yenko Chevelle – sold for $237,500. Looking out at the auction floor she paused to consider what her father might have thought.