A flashy '56 Thunderbird with red leather seats, a high-style, pearl-gray Cadillac vintage 1956 and a flawless '55 Chevrolet Bel Aire that could steal the show in "Grease" are among 135 classic cars being offered at auction today at the Mall of America.

A rare 1969 NASCAR pace car -- only seven were made and they usually are traded among collectors out of public view -- is also a standout in the auction lineup billed as "rare and valuable pieces of automotive history.''

But the star of the show -- the car expected to fetch the highest price -- is a 1929 white Duesenberg Coupe convertible with a jump seat.

Mound resident Jim Fretham owns it. He hopes to get more than $1 million in bidding today.

"They are a very rare, low production car,'' Fretham said. Only about 400 of them were built between 1929 and 1936. So why is he selling? "It's a hobby.''

Viewing starts at 9 a.m. and bidding at 11 a.m. in the mall's north parking lot across from Ikea. The sale, which is free and open to the public, has been organized by two men from Rochester, Kevin Ring and Andrew Distad.

It's their first auction, and they are thrilled by the quality of the cars, Ring said. "This is the first time anyone can remember that a NASCAR pace car was sold at a public auction.''

On Friday, people browsed through the lines of polished cars that all together carry an estimated value of $10 million.

Virgil Ford of Northfield said the old models took him back to high school, when he and his friends formed a car club.

"When you grew up in the '50s and '60s, that was one of the things you did,'' he said. He and his friends now own vintage cars -- his is a 1932 Ford. He came to the auction to take in the body styles, the condition, the designs.

Howard Luick of Buffalo brought a lovingly restored turquoise-and-white 1955 Bel Aire convertible to sell. He has owned it since 1993 and worked on it for at least 10 years. Retired from the banking industry, Luick said cars are his hobby. He has owned 30 to 40 over the years.

He declined to reveal the price he is hoping to get for his car but said a friend sold a similar car for $100,000 two years ago at a Scottsdale, Ariz., auction.

He's put a reserve on his car, meaning he won't sell below a certain price. So he will stand at the auction block to accept or reject the final bid.

Ring expects to sell 12 to 15 cars per hour, taking roughly four minutes per car. Buyers usually bring with them a bank letter of guarantee and write a check.

Lloyd and Jane Johnson of Ostrander, in southeast Minnesota, have three vehicles in the auction. They paid the $350 entry for each one. "We are just so pleased with this many cars here,'' Jane Johnson said.

Their three children, all in their 20s, also have caught the car bug, she said. "Lloyd has taught all the kids how to lay rubber.''

Jane sprayed Windex on the windshield of a 1999 Dodge Dakota RT pickup they brought to the auction. The bright yellow truck has a stylish hard cover over a carpeted truck box. But its real appeal is under the hood, where the engine has been modified to accept gulps of nitrous oxide to punch up the speed.

The Johnsons have never tried it. They didn't want to ruin the motor.

Lloyd has a reserve price on the truck -- even though that will cost him a 7 percent commission if the vehicle sells versus a 4 percent commission with an open price.

"I like the auctions because we can say this is what we want for them and if we don't get it, we just take them home.''

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711