"It's like the Super Bowl for car guys." That's how my buddy's wife described the Barrett-Jackson auction broadcast on Speed TV. The cable channel has aired the auction for a number of years, with coverage expanding annually. This year, starting Tuesday 18 January and running through Sunday the 23rd, Speed aired 40 hours of the Scottsdale, Arizona event.
Over the last 40 years, the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction has evolved into a mecca for car collectors looking to buy or sell their treasures. And for those of us not lucky enough to have a large bankroll, the television coverage must suffice.
Although the Barrett-Jackson marketing machine has done an excellent job of focusing most of the attention on its own event, two other collector-car auctions take place in Scottsdale the same week. If Barrett-Jackson is the Super Bowl, the World Series is taking place off camera. Let's take a look.
The schedule for the Barrett-Jackson auction is usually organized to show better and better vehicles each day, building to a climax Saturday night during prime time. This year was no different.
After wading through a seemingly endless supply of "C2" Corvettes, late 1960s Mustangs, first-generation Camaros, and "resto-mods" of every ilk, the auctioneer finally arrived at the best stuff. During the last full day, no fewer than 30 Mustangs, 28 Camaros, 53 Corvettes, and 126 custom cars and trucks rolled across the block.
Speed viewers should now be well-versed in the differences between 1965 and 1967 Corvettes, as the producers cut away when virtually anything else came up for sale. If it weren't for the live Internet coverage, viewers would have no idea that anything else sold that day.
Among the vehicles to sell on Saturday were a $100,000 1929 Packard Eight, a $200,000 1929 Lincoln Model L, and a $300,000 1932 Chrysler Imperial. While the classics weren't bringing the big money they once did, large price tags accompanied a few customs and a Marine Technology 44-foot Catamaran (with a matching Z06 Corvette, of course), which topped all sales at $675,000.
With so few hyper-expensive cars on the block, the auction had to focus on controversy. One car not only stirred the audience but brought on the wrath of Jalopnik.com. In the pre-auction hype, the 1963 Pontiac Bonneville Ambulance built by Superior Coach took the spotlight with claims that it once carried the body of President John F. Kennedy on that fateful day, 22 November 1963.
The firestorm of excitement generated by the arguments for and against the car's purported history combined to make it the most electric sale of a $120,000 vehicle in ages. Interestingly, the car changed hands again immediately following the auction and is now on display in Colorado.
Perhaps the people chasing higher-dollar cars weren't even attending Barrett-Jackson though. After all, on the first night's television coverage, the announcers said the general-admission ticket holders were encouraged to fill in the empty seats down front. The well-heeled buyers may have found the auctions across town more to their liking.
At RM Auctions' "Automobiles of Arizona" sale, 182 vehicles were sold. Far fewer vehicles crossed the block at this event, but seven of them topped the price offered for the Corvette-themed boat at the televised Barrett-Jackson auction.
Nearly hitting the top end of its pre-sale estimate, a 1939 Bugatti Type 57C Three-Position Drophead Coupe sold for $830,000. A 1929 Duesenberg J Dual Cowl Phaeton, featured in the Elvis Presley movie Spinout, found a new owner for $1,125,000.
Almost doubling its estimated price, a beautifully restored 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe crossed the block for $1.375 million.
A "freshened" classic 1933 Packard V12 wearing a Dietrich phaeton body sold for $1.76 million.
The 1964 Dodge Hemi Charger concept car, previously featured in Automotive Traveler, didn't quite reach its estimated price range of $750,000 to $1 million. At $650,000, however, it still brought in more green than any individual car at the week's highlighted sale.
It was three Ferraris that made the loudest splash in this recession-dampened economy. One of only 121 factory-built 365 GTB/4 Daytona Spyders, this one owned by Evel Knievel and Reggie Jackson, beat its estimated price of $800,000 by 80 grand.
For $55,000 more, a 1965 500 Superfast Series I, number seven of 36 built, is now parked in a new garage. At the top of the sale was the 1949 166 MM Barchetta, one of only 25, which sold for $1.87 million.
In total, more than $29 million dollars worth of vehicles changed ownership at the RM Auctions event.
Bringing in a bit more money was Gooding and Company's "Scottsdale Auction," selling 123 vehicles at an average price of slightly less than $260,000 each (four times more than the Barrett-Jackson event!).
A blue "barn find" 1948 Tucker, in obviously unrestored condition, took in $725,000. And as at the RM Auctions event, a gull-wing Mercedes-Benz (1956) and a Ferrari Daytona Spyder (1972) saw the gavel drop.
The German coupe brought over half a million less at the Gooding auction, but the Ferrari found almost $36,000 more. At $941,000, the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS recently showcased in Automotive Traveler closed in on the seven-figure range.
Five cars topped the magic million mark. As at the RM Auctions sale, Gooding featured a Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton, this one bodied by LeBaron, which sold for $1.34 million.
Topping the Duesey by $195k was a Fiat 8V Supersonic from 1953. The other three top sellers were--no surprise here--Ferraris, with a 1967 275 GTB/4 bringing an even $1 million and a 1965 275 GTB Alloy Long Nose beating that figure by $300k. Topping all comers was the rare 2006 Ferrari FXX Evolution, whose new owner paid $1.9 million.
Although car auctions are no longer exclusive to Speed--HD Theater has added a few throughout the last year--Speed's coverage of Barrett-Jackson tops the ratings. Despite its apparent success, however, the audience is growing weary.
Discussions among car fanatics nationwide, especially online, show a trend away from Barrett-Jackson and Speed. The other car auctions are said to offer more entertainment value--useful information for sponsors looking to reach automotive enthusiasts. It's only a matter of time before someone wakes up and changes the channel. Perhaps next year.
Car geek Sam Fiorani prefers car-auction parties to Super Bowl bashes.
Flip ahead for full-page views of some of the cars highlighted in this article:
1965 Ferrari 275 GTB Alloy Long Nose Berlinetta, sold for $1.3 million. Photograph by Pawel Litwinski, © 2011 Gooding and Company.
1963 Pontiac Bonneville ambulance, sold for $120,000. Photograph courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.
1939 Bugatti Type 57C Three-Position Drophead Coupe, sold for $830,000. Photograph by Darin Schnabel, © 2011 RM Auctions.
2006 Ferrari FXX Evolution, sold for $1.9 million. Photograph by Pawel Litwinski, © 2011 Gooding and Company.
1955 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Coupe, sold for $1.375 million. Photograph by Paul Markow, © 2011 RM Auctions.
1973 Ferrari 65 GTB/4 Daytona Spyder, sold for $880,000. Photograph by Darin Schnabel, © 2011 RM Auctions.
1933 Packard Twelve Sport Phaeton, sold for $1.76 million. Photograph by Darin Schnabel, © 2011 RM Auctions.
1948 Tucker sedan, sold for $725,000. Photograph by Pawel Litwinski, © 2011 Gooding and Company.