“To Infinity, and Beyond!” That’s how I felt as I left Scottsdale, AZ, where 2,694 cars had crossed the block, and headed to Kissimmee, FL, where another 2,326 consigned vehicles were looking to find new owners.

For 25 years, attending the January auctions in Scottsdale has been a fixture in the SCM calendar and in my personal life. A detective could easily determine my profession by looking at my Outlook calendar — there, along with the birthdays, anniversaries, first-day-of-school reminders and dog-vaccination updates, are recurring items such as “book tickets to Scottsdale.”

In the same color-keyed category, you’d find “renew Pebble Beach apartment, make arrangements for Concorso Italiano, book flight to Fall Auburn, rent car for Bloomington Gold, secure tickets to LegoLand for Bradley while emcee of La Jolla Concours d’Elegance” and so on. This year there was a new addition, “Make arrangements to go to Mecum Kissimmee after Arizona.”

First, Scottsdale

Let’s start with the desert. Auction week in Arizona was fun. Unlike the past few years, when everyone was wondering whether the other shoe was about to drop and whether the world would decide that collector cars just didn’t matter anymore — so Ferrari GTOs would suddenly be worth $5,000 — the buoyancy of Monterey 2011 carried over to Scottsdale.

Most notably, Barrett-Jackson decided to get back into the million-dollar-car business, and the cars it offered as “Salon” consignments were bid out of the park. $2.9m for a Tucker? $2.2m for a steel Gullwing? Not bad for an auction company that some said should just focus on sub-$250,000 muscle cars.

I have long felt — and written — that Barrett-Jackson held on to its “no reserve only” policy for too long, and had not recognized the changes in the collector car market that came with the downturn in 2007. Simply put, in perilous financial times, sellers want to be able to protect their cars by putting reserves on them.

Every other auction company offers sellers the option of a reserve — and a further option of pulling that reserve, on the auction block, once the seller gets a sense of where the real money is. I hope that Barrett-Jackson views the success of its Salon cars as an incentive to be more liberal in allowing sellers to set reserves. In any event, it’s good to see B-J once again playing in the top tier of the auction world.

I managed to get to every auction. We shot several episodes of “What’s My Car Worth?” at Gooding (the show is now one of the top-five-rated car properties on Velocity Channel), RM continues to hold court at the Arizona Biltmore, Russo has a new paved area that greatly enhances the bidder experience, Bonhams made a modest entry into the scene, and Silver continues to own the affordable sector of the market (where else can you take a break from bidding on a car and play the slot machines, as you can at the Fort McDowell Casino?).

This issue has the most complete wrap-up and analysis of the Arizona auctions you’ll find anywhere. I suggest you get very comfortable before you start reading the market reports, as you won’t be able to put down this issue until you are done.

Gators and ’Cudas

This year, there was no R&R after Scottsdale. Dana Mecum is a feisty guy, and if measured by number of cars offered at auction during the past 24 years, has built America’s largest auction company. Audaciously, he put his auctions on the Velocity Channel by buying the broadcast time — and that strategy has worked to make his company a household mass-media name nearly on par with Barrett-Jackson.

Mecum has often commented to me that his Kissimmee auction, which occurs the weekend after Scottsdale, never got the attention or respect it deserved. It’s easy to understand why — after all, Arizona auction week is made of six auction companies, including everything from the boutique sales of Gooding and RM to the Barrett-Jackson extravaganza, with 250,000 in attendance and millions watching on SPEED channel.

But there’s a first time for everything, and this was my year to experience Mecum Kissimmee. One of Mecum’s headline auctions, it had 2,326 cars on offer. I arrived on Thursday, spent Friday and Saturday kicking tires and talking with subscribers to SCM and American Car Collector, and came home on Sunday. I accidentally bought a 500-ci, 700-hp Hemi-powered ’63 Dodge 440 two-door Post on Saturday night, but more on that below.

The lineup at Kissimmee was typical of most Mecum sales, where American cars are in abundance and sports and imports are scarce. (Look for a complete report on this auction in the next issue of ACC.)

With the (very satisfying and successful) debut of American Car Collector, suddenly we have a publication that is a natural fit for the cars that Mecum had for sale. The ACC staff has been clamoring for a few cars of their own, decrying the Volvo 1800 ES and the Alfa GTV as “those fussy little things with pistons the size of thimbles.” They asked me to look for a car that “a real man would drive.”

On Saturday night, I had said farewell to Dana and was ready to leave, sans muscle car, when Lot S274 rolled into the on-deck circle. A pristine, 45,000-mile Dodge 440 with mostly original paint and interior, it had been tastefully and expensively made into a 700-hp resto-mod car capable of “running 10.8s at the strip and then going out to dinner with my wife,” according to the builder and seller, Gary Spencer, of Troy Spencer & Sons in Dover, DE.

With nearly $100,000 spent to create the car, it was exquisitely finished and ready to go. Most Dodges from this era are junk, with horrible paint jobs and gutted interiors. This car was different.

It was a no-sale at $30,000. I got Dana’s attention and offered $35k plus commission, and the deal was done. Reliable Carriers is the official transporter for Mecum auctions, so 10 days later, one of their trucks rolled up to Sports Car Market and American Car Collector World Headquarters in Portland, and for just about $40k all-in, we had thunder in the basement garage.

I’ve only driven it around the block, but the other tenants in our building are already complaining about the racket and shaking floors when we fire it up, which has to be a good thing. The ACC gang has got great plans for the car, and as it has a cage certified for nine-second runs, they are figuring out how to get that extra horsepower out of the aluminum Hemi. You can read about its future exploits in ACC — and I want to go on record as saying the rumor circulating around our offices that the Alfas, Volvo, Porsche and Lotus all dribbled coolant on themselves when the Dodge took its space in the garage is simply not true. They just inadvertently let a little air escape from their tires.

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