In the world of collector car auctions, Barrett-Jackson is the juggernaut: the biggest, loudest, most sensational extravaganza of classic and special-interest cars bought and sold in a public space. Or so you would be led to believe, based on the extensive TV coverage that the brand has managed to manipulate to its maximum advantage.
Mecum may hold a greater number of events; Bonhams may sell more high-dollar cars; Russo & Steele may run multiple auction blocks simultaneously; but Barrett-Jackson has captured and held onto the public’s imagination as THE place to go for ultimate auction thrills.
Aside from video exposure, a factor which has added to this allure is B-J’s no-reserve policy. Almost 100% of their lots are sold without reserve, meaning that the high bidder gets the car. (Very recently, B-J did begin to allow a small selection of reserve cars.) Of course, this only increases the drama when you KNOW the car is going to sell. None of this “whaddaya mean it didn’t meet reserve”. It’s always good for the buyers, and given the unrelenting supply of consigned vehicles, one would presume that sellers are satisfied too.
Phoenix has been B-J’s home for decades, and they’ve expanded from there into Las Vegas and Palm Beach. Three years ago, they launched their Northeast Auction, situated at the Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort in CT. By all accounts, this first foray into New England was hugely successful, and the Barrett-Jackson crew was back for the third consecutive year in June of 2018.
The actual auction dates were Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, June 21-23. The entry-level (read: cheapest) cars would be crossing the block the first day, so that’s the day I chose to attend. Purchasing tickets online (a 45% discount if bought in advance) meant buying them through Ticketmaster, an indication of how big they’ve gotten. Once that lovely organization was done tacking on its handling and service fees, I was out-of-pocket an additional 9 bucks. My final ticket cost totaled $35. A bidder’s pass would have cost many multiples of that.
Aside from morning rush hour traffic, getting there was easy enough, and as this was my first visit to Mohegan Sun, the initial impressions were favorable: the sprawling complex is well laid-out, with ample garage deck parking, clear signage, and a spotless infrastructure. A 9:30 a.m. arrival was well ahead of the crowds, and there was no waiting for my ticket to be scanned, granting me access to the auction building.
You would be forgiven if your initial impression was that you ended up at the wrong show. New-vehicle displays from Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge are your first sightings, along with booths selling everything from Meguiar’s to mattresses. Apparently, association with B-J makes it worth your while to display your automotive and non-automotive wares to the expected throngs.
But where are the cars? A long walk toward the rear of the complex finally brought me to the auction vehicles, arrayed in a multi-level parking deck as well as in a pitched tent outside the garage. Next question: in what order are they? Unlike almost all other car auctions I’ve attended, these cars and trucks were NOT in run order. Instead, some of them were thematically placed so that similar vehicles were grouped (Corvettes here, Mustangs there, ‘50s custom cars back yonder). While it might make for pretty pictures, it didn’t help you find the Thursday cars starting with car #1, which was my goal.
There certainly were some very nice cars on display. There were also the aforementioned “custom” cars (not my cup of tea when you take a ’65 Riviera and completely rip out its factory interior for 21st century electronics), along with late-model used cars. One such newer vehicle was a 2001 Volvo V70 T5, and I climbed in, looking for clues as to why it might be here. Suddenly, a booming voice was directed toward me: “Sir, get OUT of the car! You are NOT allowed to TOUCH, OPEN, or SIT in ANY of the AUCTION CARS!” The hired hand, a security guy wearing a “CSC Staff” shirt, made it all too clear that I had broken the law according to Barrett-Jackson.
Indeed, only then did I notice all the signs stating “Please do not touch any of the auction cars”. This rule applied to bidders too, which then begged the question: if you’re here to buy something, how do you check it out? Other auctions allow bidders to open hoods, check odometer readings, and in some cases, start the cars and turn on accessories. Not B-J. What’s up with that?
With wrists appropriately slapped, the on-site survey continued (hands behind back). Again, I asked myself, what order are the cars in? I had finally found Thursday’s car #1, but hadn’t yet spotted #2 through #10. After 90 minutes of pacing the parking areas, it was time to head to the auction block itself. The automobilia auction had started at 10am, and the cars were due to begin at 1pm. I wanted to find a seat and leave time for some lunch.
It was a longish walk, first outside, then into the bowels of the complex to get to the stage. Unbeknownst to me, the actual auction was being held in the Mohegan Sun Arena, a 10,000-seat multi-level indoor stadium usually used for sporting events and concerts (upcoming in July: Barry Manilow and Britney Spears, on different nights, thank you). Now it was time for the next surprise: ground-level seating was strictly for those with bidder’s passes – general admission ticket holders, i.e., me, were directed into the nose-bleed upper tier. From there, the auction block looked like it was several hundred feet away, because it was. So much for walking anywhere near the cars. But hearing was no problem, as the auctioneer took advantage of the 110-decibel house sound system. At least from that vantage, I could look down at the skyboxes, where the high-roller bidders had buffet tables and adult beverages as part of their several-hundred-dollar premium package.
It was time for lunch. A sandwich, bag of chips, and a soft drink for $9 wasn’t a bad deal, and there was no line at all. The cars began to cross the block. The magic number of the early afternoon was $7,500; that was the hammer price for 8 of the first 20 lots. The pace was similar to Mecum, in that cars spent an average of two minutes in the spotlight, so they moved at 30 cars per hour. Vehicle descriptions were lacking in detail; mileages were announced only if it was something favorable (“this car has 43,000 original miles!”).
Of the first 25 cars, only 9 of them broke into five figures, so if your goal was to buy a car for less than $10,000, there was ample opportunity. The flip side of that is that, to this eye, there were rather few bargains. No-reserve sales can cut two ways: a consignor is taking a chance that his car slips through the cracks and sells too cheaply. Sellers know that the car is going home with someone. But it only takes two determined bidders to push the hammer price to a level that favors the seller, and my overall impression was that the majority of Thursday’s sales did indeed favor the seller. Hey, who needs to know the service history if you can be shown on TV pumping high-fives after spending twenty grand?
I had seen over 40 cars sell, and ninety minutes is my personal limit for remaining in one place, so it was time to wander back to the garages. Cars which had crossed the block were all slapped with SOLD stickers, and conveniently, the sale price was noted on the windshields. A few more strolls back and forth between the staging area and the arena, and it was time to bring this long day to an end.
It’s very easy to look casually at the Barrett-Jackson experience and understand the attraction. There’s automotive variety; everything sells; the side shows keep even the most bored folks entertained; and it’s pumped up like it’s going to be on TV because it is.
I watched about 80 cars sell; the highest hammer price I personally observed was $42k; my guesstimate is that Thursday’s average selling price was in the $15k-20k range. If your interests lie with resto-mods, Jeeps, late-model exotics, or running projects, this could be your venue. At any auction, you’re buying a pig in a poke. At B-J, the inability of bidders to take a hands-on approach made it more so. As a non-bidder, the limited access was a bit off-putting, as that is not the case at other auctions. I’m glad I went. I can say that, yes, I’ve experienced a Barrett-Jackson auction. It’s likely that I’ll not feel the need to make a return appearance.
A sampling of Thursday’s auction cars are below, and as always, they are arranged in SALE PRICE order (dollar amounts are exclusive of the buyer’s 10% commission). Apologies for the poor picture quality; I didn’t want to carry my SLR and brought a cheap digital camera with me that did a poor job in the fluorescent lighting.
$3,000 TO $7,200:
#1, 1990 Chrysler Maserati TC convertible, sold for $3,000
Mitsubishi V6 and 4-speed automatic. An American-Italian-Japanese mash-up; I’m sure that any FCA dealership can service it for you.
#15, 1989 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, sold for $6,700
This 6-speed car wore newer Corvette wheels. Sign claimed that most of its paint was original, and listed a host of recent maintenance. This was one of the few really good deals from Thursday.
#24, 1964 MG Midget convertible, sold for $6,800
An affordable way to get a British sports car. Just check to make sure your girth lets you fit.
#25, 2002 Jaguar XK convertible, sold for $7,200
An average used exotic which sold for an average price.
THE $7,500 BUFFET TABLE:
#1.1, 1966 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, sold for $7,500
Driver’s seat upholstery worn, looked OK otherwise.
#18, 1966 Ford Thunderbird Landau hardtop, sold for $7,500
A lot of style, luxury, and fuel consumption for not much money.
#6, 1972 Plymouth Satellite, sold for $7,500
Both A-pillars bubbling with rust. Rear quarters not much better. Rebuilt 440, perhaps only good for parts.
#19, 1985 Chevrolet Corvette coupe, sold for $7,500
A clean-looking 2nd year C4 in attractive colors. No explanation why this car would have fetched more money than Lot #15, which is 4 years newer and has a drop-top.
#12, 1985 Toyota Supra, sold for $7,500
A potentially good deal on a rising Asian collectible.
$11,500 TO $14,500:
#30, 1964 Ford Falcon convertible, sold for $11,500
This six-cylinder drop-top sold for half what a comparable Mustang would have brought.
#23.1, 1986 GMC Sierra 4×4 pickup, sold for $12,000
The first of 2 GM pickups to sell for this price. Perhaps B-J is the place to buy your pickup truck, because these sell for twice this at Mecum in Harrisburg.
#37, 1987 Chevrolet Silverado pickup, sold for $12,000
Pickup trucks of all flavors were relative bargains today. Aside from its wheels (easy fix), truck looked to be done to a good original standard.
#60.1, 1953 MG TD, sold for $13,000
Worst repaint I’ve ever seen on an auction car. Literally looked like it was pulled from a garage and painted with rattle cans over dust and dirt.
#19.1, 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Hurst W30, sold for $13,000
A model infrequently seen these days, interesting RWD Hurst/Olds package looked to be all there.
#35, 1965 Plymouth Barracuda, sold for $14,500
A survivor, as most of these were long ago consumed by the tin worm. Plain exterior offset by nice interior.
$18,000 TO $20,000:
#32, 1965 Fiat 500, sold for $18,000
Got a lot of attention in the garage pre-sale, sold for more lira than most of the domestic iron that preceded it across the block.
#33, 1963 Austin-Healey Sprite roadster, sold for $18,500
The good news: the restoration work looked to be top-notch. The bad news: the 1955 Dodge LaFemme color scheme didn’t look good here. I met the winning bidder while he photographed his new toy. A 30-something hipster, he told me that he always wanted one. Hope he drives it and enjoys the attention.
#66.1, 1966 Chrysler Newport, sold for $19,000
Sign claims “rotisserie restoration” of body, rebuilt 383, and original interior. Big stylish cruiser for Mopar fans.
#58.1, 1988 Porsche 928, sold for $20,000
This was a $10,000 car five years ago. This one claimed to have 43,000 original miles.
All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.