An Auto Auction's Bumper Crop

American beauties like a 1954 Pontiac Bonneville got high prices at the Barrett-Jackson event in Scottsdale. But top dollar went to a weird GM Futurliner bus

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The 2006 Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Scottsdale is now history. And like the most recent previous editions of this mega-auction for collector cars, history was made. Barrett-Jackson always seems to inspire superlatives -- the most registered bidders for a collector car auction, the most cars consigned, record prices achieved, most exhausting walk from one end of the site to the other. This year was no exception.

In fact, the Arizona desert seems to, like Brigadoon, shimmer every January with an oasis of cars that magically pull dollars from the pockets of everyone who comes. Need a vintage display bus that looks like streamlined Art Deco locomotive? You were in luck-- all it took was $4.3 million to drive away in the 1950 GM Futurliner "Parade of Progress" Bus.


  Or maybe your needs are more simple, say a car to drive to your vacation house on an island in the middle of a lake. For $143,000, you could have bought a 1964 Amphicar for both the overland and over-water trip.

The event's expansion to six days raised the question of how strong the sales each day would be. Here's the the answer. If the tent was open, people were buying: $3.8 million on Tuesday, Jan. 17; $8 million on Wednesday, Jan. 18; $10.4 million on Thursday, Jan. 19; $19.5 million on Friday, Jan. 20; and an extraordinary $48.8 million on Saturday, Jan. 21. This was followed by a $7.8 million finish on Sunday, Jan. 22. In total, the auction took in more than $98 million.

Plus, the prices were strong across the board. Many look to the January sale to take the market's temperature and to identify emerging value trends. In considering the Barrett-Jackson results, however, a bit of qualification is always in order. This event tells you more about what people will do when caught up in a superheated, testosterone-driven live-TV whirlpool than what might happen at other auctions on any given day.


  Craig Jackson, CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction, has been quoted many times saying the auction doesn't lead the buyers in the market, it follows them. If they want big American classics from the 1930s, that's what they will find. If it's Italian sports cars, you'd find them. Muscle cars? Customs? Street rods? Each has had their day at Barrett-Jackson.

This year, the trend seemed to move once again toward something different. While the bulk of consignments were certainly the expected muscle cars, there were many fewer street rods and customs, and more European cars and a few more American classics. They didn't bring the headline prices, but they were there.

The European contingent didn't feature many Italian cars. And outnumbering even the Jaguars and Austin-Healeys were Mercedes-Benz and Porsches. An interesting sight was the surprising number of VW Beetles on hand as well. They included a 1956 Cabriolet with every accessory offered by the factory and period aftermarket suppliers. An over-the-top restoration in a great color, it went for $56,000. At the top end, a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gullwing" coupe, a very high-quality restoration that has been driven on tours, sold for an astonishing $621,000.


  The most dramatic results remained in American cars. Following last year's record sale of the Oldsmobile F-88 Motorama show car at $3.2 million, much attention fell on one of its sister cars, a 1954 Pontiac Bonneville show car. It didn't disappoint, finding a new home at $3.02 million. If it hadn't been overshadowed by the Futureliner, it would have been the star of the show.

Top-rank muscle cars continued to display great strength at the sale, as always led by Chrysler products. "Mopar" hemis are still as hot as ever, with three selling for more than a half-million dollars. Top of the heap was $2.1 million for a 1970 Plymouth 'Cuda convertible. Coming up to meet the Mopar numbers was a Chevy, the National Hot Rod Assn.'s World Championship drag-race-winning 1970 Chevelle LS6 convertible, which attained an astounding $1.2 million. Not far behind was a 1953 Corvette, serial number "003," which fetched just over a million dollars.

Also notable were three Fords, a brand-new 2007 Shelby GT500 selling for $648,000, a 1966 Cobra at $594,000, and a vintage 1968 Mustang 428 CJ at $513,000.


  While the prices seen at Barrett-Jackson may not be repeatable everywhere, many segments of the collector car market are carried along on its slipstream. Talk of "bubbles" in parts of the market is still being heard, but no weaknesses could readily be spotted at the sale.

Lest one think that Barrett-Jackson is a place only for the rarest, most unusual, or expensive cars, even bargains can be found. A nice 1995 Cadillac deVille sedan, clean and with below-average mileage was sold for $5,070. That's less than the book value at your corner used-car dealer. You never know what you'll see at this annual festival of extremes.

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