January is the month when car nuts and people with lots of green visit the Arizona hamlet of Scottsdale for the Barrett-Jackson auction. But did you know there are other auctions going on at the same time? You may have seen Barrett-Jackson coverage on the Speed Channel over the years, but B-J is merely the biggest—is it the best?
For three days, I attended three auctions: RM Auctions, Russo and Steele, and Barrett-Jackson. The latter, of course, is the “heavy gorilla” of the bunch, but there are niches to be exploited, and that’s where RM and Russo and Steele come in.
Day 1 – RM AUCTIONS
Founded by Ron Myers in 1979, this Ontario, Canada-based operation first started out as a restoration shop. Since then, they’ve developed a nice business of auctioning the best classics from the 1920-30s, pedigreed sports cars, and the most desirable cruisers from the 1950s—we’re not just talking about your typical 1955 Bel Air ragtop (although they most certainly have been popular at RM) but those little nuggets like DeSoto Adventurers and fuel injected ’58 Bonnevilles that usually fall under everyone’s radar except the most discriminating enthusiast.
RM’s Scottsdale auction was held at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, which had nice, dry accommodations for a week filled with rain and winds (more on that below). This is noteworthy because it was possible to preview all the cars in the adjacent parking garage free from muddy terra firma that was problematic at the other auctions. The auction stage is in one of the conference rooms where you’ll probably find a Bar Mitzvah on any other weekend, so the cacophony is also missing compared with the other two. Understated, perhaps? Sure, but this ain’t about glitz and glamour—it’s about the cars.
The spotlight this year was “The British are Coming!” which was a Thursday evening auction of automobiles from the United Kingdom. While the Austin-based Mini Moke seems to be a random auction staple, the top seller this year was a 1963 Aston Martin DB4 GT, a special edition of the DB4. It boasts lightweight coachwork, a shorter wheelbase, and increased horsepower through twin-plug heads, among other things. How much coin did it earn? Just over a million. In second place? A 1967 Shelby Cobra 427 at over 600 grand.
Day 2 – RUSSO AND STEELE
This was the 10th year for Phoenix-based Russo and Steele. So who’s Mr. Russo and Missus Steele? Russo is supposed to evoke the aura of Italian cars, while Steele is all about “American Iron.” That’s not to say their niche confines them to those two types of cars, but in the auction world where Barrett-Jackson has no reserves, Russo and Steele has become the upstart in Scottsdale by exploiting “All reserve all the time.” It’s been a tough road for Russo and Steele, and certainly they were not prepared to what was to follow.
In a previous life, Cucamonga, California’s Drew Alcazar was one of the premier concours Mustang restorers. Later, as a resident of Phoenix, he and his restaurateur wife used their connections in the old car hobby to establish Russo and Steele. Barrett-Jackson tried to play hardball and create a hostile environment (after all, that’s business, right?) but Drew and his wife have weathered the storm… or so they thought.
The Wind Storm Heard Around The World
The weather forecast last week was rain throughout the week. On Thursday, though, things got a bit out of hand. I was there taking photos for this article but the wind started to get stronger and they evacuated us from the display tents. My friend Dan and I decided to go out for dinner, but an hour later we came back to see this.
One of the tents blew away to the 101 loop, tying up traffic. Cars were exposed to the elements, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact there were convertibles with their tops down and coupes with their windows damaged. Luckily, physical injuries were few, but the grounds were shut down for two days while the fire marshal secured the area. Incredibly enough, Russo and Steele were able to continue the auction on Sunday, but the results have yet to be published on their site. What you can view, however, is the damage to the cars plus some video of the winds if you go to All Classics LLC, Mustang Magazine, and this photo gallery on Picassa.
Truly a sad week for the Alcazars and their consigners.
Day 3 – BARRETT-JACKSON
The granddaddy of all Scottsdale auctions, it’s an extravaganza that attracts people not necessarily due to the cars, but because “There’s somethin’ goin’ on in a little western town in Arizona.” Scottsdale is basically a suburb of Phoenix yet it’s also its own entity, but the days of the “Wild West” and Rolls Royces on every corner are pretty much over—Scottsdale has been gentrified as all the areas around Phoenix have grown at a rapid pace. If you’ve ever driven on the 101 loop and cursed under your breath at the left lane squatters and speed cameras, you know exactly what I mean.
Barrett-Jackson’s auction is held at WestWorld, described in the city’s website as “A premier, nationally recognized, user-friendly equestrian center and special events facility…” Outside, there are rows of tents housing cars and more cars. If you’re hungry, there are vendors selling food that run the gamut from BBQ to state fair-esque items just in case you’re unsure if you’re not obese enough. Tuners (think Camaros, not ricers) and other race-related entities have their modded models on display, complementing parts manufacturers, car magazines, old car insurance companies, and rich-people’s-toys-on-wheels.. However, inside is a different story.
The main event is inside a building with wings on either side. To one side, Ford had a display, exploiting the equity they’ve earned from their lack of government bailout and tweaked model line. Walking along you’ll also notice vendors selling more rich people’s stuff like boutique-y hi-fi equipment, stuff for your garage, neon signs, and car art. Of course, there are diecast car models and other more relevant car stuff for the minions like you and me.
But go to the other wing and you’ll see the highlighted cars that were expected to bring the most interest. Their diversity was lacking since they were mostly Vettes, multi-carbed Mopars, Chevelle Super Sports, Camaros (BBCs and Z/28s), Boss Mustangs and Shelbys, and some one-offs including the coolest hot rods this side of Modesto (American Graffiti), but a 427 Mercury Comet, trio of 4-4-2 W-30 ragtops, and finned and Art Deco classics balanced things out to keep things interesting
All told, the market was up from last year’s weak showing. Certainly the economy is doing better in America, if not globally, so everyone was watching with baited breath to see where the bidding would go. Visit here to see what bargains you missed and what cars drunk guys overspent!