I attended my first Barrett-Jackson auction 30 years ago, in 1992.
There might have been one or two other people on the plane to Phoenix from Portland who were going to the auction. At that time, it was a relatively unknown event.
When I arrived, I recall being stunned and delighted by the sight of hundreds of more-or-less collectible cars in one place.
This was before their auctions were televised, at first on Speedvision. (I was a commentator in the booth for the first 10 years of broadcasts.)
At that time, SCM was a kind of “secret-handshake” society. We were the only place you could find information about cars that had sold at auction, including serial numbers, condition and prices.
AutoTrader was the best place to find local classic cars; Hemmings was geared to a national audience.
I always felt the need to buy or sell something at Barrett-Jackson, as it would be a whole year before so many cars and buyers and sellers would be together in one place.
My sense of being “rushed to find something” lead to some profoundly bad decisions on my part. This was all fueled by the red mist of being surrounded by thousands of other buyers and sellers. I was in a hurry to make a decision.
The world is different now, with thousands of cars being offered online, and televised auctions a part of our everyday fare.
I no longer feel the frenzy of needing to buy something when I first become aware of it. Patience is my watchword.
I sometimes feel like that big catfish that has been in the deepest part of the pond for decades. It’s seen enough bait and hooks that it is neither easily fooled nor tempted.
Especially with online auctions, I carefully parse the descriptions that accompany the cars. The more sparse they are, the more my warning flags start to wave.
If a seller reports on something that is not working, whether it is a heater fan or interior light, I wonder what else is wrong that has not been disclosed. If a seller can’t be bothered to fix something simple, why should I be the one to deal with it? He’s making his problem mine, and I don’t want it.
Foolishly, I was recently looking at an Alfa 164L for sale online. The seller noted that the power seat mechanism wasn’t working. I’m not fluent in 164s, so I don’t know if that is a $50 or $500 repair job. But that issue alone is enough to keep me from bidding. The seller also made no mention of the heating and a/c problems 164s are notorious for. I fear nothing but bad surprises here. And at shop rates over $100 per hour, the thrill of your new acquisition can quickly be replaced by despair.
With the 1991 Alfa Spider I bought recently on eBay, the a/c was noted as not blowing cold. Sellers always say, “It just needs to be recharged.” I have never been lucky enough for that to have been the case.
I deducted $2,000 from what I was willing to pay before I closed the deal. And $2,000 was exactly what it cost to have the toasted compressor rebuilt and the system recharged.
When I eventually sell the Spider, I want to post pictures of a thermometer next to the a/c, registering in the 40-degree range. I want to say that every switch and gauge works the way they were intended to.
By immediately tossing out cars that have needs or flagrant omissions of any kinds in their written descriptions, I am able to ignore 80% of the vehicles that land in my inbox. I know that if I am patient enough, the right vehicle, in the right condition, from the right seller, will eventually appear.
There’s simply no need to be in a rush.