Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunny Days & Classy Cars

High Rollers and Beautiful Rolling Stock

Like swallows to capsitrano, every year the buyers fly in.  Some in net jets, some in first class, many in coach.  They strap on their credentials and head to one of the three or four antique and collector car auctions held each year in the Valley of the Sun.

Most years the weather is perfect and you'd better wear a hat whilst perusing the literally thousand plus cars arrayed in tents available for bidding. In off years you may need a sweater, rarely an umbrella.

The biggest of them all is the Barrett Jackson Auction in Scottsdale at Westworld. Westworld is the event center designed for Scottsdale's world famous annual Arabian Horse Show. In January Westworld is outfitted with one of the world's largest tent structures and the fun begins. Simultaneously in Phoenix metro the Russo & Steele and the R&M auctions are also in full swing. Each auction has a unique focus and for a couple of weeks each year the valley is awash in rolling history.

The cars are sold with no reserve, so the bidding gets furious, with superstars like Carroll Shelby frequently on hand to grease the wheels of the bidding process. In a good year some of the specialty offerings fetch $4 and $5 Million dollars. These are the concept cars, the VIN #1, a President's personal car, or sometimes just weird old muscle cars that the fifty somethings that populate the bidding floor couldn't afford when they were young and those cars were new.  

I'll never bid, I'm one of those guys that just comes every year to view the high budget bidding that takes place between 4 pm and 10 pm on Auction Saturday.

My routine is simple. I pay the $55 or so to get in and then make my way quickly through all the crap vendors. Here you can buy a timeshare, garish jewelry, or realllly bad art. Likewise, if you want a huge neon sign, Jim Morrison's autographed gold record, an antique jukebox, or a sofa crafted from a '57 Chevy, you will be in nirvana. Me, I take deep breath, put my head down, and run outside while it is light. Once outside I can start my walk up and down the series of tents where the "merely amazing" cars are stored. The incredible cars are stored inside the main tent. I save them for later.

Rolling Across the Auction Block 
Bids are posted in three currencies and internet bids come in from around the world

Whether it is a Pierce Arrow or a Rolls Royce Spirit of Freedom 

The tents have the cars parked 4-6 deep and by Saturday many in the tents have long been sold. But it is still fun to look and hear people reminisce, ogle or explain to kids what it meant to ride in a friend's Austin Healey thirty years ago.

The amazing thing is many of the cars are the very cars we grew up with. They are Uncle Ken's 1965 Impala Super Sport. They are the 1961 T-Bird I bought in high school (and still have).

About this time the smells of food are getting to me and I am getting hungry.  Not a problem as the cuisine covers everything from deep fried twinkies to California Pizza Kitchen. The Fairmont Princess even had a fine dining tent this year. 

The Pontiac "Club De Mer" Concept Car
Harley Earll's concept car (complete with a shark fin in back) was made of clay. 
This fellow built it for real four decades later

A Montage From the Tents

Nothing Defines American Automotive Class like a Cord

So after eating and making my way through all of the tents I head to ogle the indoor cars. These are the museum quality units. Each and every surface on these cars gleams. They look, for the most part, better than new. They are all behind ropes and not for the unwashed masses. For a moment everyone in the place imagines being behind the wheel of one of these truly amazing cars. Of course these are the cars that will rarely ever see asphalt. They will get pampered in a personal collection or a museum. 

Two Views of a Lincoln

At this point it is 5 pm and I am ready for the auction. There are race car drivers, rock and movie stars moving throughout the hall.  Reggie Jackson is on the floor advising his clients on the finer points of bidding and evaluating cars. It is like being in Las Vegas watching the people go by in the Bellagio.  If you are a bidder the dapper guards let you in the main floor or skyboxes.  The rest of us mortgage bound mortal's just stand and watch. 

I like being at the entry portal where the sellers are bringing their cars in and prepping them one last time. Once they hit the stage they will be pushed by glove clad auction staff to minimize the exhaust on the stage since most of the cars will last under the gavel for only two to three minutes.

And what an exciting two or three minutes they are!  All captured by the big boom cameras of the Speed Channel, television viewers will get to witness every wink or nod a bidder makes as they are cajoled by the auction staff or their entourage of half drunk buddies. Looking on and gently adding words of encouragement may be a heavily augmented trophy bimbette, (perhaps wife number three.) The bidders themselves? Well there seems to be two catagories: pros or 50 year old big boys with an earring wearing Tommy Bahama (that can never be tucked in). 

The whole delicate choreography makes it a lot of fun to watch and when a bidding war erupts for an exceptional car, the hall turns electric. 

Around 7 pm my legs get tired I make my way outside one last time and take a final look at the cars in the prep tent. 

This year I finished my day by watching Ford's amazing mustang stunt drivers prove that fine cars, in the hands of experts, can still make our heart's beat a little faster.     

Ford's Incredible Stunt Team

The car auctions immediately turn old farts like me into Peter Pan, with absolutely no intention of ever growing up. 

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

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