January is the month for car auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona. There are four major auctions at about the same time which include the Karuse auction, the Silver Company auction, Gooding and Company auction, the RM Company auction and the Russo Steel Auction.
It is also the month for the annual Barrett-Jackson Collector Car auction which runs from January 11th through the 18th in Scottsdale. The company also sponsors auctions in Las Vegas and Palm Beach, Florida. The company began in 1971 with its headquarters in Scottsdale and became one of the largest premier auctions of its kind in the country. The event features over one thousand collector and special interest vehicles as well as automobile memorabilia such as old gas pumps, gas station signs and the like. Some three hundred and fifty vendors and exhibitors participate. More then 250,000 people are expected to attend. It all happens under the largest tent in the United States, a structure some one quarter of a mile long of fabric and steel. It is impressive to see.
These auctions have their moments of record sales. which for a non collector like me, are impressive. In 2007 Carroll Shelby’s 1966 Cobra Super Snake sold for a record $1.5 million dollars. It has also had it’s controversies. At the 2007 auction, a car owner, David Clabuesch, sued the company over the sale of his race car for $300,000 claiming the auctioneer ended the bidding too soon. The company responded by suing back for defamation and chaining the car wheels at the auction site. The case was later settled.
Our good friends, Arthur and Ann Swanson, drove from their home in Palm Springs, California to spend the night with us at our home in Scottsdale and attend car auctions. Art is a collector of Porsche automobiles and knows what he is doing whereas Lita and I just admire classic and collectible cars without owning one, unless you call my Plymouth Prowler a collectible.
We started at the Barrett Jackson auction Friday morning. The tent is huge and is alone worth seeing something this big and wide. It is some one quarter of a mile long. The inside is like a small Las Vegas strip with vendors everywhere with noise and lots of people. Old large neon signs from fomer car dealerhips like Oldsmobile or Hudson cars are all lit up. Signs from old gas stations are lit up and for sale as well. There are long rows of the old fashioned gas pumps with gas prices at twenty four cents per gallon on display and for sale. Tee shirts, clothing and car articles of every kind. Vendors selling storage systems, car accessories and even some forlorn looking men trying to sell investments.
The enormous bidding area tent was virtually empty. A huge American flag hung over a long stage where the auctioneer works the crowd. After the national anthem, there was an introduction of a very long row of auctioneers from all over the country. It seemed to me there were more of auctioneers then there were people waiting to bid on cars.
This auction has no reserve which means that no matter how low the bid the car is sold. Some very ordinary cars were auctioned off in the $30,000 range. There was nothing very exciting happening until one car sold for $145,000. That auction was interesting because there were two bidders after the car. When the bidding stopped at $145,000 the auctioneer tried to get the losing bidder to increase his bid to $150,000 and when he didn’t budge, he tried psychology on him: "Come on, with the money you have what’s another $5000 for this great car?" and similar taunts. The bidder bulked and the auctioneer lowered his pitch to just another $2000, but the bidder wasn’t budging. The car sold for $145,000. I concluded the auctioneer used the wrong psychology on this bidder who decided he wasn’t going to be pressured even if it was only $2000.
We wandered back through the long tent looking at the vendors booths for things we missed. One thing we watched watched were car driving simulations. Three men sat in seats with steering wheels, gear shifts as well as brake an accelerator pedals. There was noise and vibrations as the drivers saw the road ahead on a large video screen. One of these was three D where the driver wore goggles for greater effect. It was impressive..
From the Barrett Jackson site we drove to the nearby Russo Steele site. This auction has been going for the past nine years and is one of the big classic and collector car auctions. All of the cars here have a reserve price so the seller has the last say so as to whether they will sell for the amount of the final bid or not. This results in higher quality automobiles being offered for sale. There were vehicles which were marked "still for sale" with the final rejected bid amount listed so you could negotiate directly with the owner for a higher sales price. Unlike the slick, Las Vegas like Jackson Barrett, this auction was all about the cars. It features portable potty cans and a small tent for vendors. It relies upon volunteers and unless you are a registered bidder you can’t enter the small tent where the car bidding takes place. What it does feature are long rows of some of the most beautiful and unique classic cars you’ll see in one place. What fun it was just to walk through this tent of cars. Cord automobiles, Rolls-Royce and every other kind of car you can imagine all on display.
However, it was the auction prices at the RM Auctions that I found impressive. This too is a reserve auction where the seller has the right to reject final bids. We did not go there, but the paper reported that a 1937 DeLage Aero sport coupe sold for $750,000 and a rare 1963 Corvette Grand Sport drew a bid of $5 Million dollars! Now get this: the owner rejected the bid as not enough money. A 1929 Rolls Royce Phantom sold for $300,000 and a 1929 Graham-Paige Dual Cowl Phaeton for $270,000. The paper says the Gooding and Company estimates that a 1960 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider will sell for $5 to $7 Million.
It's anticipated all four of the auctions going on now in Scottsdale will have combined sales of over $100 million for 1,700 vehicles. Barrett Jackson has 1,050 cars and Russo Steel 500. Barrett Jackson had sales of over $17 million in the first three days.
It's quite a show and not unlike a very small Super Bowl. Lots of men in baseball caps with bidding certificates hanging around their neck walking around with beer cups in their hand. Noise, bright lights and excitement. Most of all, absolutely beautiful collector and classic cars on display. Impressive too is the fact that there are people, in this economy, with money and who are prepared to spend it.