By on January 22, 2013

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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19 Comments on “Tales From The Cooler: O, Barrett Where Art Thou?...”

  • avatar

    As a British car fan there is not much at these big auctions I like. There is only so many domestic cars and hot rods I want to see. All made worse by what I think are sky high prices for mediocre offerings.

  • avatar
    Carl Kolchak

    Could part of the move be that California wants to tax ALL human activity? Collector cars, especially with Barrett-Jackson’s profile, are viewed as big money. I don’t trust a state that whose taxation agency is the”Board of Equalization”.

  • avatar

    I went to Scottsdale a few years ago and had a great time.

    This year, their catalog for Scottsdale had a 1953 Willys Jeepster which caught my eye because my folks owned a ’49 (same color) and because there’s no such thing as a ’53. I called that to their attention, but they didn’t change it. Their website said they did sell it, although I didn’t see it sold on TV. I had hoped to see it go across the block because I wanted to know what they would say about that.

    • 0 avatar

      I went to Scottsdale about 6 years ago, and it was a good time. Got myself a bidder’s pass and drank for free for 5 days.

      However, you quickly realize that there are better auctions on at the same time. RM for the really, really high end stuff. Mecum for the muscle. Etc. BJ is too busy making money off of sponsorship/swag/TV rights to worry about small details anymore (like the cars it has up for auction).

  • avatar

    Gimme the El Pontimino or the Mustang. But yeah I’d rather go to cars and coffee.

  • avatar

    Has anyone ever tracked the ratio of Barrett-Jackson sales vs. expected prices as a measure of the economy’s health?

    As a believer in trickle-down prosperity, I would think a robust Barrett-Jackson auction is a good indicator of economic health, although half the country wouldn’t agree with me.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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