5 Nov 2015

Barrett-Jackson: A Car Guy’s Lifestyle Event.

Opinion Series

by Tony Gauntner


Now that I’ve arrived at that dreaded age where you begin to receive weekly AARP solicitations, I’ve come to grasp the reality of mortality which forces me to consider reviewing my bucket list. I am addicted to cars, like many of you — and anybody who remotely considers themselves a car guy or girl has probably put attending a Barrett-Jackson event on their own bucket list. For me, it’s dang near the tip-top of the mountain of things to do, far above the Super Bowl.

Barrett-Jackson’s tagline is “The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions®.”  Craig Jackson modestly refers to his weeklong extravaganza as a “lifestyle event.” While his competitors run their blue-chippers under the hammer with limited fanfare in an environment typical of an auto auction, Jackson’s  Scottsdale team has created an automotive enthusiast’s festival that showcases America’s continued love affair with the automobile. Jackson’s top lieutenants have managed to collectively engineer a festival,  showcasing 1600 cars, planes, boats and buses, hundreds of merchandise vendors, live entertainment, plus 50+ food & beverage suppliers. And if that doesn’t sound crazy enough, let’s arrange an opening night black tie gala for 7,000 party goers. Let’s not forget this spectacle always draws a contingency of high profile guests who expect and receive V.I.P. treatment. Kid Rock, Sammy Haggar, Reggie Jackson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart & Ceelo Green are just a handful of the rich and famous who are car crazy.  And if they don’t arrive car crazy, they are guaranteed to leave car crazy.

This spectacle requires a small army of logistical specialists to make this operation run like a Swiss watch, which of course it does because the CEO and his generals are dedicated to providing the best customer experience possible. They have thought of everything. Financing, insurance and transportation can be pre-arranged or completed on location.

Want more? Outside you’ll find thrill rides, burnout expositions (I assume sponsored by a tire manufacturer) and vehicle ride and drive events. This really sounds like you’re vacationing at a five star automotive resort. Now if they’d only incorporate some pools with swim up bars, like a Sandals Resort for car guys we’d have it all.


Two guys walk into a bar…well it may not have been a bar, but back in the early 1960’s Russ Jackson and Tom Barrett started this event as a car show to raise money for charity. Obviously good deeds get rewarded. Their first auction had approximately 80 cars. Now 45 years later they’re a global brand selling thousands of cars each year. However, anyone who has managed a business understands that growth of this magnitude certainly wasn’t achieved through the tenacity of one person. Their executive team has quite a pedigree. The top two generals had established relationships as customers before signing on as executives. President Steve Davis manages the entire consignment operation and performs due diligence on every vehicle selected to appear in the “event.”  Stringent rules are in place to ensure that the buyer is purchasing a properly titled, legitimate vehicle. You can’t put lipstick on a pig and run it through Barrett-Jackson.

Steve literally reviews thousands of applications to ensure he’s not only consigning a good crop of vehicles, but a well-diversified one also. From muscle cars to pre-war to hot rods, rat rods, one-offs and 1950’s convertibles, Barrett-Jackson covers the automotive spectrum. Like most car dealers, they try to have vehicles that fit everyone’s budget. You need not have the bank roll of Floyd “Money” Maryweather Jr. to enjoy the Barrett-Jackson experience. Traditionally the blue chip vehicles are sold during prime TV time, but there are bargains in everybody’s price range all week long. I’ve seen cars you could not begin to build for $100,000 sell for less than a fourth of that. I’ve also seen bidding wars where price was no object. A vehicle that was anticipated to sell for less than $40,000 had a winning bid that exceeded $125,000 setting a new world’s record for one of that model and vintage.  Observing bidder battles are part of the fun of attending a Barrett-Jackson event. As a bidder, you can easily get caught up in the moment, as you feel the heat of the battle, hear the roar of the crowd and the encouragement of the auctioneer’s assistant advising you “don’t let this one get away, you’ll never see another one like it.” It’s psychological warfare and if you’re not a disciplined bidder, it’s very easy for your ego to over-power your brain. There have been a few rare occasions where bidders’ remorse prevailed, the buyer balked and Barrett-Jackson ended up buying the car themselves for the hammer price just to ensure the seller was treated fairly.


The main trust of some of the early cable TV car shows like Overhaulin’, West Coast Customs, and Unique Whips, was to entertain the audience by taking an older car, tricking it out with slick modifications and showcasing the step by step process. I think these shows turned up the heat, pulling in the automotive enthusiasts and good ratings.  Ratings convince the networks there’s money in entertaining the car crazy crowd. Coincidentally about the same time NASCAR picked up steam, social media had taken hold and the country was enjoying the effects of the tech boom. The automotive hobbyist genre caught fire on cable networks. The SPEED Channel was born dedicating programming to all forms of motorsports events and vehicle modification shows. Several times each year, they’d feature The Barrett-Jackson Auction, a new form of reality TV, soon, to be celebrating their 20th year of televised coverage.

As we know, car guys have been building projects in their garages for decades but so many pieces of the puzzle came together causing the perfect car guy storm to come ashore. Muscle cars were gaining in popularity as the Boomers started aging and their success helped them build financial resources needed to relive their youth and fulfill a fantasy by capturing the car of their dreams. The Barrett-Jackson experience gave them an opportunity to enjoy a process unlike any other, rubbing elbows with celebrities and bringing home the ride they’ve always wanted. It was a formula that both their customers and enthusiasts loved.

As the popularity of Barrett-Jackson rose, so did the search for cars hidden in fields, barns, backyards and old warehouses. If it was old, it was sold. All in hopes that after a little repair and a bit of paint an old goat could be flipped for a pretty profit. The Barrett-Jackson Experience is probably the single biggest contributor responsible for thousands of automotive projects being started each year. That trickle-down effect has created scores of new small businesses, some of which probably aren’t that small any more.

It’s amazing how two guys with good hearts whose sole mission was to hold a car show to raise money for charity proved to the world, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to if you just work hard enough and stick with it. By the way, besides being responsible for the thousands of cars sold and the  thousands of jobs created and organically growing the collector car hobby…….the Barrett-Jackson team has raised in excess of 85 million dollars for a huge array of charitable causes so far. Craig Jackson and Team Barrett-Jackson, please take a bow, your sincere dedication to your customers and the world of automotive enthusiasts salutes you.

For more about Barrett-Jackson, watch Rick and Jay discuss the collector car auctions here!

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