Tony Piff Our collector car world has four epicenters, and each has its own anchor event. The vintage car calendar starts with Monterey in August, followed by Arizona in January, Paris in February and Amelia Island in March. The signature event for the Monterey Classic Car Week is the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It follows the auctions, marque shows and historic races. All eyes are on the cars displayed on the 18th Fairway that Sunday. Five months later, and now nearly upon us, is Round Two: Arizona Auction Week. In the desert, it is Barrett-Jackson that is the once and future king. Just one month after that, our traveling motorized circus moves to Paris. The oddly French gathering of old cars, vintage parts and period clothing known as Rétromobile is the initial draw to the City of Light, and the auctions are a tasty addition. It all wraps up just a few weeks later at Amelia Island. The Sunday concours is the culmination of the weeklong festivities, which now include auctions and ancillary events. Then, just five months later, it’s time for Monterey again.

Barrett-Jackson owns the desert

Arizona is a very different animal than the other three events. The classic car week there is really all about the auctions. It’s telling that the Arizona Concours d’Elegance, now in its second year, is held on the Sunday before the auctions begin. The concours is a lead-in rather than the culminating moment as it is with Pebble or Amelia. I’ve been going to the Arizona auctions for 27 years. Even more impressive than the growth in the sales has been the constant development of the Scottsdale desert. In 1988, it was nearly impossible to find a place to stay anywhere near Horseworld, as the location of Barrett-Jackson was then called. The Princess wasn’t far away, but it was very expensive. I recall a couple of times when I went down early to take in the Kruse auction the weekend before Barrett-Jackson, and I stayed in a variety of quickly forgotten cheapie motels. Now, strip malls and suite-style hotels are everywhere, and finding a room, even at the last minute, is rarely a problem. As the emcee of the Arizona Concours, I am fortunate to stay at the Biltmore for auction week. It’s a far cry from the Motel 6 on Camelback Road. Barrett-Jackson was really the first event on the map in Arizona, beginning 44 years ago in 1971. Barrett-Jackson continues to define spectacle when it comes to auctions, with its staggeringly large facilities, huge crowds, registered bidders that number in the thousands (incomprehensible to European auction houses) and landmark prices for cars across the marque and model spectrum. Couple this with hours and hours of live television coverage, this year on the Velocity Channel, and you have an event which is synonymous with a collector car auction to many people. It is fair to say that Barrett-Jackson is an incubator for future car collectors. They begin by watching the show on television, and at some point, they attend as a spectator. If the event resonates with them, they register to bid. Then they begin to buy and sell cars. If they decide they want to add to their auction experiences, and perhaps try something in a different setting, RM, Gooding, Bonhams, Russo and Steele, and Silver all offer great cars during Arizona Auction Week, each in their own particular style.

Like coming home

Just as no visit to Monterey is complete without going to Pebble, a visit to Arizona auction week must include stopping by WestWorld and taking in Barrett-Jackson. For me, in my nearly three decades of attending Barrett-Jackson, there is a comfort and familiarity when I see the stage with the enormous American flag stretched above it. Auctioneer Spanky Assiter will always have two sets of glasses perched on his forehead. The ringmen will be predictably and wildly enthusiastic as each new bid is offered. The organization will be flawless, with more than 1,000 cars crossing the block exactly on schedule. They start on January 10 and end on January 18. Over the years, I’ve developed an Arizona routine. I usually drop into Barrett-Jackson on Wednesday, when things are relatively quiet. On Thursday and Friday, I make my rounds of the other auctions, seeing friends and looking at the lots on offer. But all the time I am doing this, Barrett-Jackson is selling cars, non-stop, from late morning to late evening. Saturday night at Barrett-Jackson is the world’s largest car party. The energy in the room is electric, and car after car sells for what seems like stratospheric prices. I come back on Sunday for a little decompression. The crowds are smaller, and you can feel the lingering afterglow of Saturday. I poke around the now-greatly-diminished field seeing if there is anything tasty left crossing the block, hoping to perhaps steal a car. But there are easily several hundred others doing exactly the same thing, so I have yet to sneak a deal past the eyes of the other bidders — even after all these years. As you pack for Arizona Auction Week, be aware that you are really coming to the home of the collector car auction as we know it. The concours are the highlight of Amelia and Monterey, and Paris centers on Rétromobile. The focus in Arizona has always been, and always will be, about asking for just one more bid. “Sold, sold, sold,” is the mantra of the week. ♦  

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