MAKING BARRETT-JACKSON WORK
Part Two

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Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas (Brian Kennedy)

Part Two of our tips to do well as a spectator or bidder at a major car auction.

4. You might end up buying something that’s no bargain.

I was in the staging lane when I heard the crowd swell in its enthusiasm. Someone near me said, “Look, someone’s going nuts”—I heard whistles from the crowd. Somebody was bidding up past what most of these very knowledgeable car guys thought was a reasonable number for the car. I didn’t catch which car, but let me illustrate the point with a brief tale of two Mustangs which I looked at in the post-sale area later in the evening.

1965 Mustang #24 sold for $11.5K including fees, but it needed everything. It was apparently an A-code, though. The description said it has an “unrestored A-code 289Ci V8 engine.” That would kinda-sorta suggest the car is an unrestored diamond in the rough. In fact, it needed everything. There was water or sun damage inside the base of the windshield. The dash metal had been painted, way too shiny. The parcel shelf had speakers cut into it. There was light blue overspray on the side window edge.

The description said it all: “Upgraded headers give the car a strong sound.” In other words, “This is the car your older brother modified to his teenage tastes in the 1980s.”

This car needed to be gone through from stem to stern. You’d easily have $25,000 in it, probably more. And it would be worth barely that, if in fact the car was an A-code itself. The hood wasn’t up, so I couldn’t investigate. I will say that it wore the hubcaps of a 6-cylinder model. Odd.

Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas (Brian Kennedy)

An equally questionable choice: lot 75.1, a red 1965 Mustang with a 289 also. The car sold for $23,100 including commission. It had an odo reading 42,000 and was presented as original mileage. The paint was old and poorly done. There were speakers cut into the parcel shelf. It had huge American Racing wheels on it. The interior, white, looked like it could have been original. But it was dirty. Redoing the paint on this car and cleaning it up would mean you’ve got $30,000 in it. It’s nowhere close to that value in the market, and when you’re trying to sell a car as a survivor, a likelihood given the low mileage, a repaint disqualifies it, in my opinion. To put it another way: what you have here is a $15,000 Mustang, when you’re done sinking about double that into it.

These are not criticisms of Barrett-Jackson or the auction process. You can find some amazing, quality cars at an auction, and also some tremendous bargains, but you need to go armed with knowledge of the market. Either of these two cars could be found at a classic dealer or via private sale almost anywhere in the US, and for sure, #75.1 would be much cheaper on a lot or Craigslist. No need to venture to Vegas to pick up an example like these.

5. You need to see past the myth.

We all know that “Barn Find” is the code word for “You gotta buy this” these days. But sometimes, a barn find is just a clunker with a sexy name. Here’s the illustration: Lot 692.1, which eventually sold on Saturday for $55,000, was a Porsche with wrong-colored and exhausted burgundy paint. The car had apparently been pulled from a hangar after having been there eighteen years, and included in the deal were a piston and cylinder kit.

Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas (Brian Kennedy)

Tell any story you want, what this is, is a car with a cheap, used-up paint job and obvious engine issues, a car that someone had the sense to give up on two decades ago. Finding it in an airplane’s parking spot doesn’t do anything to mitigate those issues.

Was the car worth the money? I’m no Porsche expert. But I will say that the story wasn’t worth any premium that might have been paid. This wasn’t a barn find so much as a beater. And someone’s going to have to start from scratch to rescue it, a very expensive process. Once that’s done, where’s the “barn find” myth? Gone.

Another so-so car, a 1968 Chevy Malibu convertible. In pictures, it looks pretty good. Up close, it looks quite used under hood. The engine is a replacement. The top was so-so, the steering wheel worn, and the chrome pitted and scratched. There’s no reason not to buy this car, but the price, at $28,000 with fees, was for a much nicer example of the breed.

Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas (Brian Kennedy)

On the other hand, lot #33 was a 1966 Dodge Coronet 440, so survivor-like that it had original paint with some of the edges polished off. I was slightly unsure about the claim of original mileage, which read 11,738, since the driver’s side of the seat was worn out, but still, this one would retain its barn-find status longer than the Porsche. And it sold at a very friendly $14,000, plus fees. Sweet car for the money. And one you’d be crazy to restore. Just drive, preserve, and sell on as a survivor in two, ten, or thirty years.

6. On the other hand, there are some great deals.

Lot 327.1 was a 1947 New Yorker, with a big sign describing it. But this was not just hype. A lovely blue interior and decent black repaint made the Chrysler shine. Most everything looked original. It sold for $15,000, plus fees. What a great starter collector this was. Come to think of it, anyone would be well-advised to put this in a classic collection. Great buy.

There was also a 1962 Thunderbird, red on red, that was the very definition of an “honest” car. It was described as one-family owned, and pampered, and there was no reason to doubt this claim. If it’s a driveable as it looked to be, you would have a heck of a lot of fun for $12.5K including fees. Heck, I would have driven this beauty out the back door, past the waiting transport trucks, and turned it for LA. It looked like it would cruise Route 66 all day long.

Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas (Brian Kennedy)

On the top end, too, there are cars to be had for decent prices. That’s not my area of expertise, though. I’m all about the under-$25,000 range, which many of the cars in this auction, fortunately, fell into.

7. You will get what you want if you have patience.

It just might take more than one auction. The couple who won the red Charger SE (see point #1) were on their third Barrett-Jackson. They had not bought a car with BJ previously, and they had a very firm number in mind in bidding on this one. In fact, they had lost another car the day prior because it had launched over their heads, price-wise. As the woman said to me, “We’re not high rollers like some of these people. We just folks who have been careful with our money, and we want to have some fun.” She said that her husband had been the one to choose the car, which was a reminder of a 1970 model that he had owned years earlier.

Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas (Brian Kennedy)

I got in touch a couple of weeks after the auction. The car had cost less than a grand to ship to their west-coast home. The hubby’s assessment of the condition suggested that, as he thought, it was a driver-quality car. He ran it through a series of checks and discovered a couple of surprises—the AC doesn’t work, the front end needed an alignment, and there’s a possible repair needed to the cruise control. He plans to fix the minor things and drive the car.

Was it what he had hoped for? On the positive side, the tires are new, as are the brakes. The engine, a non-matching-numbers U-code 440 Magnum, runs fine. They knew going in that it was a non-original engine.

Hagerty values this car at $37,600 for a #1 condition example, $29,000 for a #2, and $19,800 for a good example, but this presumes a more pedestrian engine option than this car had. Looking around the internet suggests that the SE model, which this is, is the one to have for looks and rarity. Other values go anywhere from the high $30Ks to the moon ($78,000). Lesser models, like cars with the 383 engine, are more like $19,000 cars. Automatics, too, are worth less than the four-speed model, which this car is.

So what’s the number? At least what they paid, for sure. The buyers figure a conservative value of $35,000, which is about what they’ve got into it with fees and transport. They plan to keep it while they’re enjoying it, then possibly sell it on. They figure they might make money. It’s unlikely they’ll lose any. It goes to show you that you need to know what you’re buying, not just in terms of condition but also configuration. This buyer had done his homework, and he stuck to his limits.

To sum up: Barrett-Jackson is a trip. You’ve gotta see it. And you can buy a car right if you keep your head. But you can also pay too much. But if that happens, well, you know, you only live once. Drive your car. Enjoy it. Don’t think about what it’s worth. After all, that new daily driver you’re so proud of won’t be worth more than half what you paid for it three or four years from now, and even a shaky auction buy is likely to retain more value than that.

Geez, I should have been in on the bidding on the Firebird.

To view Part One of this report, click here.
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