As a car guy who has been “in the industry” for the last 14 years, and have lived in Arizona for six years, it seems ridiculous that I have never made it to the annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction. I’ve driven through Arizona Car Week en-route to other events; I even drove out from California once when I was nineteen, for a car show within spitting distance of the 2003 Scottsdale auction. Yet somehow, I’d never been to the event itself.
This year, that all changed when Nicole about fell out of her chair when she heard that I’d never been, and immediately got credentials for me. Prior to this my exposure to the Barrett-Jackson events consisted of press releases, what I saw on TV (I remember watching it on Speedvision – remember Speedvision?) and the associated increase in traffic when driving through Scottsdale on AZ-101 during the event.
My first inkling that a Barrett-Jackson auction was so much more than my limited exposure had suggested, was the media day. They had taken WestWorld’s already massive structure and expanded it significantly with additional temporary structures. However, believe me when I tell you, seeing them setting up the event a week prior, didn’t even begin to prepare me for the entirety of what the event is.
First and foremost, “going to the auction” is a misnomer. Yes, there is an auction, but there are so many more components and features. As I walked through the gate and into what I thought was the main hall, my first thought was, “When did I get to SEMA?” as the first thing you are greeted with is an Exhibitor Showcase that had booths very similar to those you would see at the SEMA and PRI tradeshows, from some of the biggest names in the industry.
As I made my way through the aisles, I finally got to the Barrett-Jackson Salon display. We had gotten a preview of some of the Salon cars at the Media Day, but seeing the full collection in one spot was awe-inspiring – even if some of them weren’t my cup of tea, the history and presentation felt more like a museum display.
Once in the “main hall” there were even more exhibitor displays featuring everything from collector car insurance companies, to garage equipment companies, to MasterCraft boats, along with local companies sprinkled in. Every aspect of the car collector lifestyle is really well represented, and saying there is something for everyone would sound cliché, but is genuinely accurate.
After making my first lap through the main hall, I headed outside. Once my eyes adjusted to the bright light, the scene before me took a few minutes to process. Imagine five tents, each larger than a football field (using the measure tool on Google Maps, it says the tents measure about 400 feet by 100 feet, each). Within each of the tents were the bulk of the cars waiting to be auctioned.
Just because these cars were outside, didn’t mean they were any less pristine, and it was mind blowing to see the mix of cars. At one point I saw a row of vehicles with a classic Bronco, an ASCMcLaren Mustang, an R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, a Volkswagen Thing, a Mercedes Sprinter van, an E30 BMW, and a custom Dodge Viper, all next to one another. That diversity flat-out made me smile.
As I walked the literal miles of aisles, the sounds of performance wafted through the afternoon air; beefy engines revving and tires at, and beyond, their traction limit. As I followed my ears (and nose) I found the ride and drive track that was set up in one of the lots, with the Big Three all offering ride and drive experiences.
Then, on the way back inside, I came across the Barrett-Jackson Restoration Garage, where there were multiple projects being worked on, live. That appeared to be a fan favorite, because every time I passed by that tent, there was a crowd gathered around. One of the projects caught my attention, in particular, and that was the Factory Five Cobra replica that was in the process of getting a Ford Performance Coyote crate engine.
Once I was finally inside, it was time to head to the actual auction and get my first glimpse of the Barrett-Jackson auction block in person. However, I was once again distracted by the Automobilia display. Before the almost 1,800 cars start rolling across the block, there is a full-day of Automobilia which is auctioned off, and the collection of gas pumps, signs, pedal cars, and other associated items is not just huge, but museum-quality – no rusted-out junk that has been sitting under a wet tarp for 40 years here.
The only way I can describe being on the auction floor in person, would be the same feeling as going to a baseball or football game, versus watching it on television, except that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. There are no TV tricks going on when you watch the coverage on Velocity or Discovery – the fast pace is real, and if you aren’t paying attention, you can miss something.
As a spectator, I would imagine that it would be hard to take in the whole event in a single day, but luckily, the whole Barrett-Jackson event lasts nine-days, four of which are weekends, so there’s plenty of time to attend. There is something for everyone, as well, with a STEAM city experience, with hands-on exhibits for kids to promote Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
On a personal note, it was really promising to see all the youth involvement at the event. Not just kids being dragged along while their parents, but kids who were actively engaged in what was going on – it gives me hope for our hobby. After finally getting to experience the spectacle in-person, I would urge anyone with the slightest interest in the event to try and get to one. And be prepared to be overwhelmed.