That afternoon at the Gooding auction, Serio quickly notes the difference between a $2 million Mercedes-Benz 300 SL and one worth far less. As a 1958 SL painted the color of a fire engine rolled across the auction block, he notes, “1958 doesn’t qualify for any of the major rallies, and red on an SL is the kiss of death.” Two minutes later, it sells for $850,000—a paltry sum in the 300 SL world.

Later, in the viewing area, he wiggles underneath a black car, iPhone flashlight in hand, to inspect how the fenders have been welded on. He might also find signs of repairs that have not been disclosed. The difference between him or another guy doing such minute surveillance is that Serio knows at a glance whether the etching on the headlight is wrong—a clue that it is not period-correct—or if the metal holder encircling the headlight should not have been polished so brightly. “Over-restored” is a thing, too.

He will also know and call the guy who, he’ll remember, owned the car last year, in order to get the real story as to why it’s being offered for sale now. You’d be surprised at how many expensive, important cars are offered momentarily on Bring a Trailer and then, as if by magic, are offered later at a prestigious auction. Or vice-versa. It’s rarely a good sign—and always a bad look—when a car has been offered for sale on several different platforms or venues. Serio will remember which is which.

The Power Of The Game
Along with Brotman, who keeps his own roster of well-heeled clients, Serio spent four days lodged in the Arizona Biltmore Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright a century ago. They were laying the groundwork for deals that would play out over the rest of the year.

They discussed whether to hold a 911R for Amelia or to sell it before the event; compared notes on a black 1958 Porsche 356 speedster with a dark green interior; and for another client placed a bid on a purple metallic 1991 Vector that looks like it came straight from ‘90s-era MTV. Tag-teaming, they’re even more effective: When they heard from a client who was recently looking for a missing Ferrari 365GTS California Spyder—one of 14 existing today—they located two. It took them fewer than 48 hours.

Serio speaks on several expert panels during auction week as well, including one at the members-only Otto Car Club hosted by Road Scholars, a Pebble Beach award-winning restoration company. It was a meeting exclusive to owners and aspirants of the ultra-rare Abarth Porsches, cars that routinely fetch millions of dollars and are so beloved they’re passed quietly from one owner to another, never to be seen at auction. Brotman, who has 30 years of contacts built up in his head, expects to come out of the weekend with two or three big deals gleaned from networking alone: “It could be a $5 to $7 million weekend,” he says, nonchalantly.  

Strategic Diversification
Extracurriculars aside, the main goal this week for Serio is to sell three classic cars, a task he has plotted for the better part of a year. In addition to the silver Mercedes cabriolet, there’s a 1956 Jaguar D Type Tempero replica that he acquired by trade from a fellow dealer on the West Coast. (He’d owned a similar model 20 years ago and missed driving it.) There’s also a white 1938 BMW 328 Roadster he bought last year on a tip. “We knew it was a great car and thought, ‘Let’s just take a shot,’” Serio says.

He matches each car to the auction house he determines best-suited to sell it—Gooding for the Mercedes, because he knows the charismatic Brit Ross will eke out every last dime he can get on something he’s listing with no reserve. He sends the Jaguar to RM Sothebys because the auction house has historically done well selling that particular continuation model. The placement of the BMW, too, works out fortuitously: A similar 328, in an aged minty green color and owned by one family for 75 years, grabs headlines when it appears in the catalogue for the Gooding auction. Serio doesn’t want his white BMW to be overshadowed by the green one with its slightly superior pedigree, so he is happy to go with Bonhams on that one.

“I don’t negotiate against myself,” he puts it.

A Critical Eye
Typically, auction houses collect 12% of the hammer price from the buyer, up to $250,000; anything above that is on a sliding scale. Sellers typically pay 10% as private individuals. But longtime dealers such as Serio can negotiate smaller fees—or even have them waived entirely—for themselves and their clients. The savviest negotiate different terms with each auction house to their own advantage. Serio typically earns a double-digit percentage from his clients for his troubles, which he splits with such associates as Brotman, if the deal requires.