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Gear-heads and high-rollers at Barrett Jackson 2006

2.2.06. For North American car enthusiasts, “Barrett-Jackson” means just one thing – the biggest, brashest auctions of specialist automobiles that could possibly be imagined.  The mixture of classic American iron, immaculate muscle cars, eye-popping hot rods and one-off manufacturer “concept cars”, plus a plethora of other unusual vehicles, is a high-powered magnet for gear-heads and high-rollers alike.  Mix in live television coverage on the US Speed Channel network, plus the backdrop for this most recent event of Scottsdale, Arizona, one of America’s wealthiest suburbs, and you have a recipe for what Christine Eastman describes as  “The Best Damn Reality Show – Period”.  Christine was lucky enough to be a participant in the Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson auction, and here provides her very personal account of what it’s like to be a part of this unique automotive event.  


 Pontiac concept car was second biggest seller at $3.02 million

Barrett-Jackson 2006 - One Woman's View
I’d always wondered what it would be like to be there, after watching the obscene sales make history on television for so many years.  On many occasions, my husband and I have felt the best entertainment on television consists of watching reruns of Barrett-Jackson auctions on the Speed Channel.   It really is the best damn reality show - period.  This past week, I was lucky enough to be on the show, so to speak, and here’s a little glimpse into the Scottsdale vibe . . . .

Whether you regularly spend your Saturdays at the drags, rallying, or cruising, you probably see enough automotive eye candy to satisfy you for the day, but not at Barrett.  No sir.  You want to see them all, and I found a tiny part of me resenting the fact I was there “working”.  It meant I wasn’t able to see much, and that drove me absolutely bananas.  The sheer number of breathtakingly beautiful cars (over 1000 at this year’s Scottsdale event) leaves even the most calm, cool, collected car enthusiast feeling like a 10-year-old staring at a dune buggy for the first time.


Cadillac Series 62 convertible - gorgeous! 

I’ll admit up-front that it wasn’t me personally buying and selling.  It was client, Marc Spizzirri, who owns Family Classic Cars (www.familyclassiccars.com), based in southern California.  He was selling several beautiful classic cars, a couple of which I honestly felt ill about saying goodbye to – a Cape Ivory 1950 Cadillac Series 62 convertible that I had the pleasure of driving to a classic show in Laguna Beach, and a Dusk Rose (okay, pink) 1957 Thunderbird I drove across the block at Barrett (more on that later).

We also brought along a 1932 Ford five-window coupe body – all original steel, exactly as Henry Ford produced it, and extremely rare.  This beauty was sold for a song at $65,880.  It was a real heartbreak for us seeing it go.  One guy who’d been hanging out with me the day before it went under the auctioneer’s gavel came back to me the day after, asking how much it sold for.  When I told him, his exact words were, “Wow, I didn’t think I had a chance, but I could have bought it for that.”  He was heartbroken that he hadn’t had the chutzpah to bid on it.


$65,880 would have got you this all-steel '32 five window coupe 

We also sold a 1949 Chrysler Town & Country convertible to George Foreman (yup, the boxer and grille guy!).  He was all over it, starting on Saturday, the day before it went under the hammer, but as wonderful as that car was in terms of its originality, and with Speed cranking up the pressure by televising it live in the staging area, the Chrysler only fetched a moderate, break-even price, which was a bit disappointing.


Sold to ex-boxer and grill man George Foreman

At the other end of the scale, though, there’s the one we struck gold on – a 1967 Shelby GT 500, which fetched a record-breaking (and mind-boggling) $451,000. According to Sports Car Market magazine, this price blew away all previous sales records for the past three years.  While you can wonder until the cows come home about the logic of reaching such prices, sometimes I think you just have to chalk it up to good timing.  It’s odd, but none of us had a very hard time saying goodbye to that pretty little pony. Such is the auction life.  You just never know . . . .


1967 Shelby GT500 fetched a record $451,000

On the flip-side, if you’re not so lucky in trying to purchase one car (and you have the means), you can drown your sorrows by buying yourself something really nice on Sunday, when the masses have gone home and the deals are a-flyin’.  A Barrett-Jackson Sunday has the feel of the opening day of Nordstrom’s half-yearly sale – seriously.  If you lose big and take a hard financial hit, though, your only choice is to go home, regroup and look forward to the next event, at Palm Beach.

If you’re a staffer – a really lucky one
So the big day came – Saturday.  It’s the day when the heavy artillery comes out – in this case, GM’s historical 1950 Futurliner Parade of Progress Tour Bus, coupled with a 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special concept car, which collectively sold for $6.8 million.  It’s the kind of day when reality is suspended.  Guys have been talking about it all year, studying their programmes from the moment they were printed, scouring the main tent starting on that opening Tuesday, rubbing elbows at the glitzy, black-tie galas, and watching intently from the complimentary bar in the main tent for the past four or five days.  You can almost feel the physical energy buzzing through the Astroturfed floors in North America’s largest tent.


The four million dollar bus

And when it’s your own dollar on the line at Barrett, as it was with my client, once the car is staged, there’s a marked air of anticipation – in both the positive and the negative senses of the word.  The way the process works, you’re called to staging a good two hours prior to auction time, and during that intervening spell, you wipe the car down umpteen times (most of the vehicles are in tents on the grass), move up in position seven feet at a time, go through the photo booth for Barrett’s marketing purposes and chat to potential buyers in between duties, prepping in case the Speed Channel crane-cam catches you live.

All of this, combined with the nervous banter among other consigners, moments of sheer joy sitting in an unbelievable car, and just general euphoria at being there, mixes together like a Neapolitan milkshake.  You’re not sure if you like it or you want to heave.  I think this “fear factor” is engendered by Barrett-Jackson’s newly enforced “no reserve” policy for all consigned vehicles.  It means you either win or lose – and you have absolutely no control over the outcome once the car gets staged to go across the block.  It’s brutal, it’s brilliant, and boy does it make for great television.


'57 T-bird - a snip at $91,800

So because (a) I’m a girl, (b) it’s a Dusk Rose (okay, pink) Thunderbird, and (c) well, see (b), I’m the lucky person who gets assigned to drive this quintessential classic across the block.  Wow!  I’m the luckiest girl I know at this point in time.  I feel like I should be wearing an A-line dress, mink stole, cat-eyes and red lipstick, but instead, since I’m working and didn’t have much notice, I have to settle for a windbreaker, jeans, heels and whatever lip gloss I have jammed in my back pocket.  It doesn’t matter, though, because as soon as I fire her up and roll forward to staging, I feel like a million bucks . . .

. . . until I park it in staging, that is, and put it in neutral.  No big deal, right?  You have to start it in neutral, but when a potential buyer wants to check out the trunk, I jump out before selecting “park”.  Oops.  The $100,000-car I’ve been assigned to starts rolling backwards.  Fortunately, the Barrett staffer with me saves the day by diving into the car and putting the transmission in “park”.  It would have been difficult to hide that little blemish on the bodywork once we got to the block.

Ninety minutes later, I pull up at the tent entrance, having been carefully coaxed, inch-by-inch, for what seems like a mile.  A woman and her husband have been by my side for the past half-hour or so, checking out the car, she cooing, “Isn’t it the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, honey?”, he standing carefully back, coddling her, but looking very aloof and not initiating any conversation with me about the T-bird.  She’s dressed just too perfectly for the car – pink and purple paisley knee-length coat, pink lipstick and pink, rhinestone-studded cell phone (nope, not kidding!).

Alas, it’s show time, and I’m waved on as the car in front of me drops down out of sight.  I’m not sure how it did or what the crowd’s like, but I tell Pinky Lee to get in with me as we rumble up through the curtain and onto the stage.  Serious bidders are waiting for us and rush the car as soon as we step out.  I feel the heat of the lights above me, guys with their wives/girlfriends who want the car folding in around me as I fall back.  I wish to God I had a hundred grand with me just to be able to get back in that Thunderbird and drive it home, leaving them all standing.

In just four minutes, which feels like an eternity, I reluctantly turn the car over to my assigned Barrett-Jackson driver, who will return Daisy (as I lovingly named her) to her stall in the lower tent.  She sold for a cool $91,800. There she will stay, cold and lonely in the Scottsdale night, until her driver arrives to cart her off to wherever.

I’m upset that I don’t know where she’s going, and feel the need to interview her new owner to judge her worthiness.  Will Daisy be driven, or will she be a trailer queen?  Will she be stored, or maybe put in a museum?  Any of these possibilities are acceptable, I guess, but I would really like to think that she’d be driven gently here and there, and not just be a typical “rotisserie” car - a flash in the pan on a Saturday night.


Story & photos: Christine Eastman

Christine owns Eastman & Accomplices, a motorsports
marketing and PR agency located in southern California and can be reached at
ceastman@cox.net.

 

 
 
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