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Arizona Auction 2008 Recap
By Larry Edsall
The gavels have fallen on the big Arizona collector car auction week and the results are coming in from Barrett-Jackson, Russo and Steele, RM and Gooding. I’m not ignoring Silver or International Classic, and the Kruse International doesn’t start until later this week, but, let’s face it, the barometer for the American collector car market is set twice each year – here in Arizona in January and then again at Monterey in August – and it’s set by the prices bid and accepted at the primary and newsworthy auctions. Before the season opened here, I offered you a list of what I considered to be the 10 most interesting vehicles on the Arizona auction block. What I propose to do now is to use that same list to offer some commentary, not only on those vehicles, but on the classic car scene as we took its pulse while shuttling back and forth from WestWorld to the Biltmore to Fashion Square to Drew Alcazar’s temporary if terrific collector car lot at the corner of Scottsdale Road and the 101:

10. 1904 Thomas Model 27 racer
(Kruse International)

Auctions such as Kruse’s serve as grass roots entry points into the car collecting hobby, hobby though the company’s annual and huge hometown event, held in conjunction with the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Festival in Auburn, Indiana is a highlight of the Midwestern car culture calendar. Many of us rekindled our love of the classics at such events and, let’s face, a vehicle such as this 104-year-old racer is just downright fascinating.

9. 1947 Chevrolet Fleetliner street rod
(sold for $100,000 at RM)

If Pebble Beach can have a class for hot rods, so can a very high-end collector car auction held on the hallowed grounds of the Arizona Biltmore resort. Once upon a time, car collecting was only about the huge and complicated classic cars from a bygone era and bazillion-dollar sports cars bedecked with prancing horses. Now, there are hot rods and restomods and customs and muscle cars and an expanding hobby and that’s good for everyone – collectors, restoration shops, auction companies and, yes, even websites such as this one.

8. 2008 Ford Shelby GT500KR 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT/8 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
(sold for a combined $1.95 million at Barrett-Jackson)

I grouped this trio together because each was the first of its breed being offered for public sale, and proceeds from those sales were going to charity. Even before there was a Barrett-Jackson collector car auction, there was the Fiesta de los Auto Elegantes, staged by Russ Jackson and Tom Barrett to share their passion for classic vehicles and to raise money for Scottsdale’s library and art center. Contributing to charity remains a cornerstone of the Barrett-Jackson auction and the first public sale of Detroit’s newest supercars, of vehicles such as one of Tony Stewart’s race-winning stock cars, John Schneider’s General Lee – and the celebrities they attract (Jay Leno was at Barrett-Jackson for the first time this year because of the ZR1) are among the “only at Barrett-Jackson” moments that have made this auction the greatest show on collector car portion of the earth.

7. 1929 Duesenberg Model J dual cowl phaeton
(sold for $1.6 million at RM, with two other Model J Dusies also bringing a million or more at Gooding and Barrett-Jackson)

Isn’t there something comforting in the fact that even while the collector car market goes through a market correction, Model J Duesenbergs remain million-dollar machines? I wish my mutual funds were holding their values nearly as well.

6. 1941 Raymond Loewy Lincoln Continental
(sold for $451,000 at Gooding)

Provenance is huge in the classic car world. As if ’41 Continentals aren’t rare and significant enough, here’s one with a custom body fashioned by Raymond Loewy, one of the top designers of the 20th Century. At Barrett-Jackson, Carroll Shelby’s personal ’69 GT500 convertible brought $675,000; the ’67 fastback he gave to his son, Mike, got $330,000; and speaking of designers, the “Pink Lady” Pontiac convertible that Harley Earl had custom-built in the GM factory for his wife, Sue, went for $225,000. In these cases, people are buying more than a car; they’re buying a piece of automotive culture.

5. 1957 Maserati Tipo 54
(bid to $1.25 million but not sold at RM)

Talk about provenance, this car was driven by Moss and Fangio, and has a dark side to its history as well, including an owner in trouble with the IRS and reportedly killed by a former “business” associate. Another racecar with history – a 1963 Shelby Cobra – sold for $1.575 million at RM, and a racing connection helped bump the price on a “new” 1969 Chevrolet Camaro to $575,000 at Barrett-Jackson, where the first in a series of 50 cars being built in conjunction with Richard Childress Racing sold. This first of the RCR Series 3 Camaros is called the “Intimidator,” not only a tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. but powered by a race engine Earnhardt used in the Daytona 500. Old racecars are another example of the diversity that’s emerged within the classic car hobby. Of all the track veterans I saw at four auction venues, my favorite was the 1962 Weinberger Homes sprint car, a three-time Little 500 winner that went for $47,000 at Barrett-Jackson.

4. 2007 Blastolene B-702
(sold for $475,000 at Barrett-Jackson)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’m sorry, but the bright yellow 1959 Ferrari 250 GT LWB California Spider that brought the high bid of the entire weekend -- $3 million at Gooding – doesn’t excite me in the least. Fortunately, the collector car hobby has room for all tastes. I admit it, I go gaga over the aerodynamic, teardrop-fendered 1930s French-coachbuilt cars, and I really like this artistic if somewhat outrageous tribute to that genre.

3. 1963 Chevrolet Corvette “Rondine” 1963 Ford Thunderbird “Italien”
(sold for a combined $2.2 million at Barrett-Jackson)

In recent years, the sale of concept cars has become one of the highlights at Barrett-Jackson. Some – especially their consigners -- may be disappointed that this pair didn’t bring the bucks bid on the F-88, the Bonneville Special or the GM Futurliner, but in today’s economy and these vehicles’ place in concept car history, I’d argue that the cars’ value was not improperly indicated when the gavel fell.

2. 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt 1941 Chrysler Newport
(sold for a combined $1.88 million at RM)

While I thought the prices on the Rondine and Italien seemed fitting, I was surprised that these Chrysler concepts didn’t bring more money. Among significant American concept cars, these important pieces of American automotive history are predated only by General Motors’ famous Buick Y-Job.

1. Robosaurus
(sold for $575,000 at Barrett-Jackson)

I think a lot of people were surprised that this one-off, dragon-like, car-crushing machine didn’t bring bigger bids. With so much that was so interesting on the block Saturday evening at Barrett-Jackson, I wonder if it wasn’t just too much to absorb in a single evening at a single auction. The market may be correcting, but it’s also expanding. Gooding’s auction was its first in Arizona. This spring, Russo and Steele launches a new event in Florida. This fall, Barrett-Jackson adds Las Vegas to its auction venues. Something like 4000 vehicles were offered in Arizona, and Barrett-Jackson alone turned down that many more because even it’s big tent and week-long cornerstone event doesn’t provide enough time or space. We are seeing a correction in prices that had escalated in the last couple of years, but the feeding frenzy isn’t over. Forty-percent of the bidders at Barrett-Jackson were there for the first time. The bidders area at RM was standing-room only. Expanding television coverage and tuner TV shows are bringing more people into the hobby. The pulse of the classic car community is strong.

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