Barrett-Jackson's bold collector car auction

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Craig Jackson was visiting with some of his best customers during a VIP lunch at last year’s Barrett-Jackson collector car auction.

“He asked me what I’m looking to buy,” said Gordon Apker, a long-time car collector who in 2005 sold his 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 Motorama concept car at Barrett-Jackson for $3.24 million.

Apker’s response was as bold as the bids had been on his F-88.

“I said, you haven’t had anything for me to buy in the last several years,” Apker recalled the conversation. “You’ve gone after what I call the Las Vegas crowd. The collectors are all at Gooding and RM. You ran them out.”

From Apker’s perspective, “If somebody likes art, they’re going to the place where the Rembrandts and Van Gohs are. They’re not going to come to buy pictures of Elvis on velvet.”

Strong words, indeed. But, said Apker: “I’ve known Craig since he was 8-year-old. He can’t fire me. I started [buying and selling] with Russ [Jackson, Craig’s father] and Tom Barrett [Russ’s partner], and Brian [Craig’s older brother] and I were really close friends. I was a pall bearer at Brian’s funeral.”

Though their words were not quite so sharp, other long-time buyers and consignors told Jackson much the same thing. While an emphasis on muscle cars and crate-engined hot rods and no-reserve bidding may have brought in new bidders with new money — and proved popular as well with television viewers — it alienated much of the car collecting core, which they took its million-dollar bidding budgets to Barrett-Jackson’s rivals, primarily to RM Auctions and the new Gooding and Company.

In 2006, Barrett-Jackson sold six vehicles for $1 million or more. There were five more in 2007. Three more in 2008. But none in 2009 (though a Ford Tri-Motor airplane brought $1.21 million). The story was the same (except for the airplane) in 2010 or 2011.

Meanwhile, the Gooding and RM events being held just a few miles away enjoyed record sales figures.

“I listen to my customers,” Craig Jackson said in an exclusive interview after a 2012 Scottsdale auction in which nine vehicles sold for $1 million or more.

Jackson’s response to the car collecting core of customers was a new 5000 Series Salon Collection, a group of 32 vehicles, many of them traditional classics from well-known collectors, who were able to establish reserve prices, a bidding plateau that would have to be reached before the cars could be sold.

“Having the Salon, having those high-end cars, gave a lot of other people confidence to consign with us,” Jackson said. “Money brings more money.”

In 2012, Barrett-Jackson truly had something for everyone, from new and entry-level bidders to the elite among car collectors. Sales of 1,291 vehicles totaled more than $92 million — a 32-percent increase compared to the 2011 auction — and included $5.8 million raised for charities.

The high-sale of the auction was $2.915 million for a 1948 Tucker Torpedo. A Franay-bodied 1947 Bentley Mk VI went for $2.75 million. A 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow sold for $2.145 million. A low-mileage 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” coupe brought $2.2 million. A 1954 despot Adventurer II went off the block at $1.43 million, and a classic Daimler, Isotta Fraschini and Duesenberg each went for a million or more.

Seemingly every car sold for more than expected, with the Tucker and Franay-bodied Bentley exceeding pre-auction estimates by more than a million dollars each.

And, Jackson noted, money brings money and sales figures for many other vehicles also were much higher than anticipated.

As the auction ended, Jackson announced the hiring of Gordon McCall to manage future Barrett-Jackson Salon Collections. McCall has been involved in high-end car collecting for some 30 years. For 25 years he’s been a judge at the prestigious Pebble Beach concours d’elegance. He’s also co-founder of The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering on the Monterey Peninsula.

Jackson said Salon Collections will not be offered at all Barrett-Jackson events. For example, there are no plans for such a group of vehicles at Palm Beach in April or at Orange County. No decision has yet been made about a Salon set at Las Vegas in September, he said, or about staging an exclusive Salon Collection auction as a stand-alone event.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.

Larry Edsall

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at ledsall@cox.net.