Danny Galloway can tell more fascinating stories than a Mecum auction has cars, and that’s saying a lot.
A member of the Vintage Thunderbirds of Houston club since 1999, Galloway started volunteering with the club at Mecum’s Houston auction in 2009. He sits on the front line, assigning volunteer drivers to the vehicles lined up to cross the stage.
“During my first time working the auction, there was a particular GTO convertible,” Galloway recounts. “A lady approached me and asked if she could drive it. She was dressed up real nice, and I told her where to find the guy in charge. She came back and said, ‘He said no; I can’t drive it.’”
Galloway asked her why she was upset about it and the woman said, “This is my car. I got it in a divorce settlement and I want my husband to see that I’m selling it on TV.”
Not being allowed to drive her own car wasn’t going to fly on Galloway’s watch. He found an auction representative and cleared the owner to drive, and she triumphantly sat in the driver's seat and rolled across the stage for her television debut. There may or may not have been a gleam in her eye.
Greg Rich, the president of the Vintage Thunderbirds of Houston for the last four years, recruits and organizes all of the volunteer drivers.
“It takes about 90-100 volunteers to staff the Houston auction for two shifts a day during three full days of auction,” Rich says. “As you might imagine, a whole lot of logistics and coordination pieces are involved, and I'm in the back office making sure Danny has the resources he needs.”
Along with entry and a front-row perspective of the auction, volunteers get to drive an array of vehicles from finicky Model Ts to exotic sports cars with unusual start-up procedures. The club wrote up a standard set of procedures to outline what was expected from the volunteers, and they are required to sign it. If someone breaks the rules, they're out for good.
The vast majority of the volunteers do their job perfectly, Galloway says. Occasionally, however, there is an outlier.
“Five or six years ago, one of the gentleman volunteers would hide behind a column when I was assigning vehicles; he would wait until I got to high-dollar sports cars and then he’d appear,” Galloway remembers. “I didn’t catch on until someone pointed it out. So I started giving those cars away to other volunteers and told him I didn’t appreciate what he was doing.”
Galloway told him they no longer needed his service, and he was asked to leave. Unwilling to give up his time in the sun (apparently, he was also making YouTube videos of himself driving the cars), the man went above Galloway’s head and wheedled his way back in. Then he went back to hiding behind the columns and waiting for the fancy cars to pop up again. Not long after that, a Mecum official caught him and told him to leave and never come back.
Galloway himself is a delight, the kind of natural storyteller you could sit next to and listen to all day. He says he has always a vintage car guy, and many years ago, he was told his aunt would bequeath to him a classic Thunderbird. At the time, he had a 1977 Mercury Cougar, long and plush.
“I wasn’t a sports car guy; Mustangs and Camaros didn’t move me much,” he says. “I was ok with a Cougar because it had more luxury to it.”
Disappointingly, his aunt changed her mind about giving him the T-bird. Some time later, he was driving down the highway and stopped at a Thunderbird dealership near his house; he started chatting with the manager and told him about the lost Thunderbird. The manager told him to come around back so he could show him an old dark blue T-bird with a light blue interior that had been sitting on the lot and offered it to Galloway for $3,000.
Galloway wasn’t sure if he wanted it right away, so he went home to think it over. That same week, a 1965 T-bird pulled up alongside him during his lunch hour and he took it as a sign. He called the dealership manager and asked to test drive it; the dealership set it up with a battery and had it all set up and ready to go.
“The car got to 50, then 60 and it almost got to 70 and all of a sudden, everything was flying out of the dash and I could hardly see,” says Galloway. “I pulled over in a turnaround and let it settle, then I drove it back and told him I’d take it.”
About a week after he got it home and polished it up, he was telling a friend at work about the dream car he had just obtained. His friend picked up the phone in the middle of their conversation and Galloway was annoyed.
“I was like, ‘Hey, am I boring you?’” Galloway laughs.
His friend handed Galloway the phone and said, “It’s for you.”
It was the president of the T-bird club in Houston, inviting Galloway to join the club. He signed up right away and has been active in the club ever since. He has no plans to stop working with the auction with Rich and the rest of the club any time soon.
"We have a close working relationship with Mecum; they like the way we do what we do," says Rich. "They also give us a charitable donation for volunteering and we channel it into endeavors that support the classic car industry."
Since 2017, the club has funded 21 scholarships at Houston Community College to get more kids working on carburetors and distributors instead of modern fuel ignitions and computer plug-ins. The club also facilitated the donation of a 1955 Thunderbird currently being used as a project car at the college.
"We’re all getting to be of an age. We can work on the cars, but there are not many people coming behind us. We’re keen on perpetuating the classic car industry. It always needs fresh enthusiasm and fresh eyes."
I have a feeling many more stories are to come.
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