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Bidders Seize Bargains at U.S. Auction

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 421-horsepower engine crowded beneath its hood can make it go from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 5.2 seconds.

That’s nothing.

The 126 high-performance enthusiasts who crowded next to the Ferrari Testarossa went from $67,000 to $120,000 in about 90 seconds.

That was how long it took bidders to drive up the price of the showroom-fresh sports car seized two years ago and auctioned Thursday by the Internal Revenue Service.

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The car was one of thousands of government-confiscated items sold by IRS and U.S. Customs Service officials during a 7 1/2-hour bidding binge at an industrial park in Rancho Dominguez.

More than 2,000 bargain hunters made offers on goods ranging from speedboats to barbecue sauce dispensers, 29,000 key chains and 17,000 tons of fabric and yarn. The $973,000 raised from the sale will go to the U.S. Treasury.

Bidding was furious at times. Afterward, so were some bidders.

“I’ve got tools all over my garage at home. I’ve got tools I never use. Good God, what am I going to do?” asked retired aircraft worker Ralph A. White after he spent $175 to buy two boxes containing 115 pounds of tools.

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Paula Head, an insurance agent from Rolling Hills Estates, bought a wooden carousel horse for $800. She was pleased with its looks, but uncertain of the bargain.

“I have no idea if it’s a good price. I couldn’t understand what the auctioneer was saying. I just kept raising my hand,” she said with a laugh.

Henry Pena, a retired Disneyland maintenance worker from Santa Ana, spent $1,800 on household goods. “Let’s see . . . some gun cases, some vacuum cleaners. I don’t even remember all the things I got,” he said.

The crowd was just as uncertain whether Rodrigo Rodarte got a good deal. He’s the Bell resident who bought the Ferrari for $120,000. He was representing his boss, textile exporter Armando Munoz of Arcadia.

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“He’s going to be happy,” Rodarte said of Munoz, who was in Mexico on business. Rodarte confided that he was prepared to offer up to $125,000 for the Italian-made automobile. “I was very nervous during the bidding. We were lucky.”

Other car bidders--who each put up $10,000 in advance to prove to auctioneers they were serious buyers--weren’t so sure.

Car collector Frank Lanza, a gold dealer from San Diego, appraised the Ferrari at $70,000 after inspecting it and discovering 193 miles on its odometer--and cobwebs in its trunk.

“It had four or five dings in it. The paint job on the rear deck didn’t match,” added Rob Corder, a Beverly Hills food company owner who had been prepared to offer about $75,000.

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“That’s because they tear them apart looking for hidden compartments,” said bidder Robert Clark, a hotel designer from Newport Beach who was willing to pay $80,000.

But the car sold for exactly what one expert predicted. Chic Vandagriff, owner of Hollywood Sports Cars, said it went for a “retail price.” Vandagriff said he received more than 200 phone calls before the auction from buyers asking for suggestions on what to bid.

Despite the speed with which the Ferrari was sold, officials were much slower at explaining its history.

Mark Fam, a spokesman for EG&G; Dynatrend, a company that stages periodic auctions for customs and IRS administrators, said the car was probably seized by the IRS because its previous owner was arrested for a crime such as laundering drug money. He said IRS privacy rules prohibit the release of details.

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But Fam said he was sure of one thing: It wasn’t snatched because its owner was behind in his taxes.


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