By now the Scottsdale numbers are familiar: $160m in total sales, very close to the record $167m set in 2007. 2,221 cars sold. Attendance up at every event, and strong individual prices across the board.

But the biggest news to come from Scottsdale could be found in a press release issued on February 14, 2011—23 days after the last car crossed the block at WestWorld.

Barrett-Jackson announced a partial reversal of its “All No Reserve” policy, beginning with its April 7-9 Palm Beach auction. They will now allow owners of cars with agreed-upon values of $50,000 or more to set a reserve on their car—if they wish.

Why is this big news? Because for the past six years, the Barrett-Jackson “All No Reserve” policy has been an anomaly in the collector car world. At nearly every other auction, owners have a choice as to whether they want to set a minimum price at which their car will sell (the reserve)—or if they will sell to the highest bid, no matter how high or how low (no reserve).

At one point, Russo and Steele also had an All No Reserve policy, but responding to consignors wanting a reserve on their cars, they decided to allow car owners the option of setting a minimum price.

Where are the Big Cars?

It’s no secret that there are very few above-$500,000 cars at any of the Barrett-Jackson auctions. We believe this is because owners are reluctant to offer an expensive car at no reserve. If the right bidders aren’t in the room, the car could conceivably sell for a very low price. Over the past few years, nearly all of the expensive cars offered in Scottsdale have moved to RM and Gooding.

On the mid-priced ($50,000 to $250,000) muscle car side, Russo and Steele has gotten higher-quality consignments every year, as sellers simply don’t want to offer their cars without being able to protect their minimum value with a reserve.

I was surprised to see the minimum value for the reserve option for Barrett-Jackson set at just $50,000. In our late-night bull sessions with various industry insiders, we had all wondered when and how Barrett-Jackson would move back into the arena of expensive cars. Our consensus was that they would set aside ten or fifteen slots each day during prime time for a “Barrett-Jackson Select” offering of cars worth $250,000 and up—all with a reserve.

The fact that Barrett-Jackson’s entry-level value for a reserve is just $50,000 demonstrates that there is great demand from sellers across the board to have the option of setting a reserve price on their collector car.

Barrett-Jackson is a marketing and selling machine that is the envy of all other auction companies. Helped by the comprehensive  Speed Network coverage, they have unmatched brand recognition in the collector car world. Their revenue stream from vendors and admissions is remarkable. Having 3,000 registered bidders at one event is ten times the number that some catalog auction companies see at their sales.

But Barrett-Jackson’s great weakness over the past six years has been the meager offerings in the high-end arena. By allowing owners to set a reserve, I predict that we will again start seeing million-dollar cars sell at Barrett-Jackson.

The Rest of the Weekend

We shot four episodes of “What’s My Car Worth” for Discovery HD Theater at the Gooding Auction, and due to our schedule, I had all of Friday free—a rarity for me in Scottsdale. The weather was delicious, and the white Mercedes E350 cabriolet I was driving provided the perfect top-down ride as I visited Barrett-Jackson, Gooding, RM, Russo and Silver.

Each event has its own flavor, and if kicking tires with friends in great weather is your idea of heaven, Scottsdale this year was the place to be. You’ll find our exhaustive reporting in this issue beginning on page 30; our boots-on-the-ground team from the SCM home office included Chester Allen, Tom Mann, Jim Pickering, Tony Piff, and Cody Wilson, and our first-rate global auction reporting team consisted of Carl Bomstead, B. Mitchell Carlson, Dan Grunwald, Donald Osborne, and Sam Stockham.

My personal assessment was that as the economy continues to gather strength, collectors are willing to put cars up for sale they have kept stashed away, and they are not afraid to spend a little to buy a toy. The very best cars, like the 1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic on this month’s cover, will continue to bring stunning money because they are special, and wealthy collectors aren’t afraid to spend big to buy special.

Nicely prepared cars with no visible needs do very well; cars with apparent flaws continue to suffer, as everyone knows just how expensive it is to make an average-or-less car into a great one.

The Road to Reno

Here’s an up-to-date report on the SCM “B Team” caravan to the MG convention in Reno this June. In an uprising reminiscent of Tahrir Square, our teenage children singularly and collectively decided to opt out of the opportunity to beat themselves silly in 35-year-old cars—all the while surrounded with clueless adults who view this kind of madness as fun.

But there was no shortage of clueless adults to take their seats. The B Team now consists of SCM contributors Miles Collier, John Draneas, Donald Osborne and Thor Thorson, plus my wife Wendie and me. Our fleet of MGs has been purchased. Oddly enough, they are all 1974s: two roadsters and a GT. One roadster came from a subscriber in Durango, CO. The other two were found on Craigslist, one in Portland, OR and one in Renton, WA.

They are all quite nice, and were all purchased for less than our $5,000-each limit. Two of the ‘74s have the unfortunate “Mae West” rubber protuberances, but those are easily removed and replaced with the chrome overriders from the 1971-73 models.

Adding a little spice to the event, Collier is considering driving his McLaren F1 to Portland from Montana, and then jumping in an MG to continue on to Reno. I’m wondering if he would mind if I jumped into the McLaren at the same time; after all, at the end of the day they’re both just English sports cars....

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