The First Timer’s Guide to the Barrett-Jackson Auction

If you are an auto enthusiast and have never been to Barrett-Jackson’s auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, then clearly you better get this added to your bucket list.  Other than racing events, it is arguably one of the top ten automotive events in the country and every enthusiast must experience this outstanding event, at least once.  And there’s the hitch; once you do attend, it will become an annual pilgrimage requiring you to block out the third week in January.  This year the dates are January 13th to January 20th and it takes place at Westworld in Scottsdale, Arizona. As a “Corvetter” (AKA lover, enthusiast, fanatic) there is no other place to be. 

At the January 2013 auction, Barrett-Jackson will offer over 125 quality Corvettes of every generation.  In addition they will auction over 1,200 other collector vehicles, from entry level cars to classics valued well in excess of a million dollars. To take advantage of all the extravaganza has to offer requires thorough planning and the desire to experience one of the best shows in the automobile world.   If you’re succumbing to the siren’s song luring you to Craig Jackson’s lavish spectacular and it is your first time, it would be wise to read on.

Time Management

In preparation, prior to the event, you need to decide how many days you will spend at the auction, whether you will be going alone, with family or a friend, and if you will be planning to bid or just observe.  This is important so you can allocate your time properly.  There is no doubt that Scottsdale has some of the finest resorts and restaurants in the country, so if you decided to bring the family or your spouse there will be plenty to keep them busy while you are at the auction.  I recommend that you attend with someone that enjoys cars as much as you, because if you are like most, you will find that you tend to stay a lot longer than planned and it’s great to be able to discuss the cars prior to them crossing the block.  

The first year I attended, at breakfast Tuesday morning, I told my wife that I was going to be at the auction until 5 PM.  She was planning on shopping (there is no shortage of fine stores in Scottsdale) and then making a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert architectural masterpiece, Taliesin West, just minutes away from the hotel. Then we’d meet for dinner. The short version of this story is that I got so engrossed in the myriad of cars on display that I forgot both dinner plans and my cell phone, and was happily there until after 9 PM.  This is not the time or place to talk about how that went over.  But that is the way it is at Barrett Jackson.  There is always more to see, more to do and that’s a good thing, as long as you plan for it. Having someone there with you makes the activities more enjoyable.  

Getting Your Affairs in Order

For the sake of this article we will assume you will not be going to the auction as a consignor (the term used for someone offering a car for sale) because if you were, your car would already be on its way, along with the paperwork and title to Gary Bennett, vice president of consignment, and his staff.  Barrett–Jackson is a stickler for details and everything must be in order for you to have your car in the auction.  There can be no liens on the title and the ownership of the car has to be verified. 

The staff at Barrett–Jackson cannot be bothered trying to sort out the details after the bidding is complete, so they take extra care to insure that everything is in order well before auction day.  They do not want anything complicating the sale – when the hammer falls, the high bidder owns the car. No time to reconsider or rethink your bid, so make absolutely sure before you raise that bidder’s paddle that you want this car and are willing to pay for it.  No second chances or bid retractions.  All inspections should be made, and all questions asked before the car heads to the block.   One important note here: Barrett-Jackson does not guarantee the consignor’s information; all information must be verified by the bidder.

Prior to attending it is highly recommended to thoroughly review the auction catalog and the cars that you are interested in either to just inspect or to possibly bid on. One of the biggest mistakes that a first time attendee makes is thinking they will get there and sort it all out then.  FAIL!   It just can’t be done.  There is too much to see and do.  In addition, some requirements must be completed in advance if you want to bid.  You need to go with a plan and stick to it.  

We have all heard the very true stories of bidders that got caught up in the excitement and bid far in excess of what a car was worth…

If you are interested in bidding, narrow down those cars that you want to inspect and establish a price you want to pay.  I have always found it helpful to research similar cars on the internet and place three values on any car which you may want to bid on. The first step is to determine the condition of the car based on what you can learn from the catalog.  That in turn will determine the values you find in your research. Then, list the low, high and what I call “stretch value”.   The first value is self explanatory.  It’s the other two values that are important.  The “high” is the dollar amount you are willing to bid for the car you’ve examined, and that should be your stopping point, the point where you drop the paddle and move on.  Realistically, though, that frequently does not happen, so if it is a car you can’t live without, then the stretch amount is the absolute highest price you would bid.

We have all heard the very true stories of bidders that got caught up in the excitement and bid far in excess of what a car was worth.  You can say it won’t happen to you, but imagine this scenario:  You’re bidding against another collector and the bid has just reached your bid limit. The other bidder ups your last bid by a thousand dollars.  SpeedTV’s camera zooms in on you, and one of Spanky’s ringmen is prompting you to bid again.  You imagine your face on TV,  thousands of people are watching you, waiting to see if you are “man enough” to outbid your competitor.  It no longer is about the car; it’s about winning and losing.  It’s about testosterone!  When it’s over, you paid $10,000 more than your stretch bid! Believe me it can happen to you. It can happen to anyone!

Money Talks

Doing your homework and setting your limit is also important because in addition to the hammer price, a bidder will pay an additional 10% of the purchase price to Barrett-Jackson as a buyer’s premium.  (If you are bidding on the extensive offering of “Automobilia” the buyer’s premium is 15%.)  It this point you have a pretty good idea of just how much you are willing to outlay for the car.  

Once you determine that total amount, you will need to get a bank Letter of Guaranty which says that the bank is holding your money and will pay the guaranteed amount of money from your account for payment to Barrett-Jackson. This letter should be written in the amount including the buyer’s premium.   So, for example if you are interested in a car and your stretch bid amount was $50,000, then, including the premium, you would need to get a bank letter guaranteeing $55,000.  It is important to realize that if you exceeded the letter amount you cannot “pay the difference” on a credit card or with a personal check.  Credit cards are not accepted as a form of payment except for the required bidder’s registration fee of $500.  

You can also use a wire transfer letter of guarantee for bidders using banks outside the US, or you can use a “bid limit deposit” which requires you to pay $9,000 in cash or certified check (no personal checks or credit cards accepted) to be able to bid up to $90,000.  The difference must be paid immediately at hammer fall with cash, certified check, or wire transfer.  Barrett-Jackson also endorses Woodside Credit as a way to finance your car, but you must be approved prior to the sale for a specified limit.  It is recommended to check out the Barrett-Jackson bidder’s page to insure all the qualifications to bid are met.   

There are several other documents and forms which require completion before you receive a bidder’s paddle.  The aforementioned $500 bidder fee  gives you two tickets to every day of the auction, a preferred parking pass, and a reserved bidder chair on the auction floor.  The registration fee can be paid with a credit card, but all registration fees are non refundable.  You will also be asked to submit a recent color photograph so it can be put on your bidder ID.

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Once all your pre-auction research is done and, if you will be bidding, the fees paid and the required documents submitted and approved, the next step is to plan your week in Scottsdale.  Keep in mind that there are four other auctions going on at the same time.  Russo & Steele, RM Auctions, Gooding and Company, and Bonhams all have auctions going on during the week, and you may want to check out specific cars being offered by these companies.  The first thing to determine, however, is when the cars you specifically want to watch or bid on will cross the block at Barrett-Jackson and block those out on your schedule.  I have found that a cell phone calendar works well for this.  Make sure in your planning that you allow travel time to and from the auction, keeping in mind that there will be in excess of 150,000 other excited attendees.  There is plenty of parking and shuttle services to get you to and from the auction.  

Be prepared to make new friends while you watch the "prime time" auctions.

You may want to consider buying your tickets in advance to take advantage of discount pricing.  Prices vary by the day and type of ticket purchased.  If you’re a serious enthusiast I recommend buying the Weekly Pass.  If purchased before 1-12 this will cost $120 for an adult, $100 for a senior (+55), military or student.  Purchasing at the gate will add $40 and $30 respectively.  Daily tickets average $15 to $30 Monday through Thursday and jump Friday and Saturday to $45 and $55.  Keep in mind that to accommodate the local enthusiasts who work during the day an evening only ticket is offered at a considerable savings.

Scope out all the tents first, then prioritize the cars you want to see

Your first reaction after entering the 132 acres, known as Westworld when Barrett-Jackson isn’t occupying it, is being overwhelmed: “Where should I go and what should I do first?”  You see for the first time the quarter mile, 1800 foot long iconic auction tent.  It rises 90 feet into the desert sky and covers seven acres.  In addition there are eleven other tents and over 215 vendors and 34 food companies.  The main tent houses the featured premier cars, the automobilia collection, the auction area which seats over 10,000,  the host car manufacturers’ displays, as well as several vendors selling everything from original automobile art to gold and diamonds and fast food.  If you are going to be at the auction all week, I’d recommend saving this tent until later and inspect the featured cars in small segments rather than trying to see them all at one time.  These cars are so special and many are historically significant so it takes time to really enjoy these cars.  Trying to see all of them at one time can be overwhelming and you will be sure to miss a lot of details.  

Cars in the smaller tents will be auctioned ahead of those featured in the main pavilion, and buyers have 72 hours to take posession and move their new purchases off the property.

You need to be aware that in addition to the featured cars, which are generally auctioned off on Friday and Saturday, there are also over a thousand other collector cars that you will want to see. These will be auctioned off during the first part of the week and on Sunday.  You will want to check these out just in case you find a “sleeper” that you might want to bid on.  In addition to the predetermined researched cars that you highlighted earlier, you will want to take a “quick tour” of all the tents and cars, making notes on those you want to inspect further.  This is not the tour to do an inspection.  You can return after you have a complete idea of the cars you want to spend time on.  A word of caution here:  More than once I have heard first time attendees say they spent way too much time closely looking at cars in the first tent, and because there were so many cars they didn’t get to spend the time they wanted on the cars in which they were really interested.  Scope out all the tents first, then prioritize the cars you want to see, and if there are any you may want to bid on allow plenty of time to inspect them.  

Due Diligence

As mentioned before, make sure all inspections are thoroughly completed and every question asked and verified before bidding.  Inspect the documentation on the car.  If you are not an expert or under-qualified to do a thorough, accurate inspection, there are on site services that will perform this for a fee.  If the car you are looking at claims to be numbers-matching car, make sure you verify this.  You are buying this car “As Is –Where Is” and though the consignor may make some assertions about their car, Barrett-Jackson claims no responsibility to verify this information or any information about the car.  It is up to the buyer to determine whether this information is accurate.

You want to allow plenty of time to inspect the feature cars of the auction

Section B of the bidder’s agreement states, “Buyer represents that the amounts bid for any Lot are based solely on Buyer’s own independent inspection and evaluation of that Lot.”  This is a standard practice in the auction business.  If you later find out that the car you purchased was not what it was claimed to be by the consignor, in short – too bad!  “Caveat Emptor.”  This isn’t to scare you, and there are relatively few disputes due to misrepresentation but it does happen, so forewarned is forearmed.  Be prepared and make sure you have thoroughly had the car checked out.

You want to allow plenty of time to inspect the feature cars of the auction.  These are the cars that will be auctioned on Friday and Saturday, the peak days of the auction.  Though known throughout the world for offering and auctioning some of the world’s greatest muscle cars, last year Craig Jackson brought to the block a group of historically significant, award winning, classic cars and they brought the highest prices of the auction.  Known as the Salon Collection, Jackson is once again putting together a group of these cars that are expected to be the most expensive and exciting cars of the auction. 

This year the Salon Collection includes the 1955 Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwing, originally owned by Clark Gable; the Owens-Corning 1968 Corvette L88 race car, the most winning Corvette in history; a beautiful 1962 Corvette Restomod, winner of the Good Guys Street Machine of the Year and the SEMA GM design award; a 1972 Ferrari GTB/4 Daytona Coupe; and a 1947 Talbot Lago T26 Grand Sport, one of only three with Franay coachwork. You could easily spend a day with these fifty-four cars alone.  

One of the lots up for bid in the Salon Collection is the Owens-Corning 1968 L88 racer.

A Spectator Sport

If you’re like most,  85% of your time will be spent either checking out and inspecting the cars and watching the auction which starts in the morning and runs until late at night.  Generally the auction builds during the week with entry level collectible cars crossing the block early in the week and the more expensive and important cars selling later in the week.  Most attendees want to be inside the auction tent watching on Friday and Saturday, so as you plan the week keep that in mind.  By late Friday, most of the cars in the perimeter tents have been sold and cars crossing the block on Friday and Saturday are inside the main tent, which is another thing to keep in mind as you plan your week.  

Watching Spanky Assiter, the auctioneer, and his team of ringmen working the bidders and the crowd, especially during the charity auctions and the Salon Collection, will be worth the admission price.  GM Chairman Dan Akerson’s personal 1958 Regal turquoise Corvette will be auctioned Friday night for the benefit of Habitat for Humanity, which will be another highlight not to be missed.


The excitement of watching bidding wars for featured cars is part of what draws so many people to watch in person at Barrett-Jackson.

Don’t pass up the manufacturer’s displays.  This year GM and Ford are the official sponsors. They offer some interesting exhibits and both will be offering “hot laps” where guests can ride with professional drivers around a track.  There will also be several automobile aftermarket suppliers and accessory vendors.  Three years ago I unexpectedly got the best deal ever on a full set of tires for my Denali from one of the tire vendors.  Keep your eyes open – if you are looking for anything specific you might get a great deal.

It is not advisable to try and drive the car home, no matter how good the condition may be…

You Won! Now What?

So after you placed your final bid and have won your car, the last thing to deal with is removing it from the premises.   All cars must be claimed and gone no more than 72 hours after the sale of the car.  So keep in mind that if you buy a car on Tuesday is needs to be on a truck or trailer by Saturday.  A word of warning here:  it is not advisable to try and drive the car home, no matter how good the condition may be.  Licensing and emissions laws vary by state and can carry a heavy fine.  Either trailer the car yourself or have it shipped.  There are several shipping companies available on site.

That’s about a wrap on one of the most exciting automobile events you’ll ever attend.  If Craig Jackson and his team don’t put on the greatest show on earth, they certainly put on the greatest automobile show.  It’s a week-long rush of adrenalin being surrounded by some great collector cars.  And of course Craig and his team have to continually top themselves.  Last year they auctioned for charity serial number 1 of the 2013 427 Corvette convertible.  Chevrolet donated the $600,000 selling price to the AARP Drive for Hunger.

This "mystery" lot will almost certainly be the first C7 available for sale...

This year there is a charity lot number with no description other than “Special Chevrolet” in the auction catalog, number 3016.  This is the same technique Barrett-Jackson used last year to sell the 427 convertible, not announcing it until a week before the auction.  This year’s mystery car is scheduled to cross the block just after the Salon Collection in the peak of the auction.  You can take your own guess, but my money says lot 3016 is the number 2 production C7 (the number 1 goes to the Heritage Center.)  On 1-13-13 as every “Vetter” knows, the C7 will be unveiled to the media.  What better way to introduce the new generation C7 to the public than in the East at the Detroit Auto Show, and in the West at Barrett-Jackson?  The only difference would be, if your pockets are deep enough you can become the very first “official owner” of the C7.  What a finale that would be for your first trip to Barrett-Jackson…  See ya next year!

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About the author

Rick Tavel

Rick Tavel is a freelance automotive journalist and an avid car enthusiast. Though he spent his professional career as a business executive now retired he devotes his time to writing, organizing Corvette events, and consulting for his company, R/TCorvetteConsultants. He is currently working on a book about the significance and development of the C5 Fixed Roof Coupe. Along with his book, he is also working on a registry for these cars. He currently owns a show quality survivor Trans Am, a Corvette C5 FRC and a Corvette C6 coupe.
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