Chevrolet Corvette Classic Auto Auction - On The Auction Block
America's Premier Classic Auto Auction Houses Unveiled
From the February, 2009 issue of Corvette Fever
By Kevin Shaw
Photography by Courtesy Of Barrett-Jackson, Jerry Heasley
Supply and demand: the fiscal model that outlines the microeconomic theory defined as exponential cost growth dictated by product quantity, composed by Alfred Marshal in 1890 in an attempt to predict competitive marketplace price changes. What it means to the normal layman is the rarity of a desired product or item boosts the cost in the marketplace-gasoline, for example. Without delving into the political economics of the matter, it is widely accepted that as more nations modernize and become dependant on gasoline power, the demand for the combustible fuel will continue to rise, especially if production remains at a constant level or, worse yet, declines. With China, the South American nations, South Africa, and Eastern Europe jumping in with North America, Western and Northern Europe, and Japan, the world's thirst for oil and gasoline has caused pump prices to soar worldwide. This is the functioning example of a world economy, and due to the limited resources that this planet produces versus the consumption of those goods by its inhabitants, the various cultures, nations, and countries need to learn to deal accordingly.
Now, shrink this macroscopic model down to a more intimate view. Those who have the monetary means have been able to invest their money into materials and goods that occasionally have, from an outsider's view, yielded little to no potential for growth, and not even the ability to return the patron's initial investment. These have taken the form of artwork, property, and other rare items. This practice has been in existence since the beginning of currency as a replacement to bartering. But unlike so many trends that originate from imbalanced celebrities and mass media, the collection and exchange of America's most influential-on-society commodity-the automobile-has been in practice long before silent films stars began garaging hand-built coachman Cadillacs and Duesenbergs. The world's fascination with these premium machines has spread like a plague, infecting young children, heads of state, and members of royal households with fanciful dreams of stables of mean street rods.
Hollywood has stumbled upon the trend of car collecting only recently, with first minimal to now full-blown coverage of some of America's largest and most influential automotive collector auctions. These galas began with mere "horse-trading," exchanging one part, engine, or vehicle for another, merely to build up one's own car or meager collection. What could have been a privately owned car lot soon blossomed into a rare car dealer. watching the trends sway from furniture and sculpture to motor vehicles, smaller auction houses jumped with both feet into the car auction scene. These massive events are more intricately orchestrated than some trade shows or even a three-ring circus. And with the most recent change in popularity, these auctions no longer solely feature exquisitely restored and preserved pieces of American and European automotive design and craftsmanship, but hoards of cameras, sound equipment, and jet-setting celebrities wanting to cash in on the free publicity. But these shows aren't for the coverage; they are to display some of the finest cars the modern world has to offer from its past and present. Moreover, these auctions also serve as a standing barometer for the enthusiast market. Perfectly aligned with the economic model, the supply of some of these machines is nearly nonexistent, some are one of 20,000, all the way down to the sole example of its kind. In 2004, a beautiful convertible '30 Fleetwood-bodied Cadillac V-16 was sold for a half-million dollars-an unheard of price at the time. It was shortly thereafter that oddly optioned survivors of America's torrid love affair with high performance brought in double that amount. Later that same year, a '70 Plymouth 'Cuda convertible with the venerable 426 Hemi mated to a four-speed transmission brought a clean million dollars. Since that time, owners of these cars have crawled out of the woodwork, claiming their Chrysler ponycar is worth equally ridiculous amounts of money. It's not foolhardy to do so; it's simply good business. More and more auctions are rising, claiming astronomical prices for some of Detroit's most infamous '50s, '60s, and '70s musclecars. Big-block-powered Super Sport Chevelles, 4-4-2-equipped Oldsmobiles, any Dodge or Plymouth toting the 426 Hemi powerplant (be it an original car or even a pieced-together clone), and any Ford with Carroll Shelby's name on it all fetch astounding prices.
It's simply too wide of a spectrum to try to cover every major auction house and show in the continental United States, but what we have brought you is some of the interesting and colorful histories of a handful of the largest dealers of rare and collectable Corvettes in the nation. Long before these galas were the annual events that they are, they began at one point with humble grass root beginnings.
This year, rare, restored, and preserved Corvettes ranked in with some of the highest totals to date. With that in mind, many collector societies are gearing up to assist collectors in authenticating their Corvette for auction, as well as confirming the claims of other dealers on the rare Vette they're trying to auction off. It's a battle of being there at the right time with the money ready at hand and being savvy enough to know the fakes from the real McCoys. That's why these auction events are so detailed-to verify that the massive amounts of money exchanged for these rolling pieces of art is for the real thing not just a meticulous copy. But with all that said, you might be surprised who we view as some of the premier movers and shakers in the Corvette auction marketplace.
Barrett-JacksonIt's no surprise we list Barrett-Jackson at the top of our list. Over 45 years ago, two Scottsdale, Arizona, locals, Russ Jackson and Tom Barrett, met over a locally-listed car. At the time, Scottsdale was little more than an outpost in the middle of the arid southwest desert. Tom Barrett, with a penchant for unique and gorgeously built coachwork cars, was trying to sell off his exquisitely preserved '33 Cadillac V-16 Town Car. Russ Jackson met with Barrett, but the transaction never took place. rather than an exchange of money and car keys, a friendship was founded, fueled by a mutual love of these cars. over the next decade, the two men would pool their enterprising interests in classic cars and host their first car show-the Fiesta del Los Auto Elegance. The event served a dual purpose. First, to initiate the first of many local car shows that would encourage local collectors and car buffs to bring out their rare pieces for display. Second, the Fiesta also served to drum up donations for local Arizona charities, including the Scottsdale Library. Shortly thereafter, the Barrett-Jackson team presented Arizona their first classic automotive auction, putting up many of their own privately owned vehicles as fodder for the auctioneer's gavel. Tom Barrett's personal Mercedes 770 Phaeton was sold for a staggering $153,000. The sale sent waves throughout the automotive industry, taking the Barrett-Jackson affair from local show status to an international event. With the rise in gas prices in the mid-'70s accompanied with an economical recession, sales predominantly circled around rare and refined Italian, German, and British vehicles. It wasn't until the '80s that the market would blossom again, not only with the Barrett-Jackson event, but nationally.
Not content with merely being "another auto auction," the Barrett-Jackson team sought to make waves. Selective in which cars they admitted to the podium, Tom Barrett sought out the rarest of automobiles, bringing them before an increasingly growing audience. His efforts would land him the moniker, Grandfather of the Collector Car Industry. Russ Jackson took another route, personally collecting and restoring many of these cars in anticipation for the annual show. The consummate family man, Jackson would invite his sons, Brian and Craig, to join the Barrett-Jackson team, while his wife Nellie served as the daily operations liaison for the company. Thanks to the efforts of both Russ and Tom, the Barrett-Jackson event grew into the industry standard, surpassing its rivals in attendance, vehicles sold, and total sales.
Russ Jackson passed away in 1993, and Brian Jackson in 1995. Tom Barrett retired from the company he built in 1997 and passed away in 2004. Russ' son, Craig took over the reins at that time, bringing Barrett-Jackson its largest success. during his tenure, Barrett-Jackson began incorporating technology into the event, such as cable coverage on Speedvision and two cable shows: Car Search and Life on the Block, as well as coverage on live simulcast on the Internet.
Since 1997, sales have increased from that year's $17 million in total sales and 65-percent sales success with 100,000 spectators in 1998. Now bidders are able to participate online, allowing the bidding to originate from anywhere across the globe. The end of the century allotted the Barrett-Jackson team over $22 million in sales and 125,000 in attendance. The year 2004 was a benchmark year as nearly 800 cars changed hands and $38.5 million dollars were exchanged with a stunning 98.5-percent sales ratio. The Barrett-Jackson auction now serves as an annual benchmark, setting the price trend for some of the rarest and most desired automobiles ever produced.
Recently, Barrett-Jackson spread its wings by initiating an equally regal event in Palm Beach, Florida. The Palm Beach event, though not nearly as grand in scale, still auctions off some of the most coveted machines ever built. Barrett-Jackson President and CEO Craig Jackson says, "Last year's Palm Beach event drew enormous attention from collectors across the world and nearly doubled every mark set in 2004. Records were set in attendance, total sales, the number of bidders, and the number of excellent automobiles that crossed the block. We look forward to fueling the hobby's growth even further in our fourth straight year in Florida." One thousand guests attended the opening night gala held to benefit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, raising over $40,000 for the charity. Jackson continued, "Requests to consign vehicles at the Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach event continues to grow. We're increasing the total number of cars from last year's 450 to accommodate the public's hunger for quality collector cars. We will continue to bring the best possible automotive lifestyle event to the East Coast."
Krus InternationalIf Barrett-Jackson is accredited with the greatest publicity coverage, then Kruse easily comes in first place for the largest circulation of vehicles at a single show. Time after time, Kruse displaces more vintage automobiles than all other major firms combined. Founded by Dean Kruse in 1971, the first inaugural auction started off in an abandoned field adjacent to Interstate I-69. The one-day event was held on Labor Day (a tradition that continues today), and brought in eighty cars to be sold. The highlight of that afternoon was the offer of $61,000 for a '32 Duesenberg dual-cowl Phaeton. the owner turned down the offer, and that evening, NBC News reported, "a man turned down $61,000 for a used car."
The following decade would mark great leaps in the Kruse auction maturation as it became a selling block for some of the most famous vehicles owned by celebrities and notorious men, such as the record holding sale of Greta Garbo's '33 Duesenberg Victoria for $90,000 and Nazi General Hermann Goering's bulletproof Mercedes-Benz 770K for $80,000. Sales of Duesenbergs became a staple of the Kruse events, each claiming well over $100,000 a piece.
Desperate for larger venues to hold the rapidly growing auction, the Kruse event bounced from open fields to a local high school football stadium for its first three-day event in 1976. Duesenbergs, long-nosed Cadillacs, Cords, and Packards all littered the auction floor and parade grounds. Most noteworthy were the aforementioned Garbo Duesenberg, Lucky Luciano's '36 Lincoln ($147,000), John Lennon's '56 Bentley ($325,000), Andy and Vince Granatelli's turbine-powered race car ($100,000), Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker's '53 Rolls Royce Silver Dawn ($91,000), Herbie the Love bug, Al Capone's '32 Cadillac Imperial limousine ($100,000), Lauren Hutton's Mercedes-Benz 380SL, Princess Diana's Rolls Royce, the first production Plymouth Prowler ($141,000), one of the original Batmobiles, as well as the two different movie renditions of the infamous caped crime fighter's vehicle ($330,000 and $342,000, respectively).
Other interesting notes include the first one-million dollar sale in cash for a '34 Duesenberg SJ La Grande long-wheelbase, dual-cowl phaeton to Tom Monaghan, the founder of one of the nation's most recognized pizza chains, Domino's Pizza, and the then-owner of the Detroit Tigers. the Kruse Family also orchestrated the 441 million dollar sellout of the William F. Harrah 1,000-auto collection. Spread over a year at three events, Kruse walked away with one of the largest bragging rights of any American auction house. The Kruse auction machine sells well over 13,000 cars at 30 different shows per year; a long way from their first years renting out grassy fields in the Auburn, Indiana, area. Nowadays, the Kruse event averages a massive crowd of 150,000 in attendance with 5,000 collectable machines at their annual Labor Day auction and accompanying Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Festival, which is the fourth largest spectator event in Indiana, behind the likes of the Indianapolis 500, the Brickyard 500, and the Indiana State Fair. Interestingly, online auction house, eBay, took over the reins of the Kruse auction in 1999, helping to drastically modernize the thirty-year-old auction group into the 21st century. Kruse, with all cylinders firing, took their west coast auction right to the front door of their competitors in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2003, eBay sold the Kruse auto auction back to founder Dean Kruse, claiming at each show that year: Dean is back!
RMAs the collector car industry continues to grow as it has for the last 25 years, more and more individuals are beginning to join the ranks of collectors, traders, and restorers, hoping to participate in the auction frenzy. Today, there seems to be less spectators and more people getting into the hobby for the pure enjoyment and, frankly, profit. the car collecting hobby has received far more press and promotion recently, thanks primarily to TV shows, the escalation of automotive events, and car clubs.
Robert Myers, the founder of RM Restorations and RM Classic Cars, came into the classic automotive auction the long way. Born in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, Myers was introduced early on to the hobby through his father. Surrounded with antique and vintage automobiles, Meyers, after years of working on his father's cars, started his own restoration business in 1976, using his single-car garage in Chatham, Ontario. Meyers quickly incorporated the business several years later. "I started out making repairs, engine and performance upgrades, and, eventually, graduated to bodywork modifications and custom paint," Myers says. "By 1980, I was able to open a large, dedicated restoration and sales facility. I was determined to become a successful restoration and sales expert like car legends Bob Adams or Tiny Gould. My ultimate goal at that time was to establish a first-rate restoration shop like the legendary Phil Hill of Hill & Vaughn of Los Angeles, California." Patterning himself after many of the leaders in the restoration and customization business, Myers was able to participate actively in buying and selling collector cars with his first business partner Dan Warrener. Myers' shop was able to provide dozens of restored and trick customized vehicles to a variety of collector car auctions, always bringing home enough capital to repeat the process, all the while building his name as a prominent shop and business in the automotive market. Myers' shop provided more than 118 cars to a Kruse International auto auction.
"We were doing such a large volume of business with other auction companies, something like several million dollars a year, that we finally decided it was time to open our own auction house," Myers says. "After Mike Fairbairn, another passionate car guy and collector car expert joined our team in 1988, we knew we had a core group of knowledgeable experts and dedicated auto enthusiasts on board to take the company forward. In 1991, we formed RM Auctions, Inc., located in Chatham-Kent, Ontario."
Myers has taken his professional restoration and auction businesses and nurtured them into a world renowned group of companies with annual sales of more than $100 million in 2004 alone. Now, RM Auctions boasts a staggering roster of prestigious collector car auction venues, including the Monterey-Pebble Beach event, as well as Meadow Brook, Amelia Island, Toronto, Boca Raton, and Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona (bringing more competition to the doorstep of Barrett-Jackson).
Amazingly, each year surpasses the previous for setting many of the world's top ten vintage automobile sales records over and over again. Some of RM's most significant sales include a rare Alfa Romeo Tip B race car for $2.1 million, a Ferrari 250 LM for $2.3 million, an ex-Fangio Ferrari 860 Monza racer for more than $2 million, a Shelby Cobra Daytona coupe for $4.4 million, a Mercedes-Benz 540K roadster for $3.6 million, and a '62 Le Mans-winning Ferrari Testa Rossa 330 TRI/LM for $6.5 million. Auction attendance continues to grow concurrently with sales, attracting over 150,000 in attendance annually. In addition, over 500,000 catalogs and brochures are produced for these events each year, distributed to buyers and sellers all over the globe. Myers says, "Our philosophy is to surround ourselves with successful, highly skilled, and knowledgeable car people. It's the people that grow any business, and we're definitely a company of car people. We're all enthusiasts. We know our business in depth, all types of cars from all eras, and we're extremely proud of the reputation we have established, both with our clients and in this industry."
Mecum Bloomington GoldWith projected '06 sales in excess of $100 million for some 4,000 cars, Mecum Auctions is the largest auctioneer of musclecars of all kinds, including Corvettes. A number of individual cars have sold in the million-dollar range, including a recently sold Shelby Cobra Dragonsnake. Mecum regularly receives collections of as many as fifty cars to sell. But it's the relationship between the Mecum Auction group and Bloomington Gold that puts Mecum ahead of the rest as America's premier Corvette-only auction. Though the Mecum Collector Car Auctioneers hold events throughout the nation all year long, what appeals most to the Corvette enthusiasts is their annual presence at the famous Pheasant Run, Illinois, all-Corvette event. Bloomington Gold, one of the nation's top Corvette gatherings, once started off as a humble group of Corvette owners and fans wanting to show off their pristine examples of America's first true sports car and swap some parts. Since that time, Bloomington Gold has ballooned into one of the grandest events for the American automotive icon. Amid the many available events, such as various degrees of certification, judging, parades, show grounds, driving courses, and all-around family entertainment, is the Mecum-sponsored Corvette auction. Bringing in their years of auction experience, the Mecum group oversees the Corvette Corral as well as the Corvette Show and Sell. Outgrowing their original Bloomington, Illinois, location, the move was made in 1993 to relocate the event to Springfield, Illinois. Enjoying the state park there for a few years, the Bloomington Gold event continued to gain momentum, spreading beyond its borders and needing, yet again, a larger venue. "Returning back to Normal" as the '98 theme proclaimed, the event was moved to Normal, Illinois, a larger, more spacious grounds allowing ample room for all the Show and Shine cars, as well as the vendors' tents, judging tents, and auction pavilion. Exciting Corvette auctions were given added emphasis in these last years, as Bloomington Gold united with Mecum Auctioneers to conduct auctions each day of the show.
It wasn't long before the Bloomington Gold event outgrew its surroundings, and, in 2002, moved to St. Charles, Illinois, to conduct the massive show on the gorgeous Pheasant Run resort, spa, and golf course. Nearly every imaginable model of Corvette is offered at the Mecum auctions, anywhere from entry level and restorable cars to everyday drivers to the creme de la creme. What added to the prices of these gorgeous machines were the long list of Bloomington Gold certifications, as well as extremely low mileage, special production packages, and rare options. Each year, the Mecum group comes out in full force, increasing in vehicle percentage sales, final collective gross sales, and attendance, making the Mecum auction one of the highlights and "must see" of each annual Bloomington Gold event. Even if you're not in the market to purchase a Corvette, simply watching the procession of fabulous Bloomington Gold-certified Corvettes go up on the auctioneer's block is truly a sight to behold.
Corvettes at CarlisleIn 2002, the folks who run the prestigious Corvettes at Carlisle event decided to partner with Mecum Auctions in order to develop a major all-Corvette auction, complementing the wildly popular show, swap meet, parade, and other Corvette-related activities at Carlisle. more than 200 Corvettes crossed the auction block that first year, and the Mecum auction at Corvettes at Carlisle was off and running. Each successive year has drawn 200 to 250 consigned Corvettes; this year Mecum expects 250.
"The Carlisle people have done a terrific job in managing the logistics of this event," says Dana Mecum, CEO and founder of Mecum Auctions. "The flow of auction cars, buyers, and sellers is very smooth, and the event draws a huge crowd. Corvettes at Carlisle is a wonderful venue for an auction, and is one of only two all-Corvette auctions in the world, the other being Bloomington Gold, where we've conducted the Corvette-only auction for nine years. This will be our fifth year at Carlisle, and we're excited about helping this auction grow to match the success and world-class status of the other activities at this event."
EbayYou might be wondering what we're thinking, mentioning the Internet-based auction web site amid some of the most prestigious classic automotive auction houses in the nation. The truth is, more vehicles, items, and oddities are sold online through eBay than any other medium. eBay's Internet site allows them to reach across the globe, recently breaking ground in China and India. In addition, eBay is also a publicly traded company, grossing more than 4.5 billion dollars in 2005. Starting off in the dot-com explosion of the mid-'90s, Pierre Omidyar started the online auction site in 1995, selling his first item: a broken laser pointer for $14. When the transaction closed, Pierre warned the winner that the pointer was indeed broken. The buyer's reply was, "That's OK, I collect broken laser pointers."
The company has grown, improving, evolving, and changing to survive the continually changing environment that is the Internet. Several competitors have attempted to nail eBay with patent infringement lawsuits and fraud disputes, but each time the company has come out better off than before. Recently, the company acquired the electronic payment program PayPal, which helps to regulate a safe and secure avenue for fiscal transactions to take place without the risk of sending currency through the mail.
But more pertinent to the automotive industry is eBay's ability to offer auto enthusiasts an inclusive and easily navigated web site to sell and purchase parts and vehicles that normally would end up collecting dust in garages or rusting in junkyards. Now enthusiasts, while in their own home, can locate the correct air cleaner for their '66 350-power Sting Ray without having to go with a new, reproduced part. Many restorers, car builders, and enthusiasts regard eBay as the final barometer of the price a certain part will yield in the marketplace. It sets the baseline for many parts collectors and fans in the Corvette hobby as it connects collector and enthusiast demands with the direct supplier. tens of thousands of automobiles have been auctioned off on the internet auction site.