For the several hundred prospective buyers who strode into a hangar at the Orange County, Calif., Airport last week, the temptation to snap a ghostly salute was nearly irresistible. There, wing to wing, were the great ones of World War I: the DeHavilland D.H.4 Eberhardt S.E. 5a, Nieuport 28, Pfalz D-XII and Fokker D-VII. And right near by sat a green and cream Sopwith Camelthe type that downed the Red Baronwith a cutout figure of that daredevil, Snoopy, as the Baron's fearless foe, everyone surely knows. The occasion: an auction of 29 veteran and vintage planes, from a tricycle-wheeled 1910 Parker Curtiss Pusher to such recent classics as World War II fighters.
The planes were all part of the famous collection put together by Hollywood Stunt Flyers Frank Tallman and the late Paul Mantz. The auction, conducted by Manhattan's Parke-Bernet Galleries, was the first one of its kind, and it marked the coming of age of the helmet-and-goggles old-plane buffs, who readily admit that their mania for flying old crates amounts to "downright sickness." Explains Seattle Lawyer Richard Martinez: "It's a sort of nostalgia. You build yourself a replica of a triplane Fokker, and there you are, Baron von Richthofen."
"Mystery Ship, Hell!" The bidding would have brought a cheer from the Lafayette Escadrille. Top price was for a Sopwith Camel, believed to be the last original, which went to Manhattan Stockbroker J. W. Middendorf II for $40,000 (it cost $8,000 new in 1918). Second highest price was $20,500 for an immaculate 1927 Curtiss Gulf hawk 1 A. The buyer: Korean War Pilot Dolph Overton, 40, who already has 40 vintage aircraft in his Santee, S.C., aircraft museum. Overton plans to fly the Gulfhawk, just as Race-Car Builder-Driver (Chaparral) Jim Hall expects to take to the air with his 1918 Nieuport 28, which he picked for $14,500.
For the old-plane enthusiasts, whose motto is "Keep the antiques flying," the only disappointment in the auction, which grossed $282,620, was the number of vintage aircraft headed for museums. New York's Aeroflex Corp. alone accounted for $120,385 of the auction sales, including $20,000 paid for a 1914 Maurice Farman Pusher biplane and $20,000 for the Fokker D-VII, both slated for exhibition in a future air museum in New Jersey. But such, at least, was not the case with one beat-up, prop-less oldtimer, listed as the "Travelair Mystery Ship." "Mystery ship, hell!" snorted Oldtime Aviatrix Florence Lowe ("Pancho") Barnes. "I bought this ship in 1930 and flew it to two women's world speed records." When she made the winning bid of $4,300 for her old plane, which had been in Mantz's collection, the crowd stood and applauded. Pancho Barnes, for her part, guaranteed to have her old ship back in shape and flying soon. "I've got a lot of friends out at Edwards Air Force Base," she said. "I'm sure they'll give me a hand."