Tales From The Cooler: O, Barrett Where Art Thou?

Virgil Hilts
by Virgil Hilts
tales from the cooler o barrett where art thou

I will admit that I am a Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction fanboi. I spent last week in Detroit during the NAIAS, and thus had to skip my annual trip to Scottsdale, Arizona for their auction extravaganza, one of the greatest automotive events in this country. However, amidst all the breathless reporting about Barrett-Jackson selling the original Batmobile for $4.6M, you might have missed the story of a rare fail by the auction giant.

Last month, Barrett-Jackson announced they were pulling their auction out of Orange County, California, one of their four annual venues, after only three years. Their reasoning was that they failed to make money and were discouraged by the high cost of setting up their tents at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. I was in attendance last summer and can tell you the real issues were Barrett-Jackson’s middling selection of exciting cars on the block and the wide choice of events for the automotive enthusiast in Orange County that weekend. It’s a tough automotive room out here.

Don’t me wrong – Barrett-Jackson put on a good show in terms of the scores of cool car vendors and the overall scene. But when it came to the “wow” factor of the cars for sale, they struggled at this locale. About half of the show’s 415 vehicles on the block in 2012 were mere filler. It is difficult for buyer or spectator to get excited about a stock 2008 Mustang Cobra or a 2000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Barrett-Jackson officials admitted that the selling prices in Costa Mesa were lower than had the same cars been sold in Scottsdale, which translates into lower sale commissions for the house.

On any given weekend in Southern California, there are dozens of automotive events. In competition with Barrett-Jackson in Orange County was the renowned Saturday morning “Cars and Coffee” in nearby Irvine, which showcases 150 or so exotic, sports and muscle cars. Admission is free and the vehicles and their owners freely invite your inspection and conversation. On Barrett-Jackson weekend last year, I spotted this odd hybrid at Cars and Coffee:

In 2012, you could also travel a few miles down the road and attend the 30th annual Dana Point Concours d’Elegance, which last year honored the 24 Hours of Le Mans race and featured over 250 European and American classic cars and motorcycles:

Note to high-line auction organizers Bonham, Mecum, Russo and Steele, and the rest: if you choose to give Southern California a try, hold your event at the centrally located Fairgrounds in Pomona, not “behind the Orange Curtain,” check the calendar to avoid competing car events and gather the best cars you can find and you will do fine.

Now if you will excuse me, I have 50-plus taped hours of Speed’s coverage of Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale to watch…

Notes to the potential TTAC FNGs that Bertel is about to hire: 1. If you believe in a story, write it. I penned most of this tale last summer and decided it was not TTAC worthy, rather than let the editors make that decision. If published, I would have looked pretty smart now that Barrett-Jackson has pulled out of the OC. 2. If you are frantically studying TTAC writers’ styles before you submit your entry, you have come to the wrong man.

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4 of 19 comments
  • Olddavid Olddavid on Jan 22, 2013

    I haven't been to Arizona in January for several years, but my observation then was that people of my ilk, Boomers, are bidding up the cars emotionally rather than sensibly. Perhaps that has always been the case, but I cannot remember a garden variety Terraplane or Essex ever being sold for an outrageous amount back in the early days of the business. In the 60's, if you had a special-interest car, you either went to Pennsylvania with the true believers, or you called Bill Harrah. I was lucky enough to go to Reno with a Chalmers my Father had found in Wallace, Idaho. This mining town had a unique spot in Idaho history in that it supported a quasi-legal prostitution business for 100 years. Supposedly, a madame had been given this car. A truly bizarre car with each cylinder free standing and spark plugs the size of my nine year old fist. The hood had to be six feet long. The cash-flow needs of a young family caused my Dad to regret buying it immediately and look for a new owner. He had known Harrah for years as they were both step-down Hudson aficianados and decided the collection was to be its new home. Bill agreed, and we accompanied it to Nevada. The current wife-in-residence was Bobbi Gentry. If you're of a certain age, you'll remember "Ode to Billy Joe". I spent the whole three days following that beautiful woman everywhere she'd allow me. I still have fond memories of the song, the woman, the casino hotel, and that weird Chalmers.

  • Mklrivpwner Mklrivpwner on Jan 23, 2013

    VH, what's so odd about an early '80's El Camino with an after-market GTO front-clip. You can get the clip shipped to your front door (or your favorite garage). It looks like fattys in the rear, so I'm guessing an LT1 under the hood. 50/50 on it being blown.

  • 56m65711446 Well, I had a suburban auto repair shop in those days.
  • Dukeisduke Yikes - reading the recall info from NHTSA, this sounds like the Hyundai/Kia 2.4l Theta II "engine fire" recall, since it involves an engine block or oil pan "breach", so basically, throwing a rod:"Description of the Safety Risk : Engine oil and/or fuel vapor that accumulates near a sufficiently hot surface, below the combustion initiation flame speed, may ignite resulting in an under hood fire, and increasing the risk of injury. Description of the Cause :Isolated engine manufacturing issues have resulted in 2.5L HEV/PHEV engine failures involving engine block or oil pan breach. In the event of an engine block or oil pan breach, the HEV/PHEV system continues to propel the vehicle allowing the customer to continue to drive the vehicle. As the customer continues to drive after a block breach, oil and/or fuel vapor continues to be expelled and accumulates near ignition sources, primarily expected to be the exhaust system. Identification of Any Warning that can Occur :Engine failure is expected to produce loud noises (example: metal-to-metal clank) audible to the vehicle’s occupants. An engine failure will also result in a reduction in engine torque. In Owner Letters mailed to customers, Ford will advise customers to safely park and shut off the engine as promptly as possible upon hearing unexpected engine noises, after experiencing an unexpected torque reduction, or if smoke is observed emanating from the engine compartment."
  • Dukeisduke In an ideal world, cars would be inspected in the way the MoT in the UK does it, or the TÜV in Germany. But realistically, a lot of people can't afford to keep their cars to such a high standard since they need them for work, and widespread public transit isn't a thing here.I would like the inspections to stick around (I've lived in Texas all my life, and annual inspections have always been a thing), but there's so much cheating going on (and more and more people don't bother to get their cars inspected or registration renewed), so without rigorous enforcement (which is basically a cop noticing your windshield sticker is out of date, or pulling you over for an equipment violation), there's no real point anymore.
  • Zipper69 Arriving in Florida from Europe and finding ZERO inspection procedures I envisioned roads crawling with wrecks held together with baling wire, duct tape and prayer.Such proved NOT to be the case, plenty of 20-30 year old cars and trucks around but clearly "unsafe at any speed" vehicles are few and far between.Could this be because the median age here is 95, so a lot of low mileage vehicles keep entering the market as the owners expire?
  • Zipper69 At the heart of GM’s resistance to improving the safety of its fuel systems was a cost benefit analysis done by Edward Ivey which concluded that it was not cost effective for GM to spend more than $2.20 per vehicle to prevent a fire death. When deposed about his cost benefit analysis, Mr. Ivey was asked whether he could identify a more hazardous location for the fuel tank on a GM pickup than outside the frame. Mr. Ivey responded, “Well yes…You could put in on the front bumper.”