Great American Muscle Cars
The first Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction was held in the fall of 1971 in a field adjacent to the Safari Resort on Scottsdale Road. Cars such as a pair of Mercedes-Benz 770 Phaetons, assorted Duesenbergs, Packards and classic Cadillacs, as well as a couple of nice Woody wagons – their wood-trimmed flanks still intact, drew the attention of bidders and spectators alike.
They also drew some live national news coverage -- not from Speed Channel, but with respected newsman Roger Mudd reporting from the anchor desk in New York City on the auto auction action out in the still pretty wild west.
When that first Barrett-Jackson auction was held, Craig Jackson was a 12-year-old whose father put him in charge of parking cars – those being auctioned and those being driven to the auction by bidders and spectators.
The cars being auctioned were fascinating to the youngster, but Jackson never forgot the cars that were in the bidder and spectator parking lots, cars such as Pontiac GTOs and Chevrolet Chevelles and Plymouth ‘Cudas. Those so-called Detroit muscle cars were the daily drivers of car enthusiasts in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
One of those enthusiasts was Craig’s 26-year-old brother, Brian.
“I grew up hanging out with my brother and his buddies,” Craig remembers. ‘They drove Camaros and ‘Cudas and all of those kinds of cars.”
Those who drove Detroit muscle cars loved driving them, and loved being seen driving them. Perhaps more importantly, those who didn’t have Detroit muscle cars wanted one. No, let’s rephrase that: They coveted one.
“My brother was a true baby boomer,” Craig Jackson says. “He graduated in the early 1960s, right around the era of America Graffiti.”
That 1973 movie not only established George Lucas’ role as a Hollywood film maker, but memorialized the innocence of the hot-roddin,’ rockin’ ‘n’ rollin,’ teenage cruisin’ culture of the late 1950s and early ‘60s, an era shattered into a new reality by war in Southeast Asia and gunshots from a school book warehouse into the Presidential motorcade through Dallas.
The “muscle car” was launched in the fall of 1963 amid a cloud of blue-white smoke generated by the rubber peeling off the rear tires of what looked pretty much like your box stock 1964 Pontiac Tempest LeMans, except for the twin air scoops on its hood and the GTO badges on its grille and rear flanks.
Faced with a challenge on two fronts -- new federal safety regulations and the small and fuel-efficient compact cars being imported from overseas -- Detroit automakers had retreated from their horsepower race, and that included factory-backed involvement in auto racing. That not only frustrated powertrain engineers, but left marketing departments to find another way to appeal to that segment of young customers who inherently understood what the Beach Boys were singing on the B side of Surfin’ Safari. That, yes, indeed, 409, “she’s real fine.”
For a moment, we need to shift into Reverse and go back to the mid-1950s when Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen became general manager of General Motors’ Pontiac division, with Pete Estes as chief engineer and one John Z. DeLorean as Estes’ top aide (and yes, this same John Z. DeLorean would later apply his name to the stainless steel-bodied and Irish-built DeLorean car).
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