Raymond C. Nichols rhythmically opens and closes the hood and trunk of the green, 7-inch Franklin Mint model of a 1964
Mustang hardtop decorating the shelf behind his desk.
"I had one, just like this," he says of the model as he fondly recalls day trips in the car with his wife, Elaine, to Harpers Ferry and Western Maryland more than 30 years ago.
He laughs as he notes that the doors on the model fit more snugly than he remembers those on the real car doing.
Nichols, 53, has turned his longtime appreciation for cars, a fascination with auctioneers dating to his boyhood days in Federalsburg and a brief career in banking into a mini-conglomerate of 30 auto auction, finance and insurance-related companies that grossed "a shade over $30 million last year."
The companies -- all grouped under the trade name BSCAmerica Inc. -- include the Bel Air Auto Auction Inc., the nation's largest writer of residual-value auto insurance for banks and the auction house hired by the state to help clean up Maryland's decade-long savings and loan scandal.
John Eager, senior vice president of the residual-value insurance company, Baltimore-based Lee & Mason of Maryland Inc., said the company writes policies for banks in which the company estimates what vehicles will be worth at the end of a lease.
If the insurer's guess is low, Eager explained, Lee & Mason is responsible for making up the difference to the policyholder.
Most of them are "small- to-medium-size businesses," said Nichols, the chairman of privately held BSC. Together, they employ more than 500 workers, nearly 400 in Maryland.
Victor Yancone, a BSC vice president, said other companies handle fleet sales and are involved in the transportation of vehicles and even the washing of cars to make them more attractive at sale.
BSC has been growing at a rate of 8 percent to 10 percent annually since 1984, surprising even Nichols.
"We had a very modest beginning," said Nichols, whose auctioneer career began at the age of 15 when he earned $150 selling off a herd of ponies and horses owned by trucking executive Gilbert Banning in Federalsburg.
"That was a lot of money back then," he said. "I remember my dad saying it was too much. He said I should give some back. But Mr. Banning told my dad I earned every penny of it."
He said BSC was started with not a lot more.
"We had $1,000 in capital and a loan of $5,000. We didn't have a lot of money, so we needed to look for a business where we could sell a service."
He and his wife started Atlantic Auction in 1973. It auctioned off commercial real estate and heavy construction equipment. More recently it was involved in the sale of the assets of Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc., the defunct clothing retailer.
"We had dreams and expectation, but nothing like this." said Nichols.
"We were thinking in terms of 'it would be great to have a business making $50,000 a year.' "
Bel Air Auto Auction's revenue alone will nearly exceed that on a good day.
BSC acquired the auction in 1980.
Since then it has grown from a facility with two auction lanes selling 200 cars a week to a six-lane operation handling between 1,200 and 1,300 cars a week.
It is one of five auctions BSC operates around the country that specialize in weekly sales limited to auto dealers.
The auctions, held each Thursday, attract about 2,000 people representing more than 1,000 auto dealers throughout a 30-state region.
"That's great for all of us," Michael Martino, president of Village Volvo, not far from the auction, said with reference to his own business and that of other auto dealers in the state.
"It brings a lot of used cars into the area, and used cars are the hottest segment of the market right now. It makes it a lot easier for dealers to buy as well as sell used cars."
rTC BSC also operates three auto auctions in Florida -- Orlando, Tallahassee and Fort Pierce -- and a fourth in New Orleans. All were acquired since 1994.
Nichols said the auto auctions represent more than half of BSC's total revenue, and the Bel Air facility accounts for about 60 percent of total auto auction sales.
Set up to serve the general public, Car and Truck Auction of Maryland Inc. holds an auction every other Saturday. It is open to all buyers.
Started in the early 1970s, it sells cars repossessed by banks and other lenders, and some vehicles coming off lease.
One Saturday a month it also holds a sale of used and surplus federal government vehicles, including cars, trucks and buses.
Used cars are still in great demand, Nichols said. "There no longer is a stigma associated with owning a used car; they are in vogue," he said.
Buyers are most interested in cars three to seven years old selling for $3,500 to $12,000.
Prices have been on the rise in recent years, reflecting the public's increased demand for used cars. But the consumer could be in line for a break, according to Nichols.
"I don't think consumers are going to see prices going up," he said, "but I don't see any over decline in prices anytime soon."
Pub Date: 7/08/97