The Arizona Auction Week, and More!

That more than $200 million worth of cars changed hands during Arizona Auction Week in January was no real surprise, given the buoyant atmosphere found everywhere I went. We’ll hit on a couple major trends and a few personal highlights before delving into what is behind it all.

Personally, the first and most obvious trend (and one that is not on everyone’s radar) is the continual price divergence between original cars and their restored counterparts: witness the 1965 289 Shelby Cobra that brought $1.32 million “all in” (hammer price plus buyer’s premium) at Gooding’s. This was a stud car, in very nice untouched condition with a bulletproof provenance, and the same Cobra totally restored probably would have brought $500,000-600,000 less. As the old saying goes, “it’s only original once,” and more and more money is comprehending that and how such cars are truly archeological treasures. Prices for such machinery are thus escalating at a rapid pace.

Which isn’t always healthy or rational. Gooding also had a 1956 Lancia B24 Spider America that can be best described as tatty, like a dusty old couch with worn and torn upholstery, sagging seat cushions and some springs sticking out. Yet someone paid more than $800,000 all in, most interesting when I saw a very knowledgeable dealer friend enter the bidding around $500,000 on behalf of a client, and quickly drop out around $50,000 later. “I thought we were going to scoop it, coming in then,” he said. “But I was quickly proven wrong. That was just too insane.”

My favorite at RM was this stunning Auburn. That striking coachwork and one-off status made it a cheap entry ticket into any of the world’s great concours, where you would likely contend for major awards.

This made Gooding’s 1965 Buick Riviera Gran Sport an absolute bargain. This design icon was completely untouched, in showroom new condition, had three documented owners and around 15,000 miles on the odometer. For automotive historians a century from now, this car is a gold mine in a way the Lancia and almost every major concours-winning car is not, for it clearly shows how the finishes were when the car was originally built.

Another trend the Buick also highlights is American cars remain the bargain of the collector car market (a trend covered in detail here). Gooding’s ’68 Shelby GT500KR was a lot of car for the money at a shade over $100,000, but the American muscle that really bit me was their Plymouth Superbird at $165,000. This car is so whacked, so far out there and such a performance icon that for the “10 Word Review” I did for the AUTO100, I dubbed it “America’s Countach.” (You can find the video here.)

Prices were equally strong over at RM Auctions. I didn’t see that much of the sale, but spent a fair amount of time wandering the lots with Shelby Myers several days before the auction. RM revamped their formula, cutting the sale back to one day, going a bit more upmarket and, most importantly, holding the auction in a much larger room that made for a most appealing atmosphere. We also spoke about how inexpensive money (low borrowing costs and non-existent rate of returns for funds sitting in a bank or money market fund, a sentiment echoed by David Gooding) is influencing the car market.

The RM lot that really bit me was a one-off 1933 Auburn B-105 Retractable Hard Top Cabriolet with superb colors, ultra clean lines and stunning proportions. This is an A-list showcar if there ever was one, and will get you into any concours venue in the world. Not bad for $440,000…

If you were looking to buy a 1969-70 Mustang Boss 302 or a 1970 AAR Cuda, Barrett-Jackson was the place for you. I saw at least a half dozen of each that would have tempted my bidder’s paddle had I been registered at the sale. A couple of the Bosses went for very reasonable money, affirming that you can get a lot of car for $60,000 or less.

The day I was there (Wednesday) was nothing compared to Saturday’s madhouse. Several days after the auction Craig Jackson and I got caught up in a phone call, and he said, “I’ve never seen anything like what happened when the Batmobile went up for sale. All the people that were out there looking at the car in the staging area simply followed it in when it drove into the tent. It was so crazy we didn’t even know that the two guys bidding on it were flipping a coin to see who would get it.” (It sold, all in, for $4.6 million.)

Craig also confirmed the week’s wildest statistic, one that I had heard through two different sources: That there was $1 billion worth of money in the tent that week, bidding on cars.

…You could have shopped some European machinery this year. For instance, I saw probably half a dozen MGAs ready to cross the block.

So what’s (excuse the pun) driving all this? Earlier this month, McKeel Hagerty, a gonzo auto aficionado and president of the collector car insurance company that bears his name, told me “Boomers are back to spending money on things that matter to them, but there is much more going on than that.

“The high end comprises a global market now. It is no longer ‘Car Hobby 2.0’; it is ‘3.0.’ One-point-oh was the ‘do-it-yourselfers,’ 2.0 was the modern world, where somewhere the economy is up, and somewhere else it is down. Now, there are a lot of strong economics with bright spots in those economies, and the newly wealthy in places like China and elsewhere like ‘rich guy stuff.’ So they are buying it.”

No question that’s correct (two weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend about a very wealthy Russian who is expanding the horizons of his collection), but I think an even bigger theme is underlying the surge in prices, one that goes a long way in explaining why $500,000 “chairs and flares” Dinos and $700,000 330 GTCs make complete sense.

Which is what we’ll delve into in next month’s entry. See you then!

I loved this Plymouth Superbird, even with its weird specifications (Hemi engine, column shift, bench seat). To think that Superbirds (and the sister Dodge Daytona) cleared 200 mph on the race track 40+ years ago...

So how do you move a $3 million one-off Maserati from the stage for filming? Very carefully...

Said Maserati was a 150 S with lovely, understated Frua coachwork. Despite its small displacement engine, this thing was a rocket on the road.

David Gooding piloting the Maser. While he and I were out, we were both musing that "some people have to go to work and sit behind a desk." How lucky are we that our "office" can be things like this?A Shelby GT500 KR would make a great event car. Comfy, spacious, quite fast, good ride, reasonable handling, and relatively rare. To show how ludicrous the market has become, you could get this or a Mercedes 190 SL in the same condition for about the same money. I know which I'd prefer to drive.

I hate to inform whoever it was that popped 800 big ones for this Lancia, but your car really needs a restoration. If you want the proof...

...Just look at the interior. Not all "survivors" are created equal; some are just too tatty to keep as is, and this is one of them.

RM did a major revamping of their presentation, and the sale was all the better for it. Many of the lots were displayed around the spacious conference center where the auction took place.

Other lots were displayed in the auction room. Overall presentation was fabulous.

My favorite at RM was this stunning Auburn. That striking coachwork and one-off status made it a cheap entry ticket into any of the world's great concours, where you would likely contend for major awards.

Barrett-Jackson is the anchor of auction week, and with good reason. You could put all the other auction tents and their cars on the Barrett-Jackson grounds at Westworld, and still have room left over. During the week, there was $1 billion worth of money in this tent.

...You could have shopped some European machinery this year. For instance, I saw probably half a dozen MGAs ready to cross the block.

While Barrett-Jackson is well known for postwar American machinery such as this Cadillac...At Barrett-Jackson there were probably 10 AAR Cudas, in varying colors. With Dan Gurney history, one of the best musclecar/ponycar graphics packages, a killer 340 V8 and good suspension, I wouldn't mind having an AAR Cuda in my garage some day.

The auction week has so much going on now that it is starting to resemble a more relaxed Monterey week. One of the benefits to that is seeing some good machinery on the street. My favorite was this Toyota 2000 GT outside the Biltmore where RM had their sale.


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