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Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale

Bright lights. Suffocating air. Dirt tracks and lifted pickup trucks. A fast-talking auctioneer. Millions of dollars of historic automobiles. Braised turkey legs. Thousands of bidders. One gavel.

Welcome to Barrett-Jackson’s wintertime auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., the yearly, weeklong highlight for the auction house known for its spectacle and showmanship as much as the hundreds of cars and trucks that cross the auction stage. As CEO Craig Jackson sees it, the auction is a week of constant stimulation—whether or not you’re a gear head.

Take the presentation of lot 7004, a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am prop car used in the iconic film, “Smokey and the Bandit,” and owned by the movie’s star, Burt Reynolds. The tired Pontiac, which appeared brand-new, crossed the stage with an aging but youthful Reynolds in the passenger seat. An impersonator of Reynolds’ character’s enemy, Buford T. Justice, appeared alongside, as did a Sally Fields lookalike. The crowd rose to its feet, hooting as the Trans Am came to the center of the stage. Caroline Jackson, Craig’s wife, clapped furiously with excitement.

“I’m proud to be here,” Reynolds said, addressing the crowd with a characteristic twinkle in his eye, “with all the women, especially.” The audience roared. The Reynolds connection helped move the Trans Am for $550,000. A similar “Flying Chicken” ’77 Trans Am sold for $44,000. Vehicle condition helps, but the celebrity owner connection can be everything.

Hundreds of vehicles vied for the privilege of coming before the Barrett-Jackson audience and receiving international, televised fame. Customs out of the historic George Barris collection, including a 1951 Lincoln Lido custom coupe, traveled from Galpin Auto Sports in Van Nuys, Calif., for the occasion. The first 2017 Acura NSX off the line went before the stage in Scottsdale, fetching $1.2 million for charity in the process. Bidders came from around the world to take part in the tradition that is part auction, part state fair. Typically, Barrett-Jackson’s offerings lean American, and the number of Chevrolet Corvettes, Ford Mustangs, Plymouth Barracudas, and customized hot rods prove the point.

Jackson, who already has 40 cars, wasn’t keen on bidding this year, as much as he was pleased by the selection, saying that he doesn’t like “to bid against [his] own customers.”

“If you’re a drug dealer, being a drug addict’s not a good thing,” Jackson said. He ended up taking home a 1934 Cadillac 370D V12 Fleetwood coupe that once belonged to his mother, for $330,000.

The Barrett-Jackson experience relies heavily on the quality of the automobiles up for auction, and blends pageantry with variety for an experience like few others. Given the advent of online auction sites like eBay Motors, which are in a similar – if less flashy – business, Jackson remains confident that Barrett-Jackson’s unique selling point is the feeling of being there among the huddled, polo-shirt-clad masses.

“We’re an event. If you have all the money in the world, what can you buy? Experiences,” he said. “Click-click doesn’t do it.”

Cue the lights!

BY Jeff Jablansky

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