Classic Car Corner - Feb. 20, 2012

On Friday I went to the Russo and Steele Auction in Scottsdale where they had over 700 cars. Photo by Tom Berg
In search of news for this month’s column it was necessary for me to attend the Scottsdale car auctions in January. Unfortunately, I missed the entire “Seattle Blizzard of o-twelve” and was stuck in sunny, warm, dry Scottsdale Arizona for a week. What I won’t do for a car story.


I got there early for some tourist activities (I even finally learned how to use a GPS) and on Tuesday went to the first day of the world famous Barrett-Jackson classic car auction.

What an amazing production! Fifteen-hundred cars, huge tents, lots of car nuts and vendors galore.

I could buy an 8-foot brass bear for my yard, a signed and framed Doors’ guitar (for $28,000), an elk hunting trip and of course tons of car stuff.

To evenget near the auction stage would require a $500 bidder pass, so I viewed the action from afar.

Since I had actually promised myself I would buy no cars, I was safer without the bidder pass.

It would take six days to sell all the cars for a total of $92 million, 32 percent more than last year, with a top sale of $2.9 million for a 1948 Tucker.

In all, 270,000 people attended the auction, a 16 percent increase from last year.

All but a very few of the high-end cars were sold at no reserve which could be a real let-down for the seller but fun for the audience and of course profitable for the auction house.

Barrett-Jackson is an event that any car guy (or gal) should see but it was a little much for this small town reporter.

On Wednesday, I went back to Barrett-Jackson for a while and even found several hundred cars that I had missed the first time. I had been invited to attend a private showing of the Bonhams Auction at a fancy hotel in the area later that day.

They were apparently under the impression that I was a high roller since I had signed up as a bidder at a previous auction in Tacoma.

Everyone at this private showing had on sport coats and slacks (except me of course) and the venue was very fancy with free food, free drinks and waiters with trays of hors d’oeuvres.

I even met people from Seattle, Anacortes and Portland.

There were less than 100 cars to be sold but they were exceptional.

The full color catalogue was an inch thick. I was definitely over my head there, but as I said — the food and drinks were free.

The next day I returned to the Bonhams Auction and it was much more laid back than Barrett- Jackson with only a hundred or so in the audience.

I watched a bidder next to me pay over a half a million for a 1930 Rolls Royce once owned by Marlene Dietrich.

He was wearing jeans and suspenders and looked as though he had just bought a used pickup for his farm!

Thursday morning I was off to the Gooding Auction in downtown Scottsdale where attendees were greeted with free bloody marys — nothing like a little alcohol to stimulate the bidders.

They only had just over 100 cars but they were spectacular. In my hour or two there, I saw a couple cars go for $700,000, a couple for a million, one for $2.2 million and one for $4.62 million (an alloy body Mercedes Gullwing).

This auction was also laid back with only a couple hundred attendees, many of whom were not bidders.

I did see Wayne Carini (of Chasing Cars fame) sell his 39 Ford Woodie with vintage canoe on top and managed to stand behind him while he was getting filmed so watch for me on TV. Bonhams sold 118 cars for $39 million, yes an average of $330,000!

Later that day I drove out to Fort McDowell for the Silver Auction at the casino there.

They had over 400 cars that were nice but definitely lower end (my end?).

Most of their cars had reserves, so each car took longer and many didn’t reach their reserve.

I looked at all the cars and headed to the casino where I did manage to throw away some of my hard earned cash.

On Friday I went to the Russo and Steele auction in Scottsdale where they had over 700 cars. I looked all of them over and watched the action for a while.

They have an auction in the round so the audience surrounds the car being auctioned so this one was fun to watch but by now I had seen about 3,000 classic cars and was ready to hit the links for four rounds in three days.

I never did see any rain although the natives there wear parkas and extra clothing if it’s under 75 degrees while I’m in shorts and a short sleeved shirt.

I had a great time on this research trip and might just try it again next year. From what I saw, the collector car market appears to be coming out of the great recession and I sure hope this is a positive indicator for the rest of us.

On a sad note I must tell you that my beautiful 59 Willys wagon that I wrote about last month was damaged when I was gone.

WARNING: Do not store anything of value under one of those cheap carports.

My friends at Woodinville’s R & G Auto Body will make my Willys better than before, but I would rather have spent that money on something else.

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