At the Barrett-Jackson Auction

Miss a year or so and you likely won’t even recognize the Barrett-Jackson. The main tent, this year, was big enough to house a 747 jumbo jet with plenty of room to spare, and a procession of other tents handled the overflow crowd of about 250,000.



With much of the nation in the deep freeze, even the Valley of the Sun couldn’t escape some cold and rainy weather this last week, but despite the chill that actually put some frost on the ubiquitous saguaro cacti, things were hot at the four big automotive auctions that had collectors from around the world spending more than a quarter-billion dollars on an assortment of rare and unique cars.


Nowhere was the action more frenetic than at the old West World, on the fringe of tony Scottsdale , where a crowd estimated at more than 250,000 turned out for the country’s biggest – and wildest – classic auction. The Barrett, now in its 26th year, has become a sort of Woodstock for the collector set. While serious bidders gather under one of the world’s largest tents, there’s plenty more to keep fans occupied, with drift contests, food stands, and a seemingly endless assortment of concessions hawking everything from classic neon dealer signs to inflatable hot tubs.


Classic cars, especially rare pre-War models from Bugatti and Duesenberg, remain mainstays of most auctions, including RM and the others in Phoenix, but in recent years, the number of older models going across the Barrett block has steadily diminished – and so have the prices paid for many normally high-demand models. “There are a lot of steals here today,” lamented one of the auctioneers, as a 1941 Packard commanded a modest $100,000, barely half what it was expected by some to go for. At the Barrett, there’s been a steady shift to muscle cars, and the auction has been a major force in driving up prices for ‘Cudas, “Goats,” Corvettes, and other classic Detroit iron.


Prior to the auction’s start, however, Keith Martin, publisher of the influential trade publication, Sports Car Market, had warned that muscle car prices might be peaking – a pronouncement that led to his banishment from Barrett-Jackson. Whether he’s right was hard to tell, at least initially. A rare, 1970, 440-cid Plymouth Superbird snatched $250,000, But a short while later an NHRA record-holding, 1972 Malibu struggled to reach $110,000, a severe disappointment considering a sister car went for a cool $1 million just the year before.


As Saturday evening wore on, with SpeedTV luring in long-distance phone and Internet buyers, and the Barrett-Jackson staff aggressively working the crowds, the bids steadily climbed. The audience began to roar as Warrior One rolled onto the stage. The big Hummer H1 served as a mobile studio for the CNN’s coverage of the Iraq invasion, in 2003, getting severely shot up in the process. Fully restored by tuner Chip Foose, the cable network donated it to raise money for the care of wounded veterans. With Barrett auctioneers brazenly playing off the patriotic theme, the bidding soared, the crowd roaring with approval. By the time the gavel came down, Warrior One was sold for an even $1 million. But that was just a warm-up.


With longtime sponsor, Chrysler Corp., pulling out, the Barrett got itself several new industry sponsors this year, including Ford Motor Co. “This is a great way to reach our audience,” explained Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas , as he pushed his way through the crowd. Fields, Ford heir Edsel Ford, and the legendary Carroll Shelby all took turns on the stage to start the bidding for a procession of high-profile cars, starting with the Serial #001 2007 Shelby GT Mustang. That was a mere practice run, though. As the black and gray pony car rolled off the stage, another Shelby quickly took its place.


Once dubbed “the Cobra to End All Cobras, the 1966 Cobra 427 “Super Snake” is one of two ever produced – this particular car the one in which Shelby himself was busted for blasting across the Nevada desert at more than 190 mph. Under the sweeping sheetmetal beats an 800-hp, twin supercharged, 427-cid V-8 mated to a three-speed automatic. Officially known as CSX3015, the Super Snake was shipped to England in September 1965 as a Cobra Competition Roadster. It returned to the U.S. a year later. The Snake is not street legal, but that apparently didn’t stop Shelby, nor the comedian Bill Cosby, who ordered the other Snake.


With a wave to the crowd by Shelby himself, the bidding began, jumping quickly in $100,000 increments, until it topped the $1 million mark. By then, much of the crowd was on its collective feet. $1.25 million, $1.5 million, the pace quickened, screams erupting as each million mark was reached. The bidding paused for a moment at $3 million, well below initial estimates, but the auctioneer wasn’t about to bring the gavel down yet. With the skill of a psychologist, he cajoled and prodded, while his team fanned out into the audience, focusing their attention on individual bidders with credit lines large enough to keep the action going. And then the bidding resumed with a sequence of half-million dollar jumps. “Five million, five-five? I’ve got five million, five-five,” the auctioneer chanted, but this one had hit its limit, and the gavel came down, setting a new record for the Barrett, and the highest figure for any of the weekend’s auctions.


The evening’s events were far from over, of course, and as the fever pitch cooled, Barrett staff worked hard to maintain a level just short of frenzy. It helped to have a procession of celebrities, big and small, including the well-preserved Linda Vaughn, easily the best known spokesmodel of the muscle car era on hand to pump hands – and sheetmetal.


In all, one well-informed observer suggested, the Barrett will have taken in perhaps $150 million or more before its seven-day run in the Phoenix suburbs wrapped up. Individually, none of the three other auctions could come close to that performance, though en masse, collectors bid and bought as much as a quarter-billion in classic cars, so despite some concerns about the economy, and questions about whether muscle cars have hit their peak, this was easily the richest week in collecting history. MORE --


2007 Barrett-Jackson Classics

Once the heart of the collector car market, momentum has shifted significantly from brass and pre-War era cars to the era of Detroit muscle. But classic fever hasn’t dried up entirely. RM commanded nearly $3 million for a 1937 Duesenberg.










1972 Chevrolet Malibu race car Has muscle car mania peaked? It was hard to tell from this year’s bidding. Some cars, like this ’72 Malibu , a big record setter on the NHRA circuit, stuttered and stalled on the auction block, but others well exceeded pre-auction expectations.












2007 Barrett-Jackson auctioneerIt’s easy to get hypnotized listening to the strangely melodic chant of the auctioneer. And it’s also a good way to lose control of your wallet.














2007 Barrett-JacksonMore than 1000 cars worked their way across the block at the Barrett-Jackson auction alone this weekend, hundreds more at RM and two other auctions that drew well over a quarter-million collectors and fans to Phoenix.












2007 Barrett-JacksonYou say you can’t afford $2.2 million for a rare ’71 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible? Not a problem. Barrett-Jackson has plenty of trash and trinkets to sell. Add up the big bids, admission prices of up to $55, concessions and sponsor fees and you’re looking at revenues topping an estimated $150 million.










2007 Barrett-Jackson Mark FieldsNew Barrett-Jackson sponsor Ford Motor Co. went for a high-profile presence, president Mark Fields (center left) and Carroll Shelby hawking several big-bid collectibles, including the Shelby Super Snake, which grabbed a record $5 million bid.













Linda VaughnBarrett-Jackson’s success hinges on hot cars, well-financed bidders, and more than a few celebrities, ranging from film star Don Johnson to baseball’s Reggie Jackson. But another perennial favorite is Linda Vaughn, the one-time “Miss Hurst Shifter.”












CNN Iraq Hummer One of the big surprises came when CNN’s Warrior One went on the block. Used by the network during the ’93 Iraq invasion, the restored Hummer grabbed a round $1 million, which will be used for a charity aiding wounded veterans.











Shelby Super Snake Only two of these 800-horsepower Cobras were ever produced, one for comedian Bill Cosby, the other for the legendary Carroll Shelby, who was reportedly busted driving this one at over 190 mph in Nevada . The ’66 two-seater grabbed a cool $5 million for Shelby ’s charity.










Shelby Super SnakeThe crowds were on their feet when the bidding hit $1 million, but bidders were clearly Snake-bit, and the numbers started jumping by $250,000 then half-million-dollar increments. The gavel came down when bidding finally wound down at a Barrett-Jackson record, $5 million.










1971 Plymouth Hemi Barracuda Convertible The restoration of this rare ’71 Plymouth ’Cuda Convertible – only 11 were made – turned into a heck of a project for the high-schooler who restored this ragtop for her mom. With only 282 miles on the odo, it commanded $2.2 million before commission, RM’s second-highest sale.



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