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The art of hustling auto auctions

To call Pierce, Neb., a sleepy bedroom community is an understatement.

But thanks to great marketing of a great story, the city of fewer than 2,000 residents practically burst at the seams recently as thousands, some from far-flung corners of the world, flocked to it for what was touted as a once-in-a-lifetime auction of vintage automobiles. It raked in millions.

"We've had larger collections, but this one had so many rare items. It was a true and amazing barn find," said Yvette VanDerBrink, who spearheaded the event with her company VanDerBrink Auctions.

The odometer of a 1958 Chevrolet Cameo truck, at the Lambrecht family farm, reads 1 mile on September 26, 2013 in Pierce, Nebraska.
Getty Images
The odometer of a 1958 Chevrolet Cameo truck, at the Lambrecht family farm, reads 1 mile on September 26, 2013 in Pierce, Nebraska.

The collection, spanning five decades from the 1930s, included nearly 500 American-made vehicles, 56 of them new and untitled, with many more showing very few miles on their odometers.

They were the life's work of former Chevrolet dealer Ray Lambrecht, now 96, who had refused to trade in or sell them at his discretion. Instead, he stored some inside, but most sat in open fields.

"He knew someday the cars would have to go away," VanDerBrink said. "And it was just his rainy-day fund."

(Read more: 10 classic muscle cars)

Police estimated that at least 15,000 people attended the auction, which took place the last weekend in September.

VanDerBrink, a seasoned auctioneer, said it was the combination of really good marketing and advertising, plus having a great story to tell that drew in such a large crowd. She promoted the vehicles as pieces of history, not washing any and holding the auction on the actual farm where many vehicles sat for decades, in order to sell an experience, too.

A 1958 Chevrolet Cameo truck is lined up for auction with other cars and trucks in a field on the Lambrecht family farm on September 26, 2013 in Pierce, Nebraska.
Getty Images
A 1958 Chevrolet Cameo truck is lined up for auction with other cars and trucks in a field on the Lambrecht family farm on September 26, 2013 in Pierce, Nebraska.

"They're like works of art, so we left them as it," she said. "Many who bought them do not plan to clean them at all and will showcase them in personal collections."

The top seller, a 1958 Cameo pickup with 1.3 miles on the odometer, went for $140,000.

VanDerBrink did not release total sales but said the auction set record prices. A New York Times article estimated the figure to be about $3 million, not including the buyer's premium.

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While telling a good story and spreading it is paramount to the auctioneer's hustle, it's not so for the buyer.

"Prices at that auction went really high," said Jeff Allen, the owner of Flat 12 Gallery in Lubbock, Texas.

Allen, who is profiled in CNBC Prime's "The Car Chasers," has bought and sold at auto auctions for decades. He grew up in the business learning from his father, Tom Souter, who owns a dealership in Lubbock.

(Read more: Amazing supercar experiences)

Both men began attending auctions as young boys and estimate they've been at more than 10,000 between the two of them. They're always on the hunt for a good bargain, and they offer these tips to buyers looking to score good deals at auto auctions.

1. Research the list of cars before showing up to know their value and potential sale price, especially if you plan to flip it.

2. Set a spending limit before arriving at the auction and stick to it. This threshold will help you avoid burning money.

3. Get there early. This allows you time to inspect the cars to make sure you know what you're getting into before buying. Just because a car says it has air conditioning does not mean it works.

4. Do NOT drink alcohol, as it will only cloud your judgment. If an auction provides alcohol and you'd like a drink, wait until after the sale.

5. If you're new to auctions, start buying small. Try taking a small amount of money to an estate sale to familiarize yourself with the bidding process and flow of an auction.

6. Bid slowly and pay close attention to the auctioneer so the excitement of the moment does not get the best of you, or you could end up bidding against yourself.

7. Never bid on the first offer. The auctioneer usually starts off at a higher price than a buyer is willing to take. A lot of buyers set a reserve price, or the lowest amount they're willing to accept for a car, and you just might get lucky on the lower end.

8. Keep your emotions in check and never run up on something. If you have not researched or inspected a car before it goes up on the block, do not buy it.

—By CNBC's Jeanine Ibrahim

Tune in to the new season of "The Car Chasers" on CNBC Prime, all new episodes Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

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