The Barrett-Jackson Auction Company, producers of the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions,” made their second annual stop in Costa Mesa, California from June 24 – 26, 2011. Over 60,000 attendees toured the Orange County Fair and Event Center and watched as over $14 million worth of cars and automobilia passed over the auction block. The event also raised over $850,000 for local and national charities through the sale of charity vehicles.
The auction block at Barrett-Jackson's Orange County event. Photo Jason Fogelson
According to Barrett-Jackson, the event “attracted new buyers as well as consignors and purchasing was up by both in-person and internet bidders. The 2011 event brought 63% new bidders, as well as 60% new consignors.” The company reported that 48% of all vehicle transactions were conducted by new bidders.
Barrett-Jackson is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. The company was founded in 1971 by two automotive enthusiasts, Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson. Now in their 40th year, Barrett-Jackson auctions are staples of the SPEED television network’s programming, with gavel-to-gavel coverage of each event drawing viewers. Live internet bidding has pumped up the volume, and splashy fashion shows and corporate partners have elevated the Barrett-Jackson auctions from fusty collector car events to full-blown carnivals. The car collecting hobby took its lumps in 2008 and 2009, but appears to be on the road to recovery. Endeavour Capital, a West Coast-based private equity investment company, purchased a minority share in Barrett-Jackson in 2007, just prior to the company’s expansion from two auctions per year to four.
A 1963 Corvette Stingray Convertible awaits its turn on the block. Photo Jason Fogelson
Barrett-Jackson produces four major collector car auctions each year: One in Scottsdale; one in Palm Beach, Florida (since 2003); one in Las Vegas (since 2008); and the newest in Costa Mesa. Additionally, Barrett-Jackson endorses collector car insurance policies offered and issued by Chartis through its Private Client Group, and serviced by TDC Risk Management, an independent insurance agency.
I sat down with Craig Jackson, Barrett-Jackson’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, during the Orange County auctions last month. Jackson’s late father was co-founder Russ Jackson. Craig Jackson has been in charge of the company since 1997, and Barrett-Jackson has flourished under his leadership. Jackson is a passionate car collector, and recognizes that first-time buyers are the lifeblood of the car collecting hobby.
Craig Jackson, Chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson. Photo Jason Fogelson
“First time buyers are number one,” said Jackson of his customer base. “Number two are consigners who sell cars and turn around and buy better cars. That’s how people keep moving up and determining what they want. They’ll buy a car, they’ll drive it for a year, they’ll decide that they want something different.”
Barrett-Jackson provides services for first-time buyers, introducing them to the process, helping them decide which cars they might like to bid on, and, most importantly, determining that they can back up their bids. “We’ve got to make sure that the bidders have the money to pay for the cars,” Jackson said. “The same for the consigners — we’ve got to make sure that the cars are what they represent them to be.”
First time buyers rely on Barrett-Jackson’s experts to help divine whether or not a car on the auction block is actually what its consigner claims it to be. “Technically, they’re supposed to do their due diligence,” according to Jackson. “But we try to do as much due diligence ahead of time, weeding through stuff for them. I think that’s unique to our auction, especially that we do volume and quality at the same time, which aren’t always compatible.”
Potential bidders inspect vehicles before they go on the block. Photo Jason Fogelson
“Going through the cars, we have a team of car guys that will scrutinize the cars,” Jackson continued. “For the buyer then, it doesn’t mean that we can actually take the car apart and inspect it. We ask an awful lot of questions, and we ask them to give us an awful lot of information. And a lot of the time to the consigners, we’re the bearers of bad news. When we check the car out, come back and the car’s not what they bought it as.”
When I asked him to identify trends in car collecting, Jackson didn’t hesitate. “50s cars have become very popular,” he said. “At our last two auctions, 50s convertibles have been some of the top-selling cars. The 50s cars offer a lot of luxury and a lot of eyeball. They’ve got room for a lot of people that go cruising in. There are a lot more things to do with your cars now then when I grew up.”
Vendors sell a wide range of automobilia on the auction grounds. Photo Jason Fogelson
As far as opportunities go, Jackson points to the Restomods. Restomods are classic cars that have been updated with modern technology: New engines, electronics and creature comforts. A good Restomod can be as reliable as a new car off of the showroom floor, but according to Jackson, they are “modern one of a kind vehicles. In this world of cookie cutter design, you can’t tell a car when it passes you on a freeway because it was designed by the wind tunnel, not by an artist. I can’t tell a Lexus from a Mercedes when they go by me at night, and I’m a car guy. Someone blows by you in a Restomod, you get a lot of eyeball.” Jackson points toward demonstration vehicles produced for the annual SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) automotive aftermarket trade show as particular bargains. “We sell a lot of the cars that come out of SEMA. That’s a great opportunity for someone to buy one. Because usually they bring about 50 cents on the dollar from what it takes to build them.”
Jackson is not only the head of an auction company, he’s also a car collector. “I like American Muscle Cars, that’s what I collect a lot of. I like Restomods. I’m restoring a Daytona Ferrari right now and I’m restoring a Talbot-Lago. I have a 20-some-odd car garage, but with six doors. I’m my typical customer.”
A Chevy 3100 Pickup truck awaits its new owner. Photo Jason Fogelson
The next Barrett-Jackson collector car auction is at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas from September 22 – 24, 2011.