The market for infamous cars took a hit Saturday when the souped-up 1968 Chevrolet Camaro owned by Branch Davidian leader David Koresh sold at auction here for $37,000, not the $80,000 the seller hoped the car would bring.
Donald Feldpausch, 64, of San Antonio bought the two-door hardtop on impulse. He hadn’t even run a hand over the newly painted black exterior -- much less looked under the hood where Koresh had engraved “DAVIDES 427 GO GOD” on the 427 cubic-inch engine -- before he joined the bidding.
“This car has a story to tell,” cried auctioneer Dan Kruse, urging the crowd of about 250 to bid higher. “What a great piece of American history!”
The 500-horsepower Camaro, rebuilt by Koresh, was parked at the Davidian compound near Waco during a 51-day siege by federal agents in 1993. Koresh and nearly 80 followers died as the complex burned to the ground.
Eleven years later, Feldpausch was one of the few willing to pay for what the auctioneer called “one of the greatest cars you’ll ever buy for the money.”
“It’s an investment,” said Feldpausch. “I’ll bring it out for things like parades, but I’ll keep it in an air-conditioned storage. Someone will come around to buy it.” Feldpausch owns several car washes in San Antonio.
The seller, Darrell Makovy, shrugged at the disappointing selling price. “At least I got the minimum I was asking for,” he said.
Makovy, 52, has had the car for about a year, he said. A businessman in Waco, Makovy remembers seeing Koresh -- who, with his followers, operated a car restoration business on the Davidian complex -- tooling around town in the Camaro.
Federal agents recalled during Senate hearings on the Davidian siege that Koresh reacted with rare emotion when an armored vehicle towed his car away from the compound and left it under a ragged mesquite tree. “When we moved his car, he became very upset,” said former FBI agent Larry Potts at the 1995 hearings.
Years after the siege, the car was sold to the owner of an auto parts store. He sold to the owner of a transmission center, who repaired the bumper -- dented when the Camaro was towed during the siege -- and kept it for eight years outside his garage, Makovy said.
About a year ago, Makovy bought the car for about $25,000. He found the original door panels -- torn off by the FBI during a search -- and the electric antenna in the trunk. After painting the dull finish and replacing the tires, he decided to sell it.
Which is how the Camaro ended up at a vintage car auction in this central Texas town about 60 miles northwest of San Antonio. Inside a cavernous building meant to resemble an airplane hangar, Koresh’s pride and joy was prominently displayed at the auction, near a player piano that blared ragtime music and a life-size mannequin of Willie Nelson in braids and a red bandana.
A stream of curious car buffs peered through the car’s tinted windows or touched the original black leather upholstery. Scott Vardeman, a Houston car dealer, came away disturbed.
“It’s kind of sick, buying a car owned by Koresh,” he said. “It’s like buying a car owned by Hitler. When you think about who sat in the driver’s seat, it’s like Satan was there.”
But cattle rancher Wayne Thumann, an unsuccessful bidder, wanted to own the car simply because it is a very well-preserved 1968 Camaro. That Koresh once owned it was beside the point, he said.
“It is a beautiful, beautiful car. They’re trying to sell the Koresh name, but I love Camaros and this one is in really good shape.” Thumann said he wasn’t bothered by the Koresh connection. “If I own it, then it isn’t his anymore. It’s mine,” he said.
Thumann stopped when the bidding reached $35,000, two grand short of the selling price.
After the auction was over, buyer Feldpausch and seller Makovy bumped into each other in the parking lot outside the auction house.
Except to pose for pictures, Feldpausch still hadn’t looked closely at his new purchase. Makovy filled him in. The $3,300 paint job is by MAACO. Koresh replaced the original engine. The odometer shows 82,379 miles, and the speedometer is broken.
The men exchanged phone numbers, talked about going out for hamburgers sometime.
Makovy’s wife listened to the pleasantries as she stood with her back to him, fuming. Occasionally, she’d turn to shoot her husband a look that clearly signaled a very long drive home. “Oh, I’m just furious,” she said. “He shouldn’t have sold the car for so little. I’m about to walk home.”
Feldpausch flashed Makovy a look of understanding.
Buying an infamous car was not on the agenda when he decided on a spur of the moment trip here to escape a rainy day in San Antonio. “My wife isn’t happy either,” he said.