Here’s to 50 More Years of the Barrett-Jackson Auction
Once a year Arizona’s arid, but deeply spiritual, Sonoran Desert comes alive with a different kind of deeply rooted energy emanating from the hearts 1000s of car enthusiasts who flock from all over the world to this otherwise understated white tent seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The crowds roll-in wearing anything and everything from Christian Dior sweaters and cowboy boots to the more common aesthetic of well-worn Levis paired with a Grateful Dead T-shirt. While there’s a discretely marked red gate entrance for VIPs, the rest of the attendees quite possibly represent the most casually dressed aggregation of millionaires on this side of the Mississippi.
Unlike the Aspen Institute, the Oscars or the Monaco Grand Prix, there are no security details or body guards. These are the best kind of wealthy, the down-to-earth types who ride up in rusty rickshaw-type bicycles from the valet lot to the front gate. Everyone goes through the same security entrance and inside the tent stand shoulder to shoulder like kids in a candy store, gaping at the greatest collection of luxury and vintage cars showcased at this great auction that makes Scottsdale stand in a class of its own, knowing that by the end of this afternoon, they will either witness or duel in the desert to walk away with a brand new, shiny toy for the low price of five or six figures.
Welcome to the Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale, Arizona, widely acclaimed as “The World's Greatest Collector Car Auction” with bidders, attendees, and collectors from all over the world mixing and mingling – and spending – all to get a glimpse at the auction that sets the tone for the most celebrated car auctions that will unfold during the remainder of the year (think: Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Paris, etc.).
As thousands of high-rollers take their seats in the auction room to compete against one another in the testosterone-filled, gladiator-style arena, there’s the unique fragrance of stale beer and gasoline fills the air to such extent the end result stings when you take it in, as spectators scream and cheer at the sound of whistle blowing to grab the auctioneer’s attention on-stage. The auctioneer’s quick tongue flicks numbers from $0 to $1 million in less than a minute and a half, creating the adrenaline-pumped atmosphere that is more like the MGM Grand in Vegas on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl.
Like a fascinating hybrid of the Roman Colosseum (circa 90 AD) and Las Vegas (2022), cocktail waitresses dressed in short shorts, low scooping tops, and jet black tights cater to bidders with endless draft beers and vodka tonics, lowering the men’s inhibitions and propelling their confidence with the encouragement of the spectators located just outside the floor seats. Standing inside red tape are enthusiasts and crowds arcing their necks to see the famed vehicles on stage and sharing car facts with their friends, placing penniless bets on how high the highs of this great annual spectacle will go in 2022.
Megan Mendoza / The Republic - A bid chaser listens for another bid from a person at the Barrett-Jackson 50th Anniversary Celebration Car Show and Auction at WestWorld
Look away for a second and you’ll almost certainly miss the subtle hand gestures bidders on the floor make to grab the attention of the suits walking through the rarified air of men and women who they encourage to dig a little more deeply into their pockets to offer just a little bit more for a car they could buy anywhere else for likely half the price.
But here in Scottsdale, in the great sacredness of the American West, you might as well be in Vegas baby, where the environment quite literally pushes the petal to the floor, as the Gladiators put their money where their passion is, throwing bids that could buy small towns throughout the U.S. all for the fun of it, culminating with the bidder’s throwdown triggering scores of boy’s club slaps on the winner’s back and ear piercing cheers from an audience that is there to celebrate winners regardless of who actually takes home the prize – evidence that actions, even at competition-hungry auctions, do speak louder than words: yeah we’re all here to witness the spectacle, but if there’s a higher purpose, it’s more about the shared experience than anything money can buy.
The Philanthropy – 2023 Corvette Z06 Raises $3.6MM For Veteran Community
Buried deep inside the auction, however, is the beating heart of the Barrett-Jackson – its philanthropy.
As a 2023 Corvette Z06 donated by Chevrolet, drove from the staging area to the entrance ramp, an adhoc, middle aged crowd followed the high performance vehicle like middle-aged rock-and-roll fans trailing 1980s rock band JOURNEY, when the heat of the moment transitioned to fire with bidding eliciting 100% another kumbaya-like community moment, with spectators cheering and strangers hugging accelerating the bids from $1MM to $2MM to $2.5MM to $3MM until the climax, $3.7 million dollars with 100% of the proceeds going to Homebound, a non-profit supporting men and women returning home from the military.
It’s clear why this auction works: In the end, the cars are quite possibly less important than the charity, which received the loudest cheers of all – no car and no amount of money came close to the emotional, rousing support of the U.S. Military Veteran organization that would receive 100% of the proceeds.
The heart and soul of this event, and why it continues to work, is the blurred observable lines of giving and receiving. Without the crowds cheering on the elite few bidding, these great cars reflecting the history of manufacturing may not optimize the vehicle’s intrinsic value. Without the funds raised, the sale becomes rather a one-way transaction between the seller and the buyer, as opposed to like minded enthusiasts coming together to share the interest they have in common as a community, in person – side-by-side – culminating with the higher purpose of honoring those who make the greatest sacrifice of all – America’s veterans who have dedicated themselves to the democracy facilitating the freedom to aggregate, and celebrate publicly.
While it’s impossible to look at your mobile device without seeing a notification regarding the digital auctions that are about to take over the buy-sell-trade environment as we know it, nothing can replace the authenticity and the shared experience, of being there.
Here’s to Barrett-Jackson’s 50th Anniversary, and 50 more years just like the past. In person.
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