The Insider’s Guide to Scottsdale Auto Auctions

By local contributor
Matthew de Paula

Every January, throngs of car fans descend on WestWorld of Scottsdale in numbers that exceed the population of the city itself. At the epicenter of this motoring Mecca is the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction.

Started in the 1960s by Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson as a charity car show, Barrett-Jackson evolved into an auto auction in the early ‘70s and has since exploded into a nine-day, televised extravaganza that draws 350,000 attendees, exhibitors, consignors and bidders.

“The auction site itself is 74 acres of cars and tents,” says Craig Jackson, chairman and CEO of Barrett-Jackson. “One million, one hundred thousand square feet of structure is put up, the world’s largest temporary structure by Guinness Book of World Records.”

When Jackson assumed leadership of the company in 1995, he made pivotal and sometimes bold moves to get Barrett-Jackson where it is today – things like focusing on muscle cars, televising events and going online, to name a few. Year after year of growth eventually piqued the interest of other auctioneers, who now join the motor madness that is loosely called Arizona Auto Auction Week.

Just about every major automotive auction house has an event in or around Scottsdale concurrent with Barrett-Jackson. Events run daily, from Jan. 11-19, 2020, and can be quite the spectacle. Like in 2013, when famed Hollywood custom-car maker George Barris rode in on the original Batmobile he created for the ‘60s television series – with the show’s iconic theme song playing over the loudspeakers and the bat symbol projected on the ceiling. “The place just went nuts,” Jackson says. “It brought $4.62 million.”

In scale and earnings, Barrett-Jackson is by far the largest Scottsdale auction. It sold more than 1,800 vehicles in 2019, totaling more than $118 million, with an average sale price of $69,000. At the other end of the spectrum is Gooding & Company, which sold less than one-tenth of what Barrett-Jackson did in 2019 but managed to do so over two days rather than nine, and at far higher transaction prices, averaging a staggering $457,000.

“We’re the two extremes, Barrett-Jackson and ourselves,” says David Gooding, president and co-founder of Santa Monica-based Gooding & Company. “And a lot of the other companies kind of fall somewhere on the spectrum between us.”

This year, those companies include Russo & Steele, Bonhams, RM Sotheby’s and Leake Action Company, a newcomer to the market.

“The interesting thing about Scottsdale is that it’s all about the auctions,” says auction historian Rick Carey. Whereas the major auto auctions held elsewhere usually piggyback with other collector-car events, like the Pebble Beach or Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, in Scottsdale the auctions themselves are the main event.

Many flock to the high-profile auto auctions for a glimpse of ultra-rare machines like the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster that went for $9.9 million at RM Sotheby’s in 2016 and is the most expensive car ever auctioned in Scottsdale (read about the top 10 most expensive cars sold in Scottsdale here). Others thrill in the entertainment of the adrenaline-filled auctions themselves, the air in the room effervescing with anticipation over bids to be won and lost. And, in the case of Barrett-Jackson, there is much to do besides the auctions, from buying gently used Hermes Birken bags to taking thrill rides. “You can go on ride-and-drives in new cars, see over 200 vendors selling all sorts of lifestyle items,” Jackson says.

With so many events crammed into a little more than a week, keeping track of all there is to see can be daunting. To make things a little easier, we’ve put together an overview of what to expect at each of the venues during Arizona Auction Week 2020.

 


Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction

Jan. 11-19, 2020

WestWorld of Scottsdale

Admission: $21-$195 (see website for details)


Barrett-Jackson sells nearly every car at no reserve, which lends to the anything-can-happen excitement, further enhanced by the stadium-size venue and fast pace. Auctions run Sunday to Sunday, with the highest-profile lots culminating on Saturday. Side attractions include an opening-night gala and a restoration section with live builds and other interactive activities.

Spectacles aside, this auction house plays an important role in the collector-car market, as a barometer for the latest trends. What does well here will ripple through the rest of the industry throughout the year.

“They almost singlehandedly created the category of resto-mods,” Carey says, referring to the now-popular muscle cars that are refurbished and modified with modern components. This year, ‘90s Japanese cars, which have been picking up steam in recent years, are expected to make a splash.

"You’re seeing a large influx of Gen-Xers and Millennials starting to buy cars,” Jackson says. “In fact, in Scottsdale, they almost matched the Boomers for their buying power. And they like a different car than the Boomers.”

One of the headlining lots for 2020 is a group of 21 vehicles from the personal collection of the late Paul Walker, known for starring in the Fast and the Furious franchise. The lot includes seven BMW M3s – yes, seven! – Chevrolet Chevelle and Nova station wagons, and a 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302S race car.

In keeping with its roots, Barrett-Jackson always auctions various vehicles for charity at no commission. Last year, it raised $9.6 million for charity. In 2020, one noteworthy inclusion will be VIN 001 of the highly anticipated 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, to be auctioned on behalf of Chevrolet and for which 100% of the proceeds will benefit Detroit Children’s Fund. 

 


Gooding & Company Collector Car Auction

Jan. 15-18, 2020

Scottsdale Fashion Square

Admission: $40-$100


Don’t be fooled by Gooding & Company’s smaller scale relative to Barrett-Jackson: its auctions are big, having routinely set sales records in recent years. Four of the top 10 most expensive cars ever auctioned in Scottsdale were through Gooding, including one from 2019 – a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Scaglietti Berlinetta that went for $7,595,000.

Unlike Barrett-Jackson, which has something for everyone, with a broad range of vehicle types and prices, Gooding & Company skews toward the high end, with a focus on European sports cars. Other top sellers for 2019 included a $5,890,000 1958 Ferrari 250 GT TdF and a 1953 Ferrari 250 MM Spider that sold for $5,395,000.

Buyers at the very top of the market have grown more demanding in recent years. “It really matters a hell of a lot more now what the condition of the car is, whether it’s original or beautifully restored and what its history is,” Gooding says. “There’s still a lot of money out there and still a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, but the buyers are being very picky, so the average or less-than-average cars are dropping off in price considerably.”

Viewings, where attendees can check out the vehicles to be auctioned ahead of any hammer drop, start Jan. 15, while the auctions themselves run Jan. 17-18. Only those vehicles valued in excess of $250,000 will carry a reserve.

 


RM Sotheby’s Arizona Auction

Jan. 15-17, 2020

Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix

Admission: $200 (bidder registration fee to auction, includes guest)


RM Sotheby’s, known primarily for high-dollar European sports cars, is a joint venture between Ontario, Canada-based RM Auctions and British-founded, New York-based Sotheby’s.

It has seen four of the top 10 most expensive cars ever to be sold in Scottsdale, including the priciest of all: the aforementioned 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster that went for $9.9 million in 2016. It sold around 130 cars in 2019 for a total of nearly $37 million, at a relatively lofty average price of $281,000.

The top sale for 2019 was a 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO at $3,360,000, the highest price ever paid for one at a North American auction, according to Hagerty. Other notable sales include a 2019 McLaren Senna at $1,457,500 and a 2010 Porsche 911 Sport Classic, which sold for $654,000.

Previews on Jan. 15-17 are open to the public, but the auctions on Jan. 16 and 17 are only open to ticket holders. Also worth mentioning is that The Arizona Biltmore is notable for having been designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

 


The Bonhams Scottsdale Auction

Jan. 16, 2020

The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa

Admission: $30-$100


 This London-based auction house is known for top-dollar European sports cars, including the third most expensive car ever to be auctioned in Scottsdale: a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB Competizione Pininfarina Coupe that brought $9,405,000 in 2015. It also sold a 1963 Jaguar XKE SI Lightweight Competition for $7,370,000 in 2017, making it the 10th most expensive car auctioned here.

In 2019, Bonhams sold a little more than 100 cars in Scottsdale for a total of $16.1 million and an average price of $149,000. The mix of vehicles was broad and included so-called “Youngtimer” vehicles, which are cars with collector value that are not yet classics.

Top sellers for 2019 included a 1951 Maserati A6G 2000 Spider at $2.8 million and a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing that brought $1.1 million.

 


Russo & Steele Collector Automobile Auction

January 15-19

18601 North Scottsdale Road

Admission: $20-$30


Russo & Steele, founded in 2001 by Drew and Josephine Alcazar, is one of the more approachable venues, with a unique “auction in the round” format that puts bidders and spectators right on the floor, fanned out in a circle around the car being auctioned, so everyone feels like they’re part of the action.

In 2019, it did the second highest volume, with 308 cars sold for a total of nearly $12 million. Its broad mix of European sports cars, American muscle cars and hot rods brought the lowest average price by far at $38,500, making it the most accessible in terms of pricing.

Previews begin on Jan. 15, with the auctions themselves running Jan. 16-19.

 


Leake Auction Company

Jan. 15-19, 2020

Salt River Fields

Admission: $20-$25


Leake is new to Scottsdale but has been auctioning cars since 1964. It will feature more than 100 cars from private collector John Staluppi, including a 1949 Dodge Power Wagon, 1956 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, 1959 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Convertible, 1966 Lincoln Continental Convertible, 1966 Pontiac GTO, 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, 1970 Dodge Charger Custom Daytona, and a 2012 Lexus LFA.