By Niki D’Andrea
Craig Jackson was still coming off a high from the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Las Vegas last October when the press releases started rolling out in November for the Barrett-Jackson 47th Annual Scottsdale Auction this month.
“We are continuing to build a collector car event… that is more than just an auction, it is the celebration of the automotive lifestyle,” Jackson said in one press release.
Jackson’s just as enthusiastic about cars in person as he is on paper, which isn’t surprising. After all, he’s lived an automotive lifestyle all his life.
The Showman and the Car Guy
The first car Craig Jackson remembers falling in love with was a 1939 Austin Bantam, a boxy vehicle with a sharp-angled nose crowned with a giant chrome grill perched between headlights that resembled enormous eyes. The Austin Bantam had sort of a face, and exuded huge character; the 1938 model was the inspiration for Donald Duck’s cartoon roadster. Jackson was 9 years old when he helped his family restore their ’39 AB for the Fiesta de los Autos Elegantes car show in Scottsdale.
It was 1967, and Jackson’s father Russ was staging the show for the first time with his business partner and fellow car enthusiast, Tom Barrett. The two had met over Barrett’s 1933 Cadillac V-16 town car, and their mutual wonder for wheels quickly developed into a family-run vehicle venture.
“My dad and Tom Barrett were diametrically opposed, so it made for an interesting dynamic,” Jackson says. “Tom was very colorful and an expert ‘showman’ and was the wheeler-dealer who went out and found cars around the world and brought them back to Arizona. My mom ran the front office, and my dad ran the shop and restorations. He was more the ‘car guy.’”
Russ Jackson had been taking his son to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and the old-car swap meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania since he was a little kid. “My dad often had me hauling a wagon back and forth through all the rows of cars, looking for V16 and V12 Cadillac and Delahaye parts,” he recalls. “I just remember always being around cars and I loved it.”
In 1971, Russ Jackson and Tom Barrett held their first classic car auction, selling two Mercedes Benz 770K Phaetons that had previously been used as Adolf Hitler’s staff cars. One of them sold for a record $153,200, more than triple the previous auction price.
Craig Jackson began working for his father’s company right away, starting from the ground up and learning every aspect of the business, no matter how base it might seem now for a man with a net worth of around $50 million, according to numerous sources.
“The first year I was involved in the auction, I ran the trash crew,” he says. “The next year, I worked with the drivers, before I even had a license. My parents had high expectations for me and I had to carry my own weight in the business, even at a young age, which I definitely think helped me in the long run.”
That long run has taken the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction from its inaugural dirt lot next to the Safari Hotel in Scottsdale 47 years ago to a 76-acre site at WestWorld of Scottsdale, and from a small, auction-focused event into a televised and highly watched multi-day mecca of car culture that draws a slew of celebrities every year (previous attendees include Justin Bieber, Alice Cooper, Burt Reynolds, Randy Johnson, Gene Simmons and Jay Leno).
Russ Jackson died in 1993, and Craig Jackson began running the company a few years later. He made several changes, starting with establishing an internet presence in 1994 and introducing internet bidding. Other innovations came from customer feedback. “When I took over the reins after my brother passed away in 1995, I sent a survey to our customers asking how we could improve,” Jackson says. “As a result, we made significant changes to the types of vehicles we offer, for example.”
“Barrett-Jackson’s early auctions focused on prewar classics,” he elaborates. “I began to focus on Baby Boomers, bringing in muscle cars, ‘60s sports cars, Woodys and other vehicles that appealed to that generation. We continue to do this today, as Gen Xers and Millennials enter the hobby.”
The survey also showed that people wanted more activities around the auction, “so we expanded the auction into a world-class automotive lifestyle event,” Jackson says, “with exhibitors, food vendors and entertainment and more.”
“We’ve evolved,” Jackson adds. “And we have to keep evolving.”
Driven to Give Back
When it comes to Corvettes, there’s perhaps never been a more passionate collector than Dave Ressler. The Montana-based auto dealership owner amassed a fleet of 55 Corvettes, including all five of the official Indianapolis 500 pace cars and a coveted 1953 Blue Flame, the oldest Corvette around and only the third one ever made.
Ressler was a longtime friend of Jackson’s and a fixture of the Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions. He passed away suddenly last November at the age of 61, and Jackson will honor his late friend at this year’s auction with a philanthropic gesture. “We are very excited to have our first ever yearlong charitable initiative this year called ‘Driven Hearts,’ which will support the American Heart Association,” Jackson says. “My wife Carolyn and I will be auctioning a very special 1988 Chevrolet Corvette 35th anniversary edition to help kick off the initiative in Scottsdale. The vehicle was donated to my mother, Nellie, and me on the auction block by our longtime customer and friend, Dave Ressler, and will be sold in honor of his sudden passing.”
Barrett-Jackson has long been a vehicle for charitable causes, with proceeds from the sale of rare rides going toward organizations like TGen and Arizona-based Childhelp. This year, multimillionaire developer and Chandler resident Ron Pratte, known among car collectors as “the bidder always in the front row at every Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction,” according to writer Daniel Strohl of classic car newsletter Hemmings Daily, will be on hand to donate his 2017 Ford GT to the Evernham Family-Racing for a Reason Foundation. The organization will auction off the vehicle to benefit the Austim Society of North Carolina’s IGNITE program.
Jackson views raising money and awareness for charitable causes as part of his family company’s legacy. “Barrett-Jackson started as a charity car show, Fiesta de los Auto Elegantes, to raise money for Scottsdale’s arts center and to buy books for the community’s new library,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to continue that legacy, which is truly a pillar of the company. We also have a unique platform that allows us to put a spotlight on these charities as well as help raise money for them, and that is very important to us.”
When iconic custom car designer George Barris wheeled the original Batmobile on stage at the Barrett-Jackson auction in 2014, the roar from the crowd was deafening, audible even to audiences watching the auction on TV. It was one of the most exciting moments in the auction’s history, with bids erupting and climbing to a final sales price of $4.2 million, in what Jackson calls “a spectacular moment.”
Jackson says some of the other most memorable cars ever auctioned at Barrett-Jackson include Carroll Shelby’s personal 1966 Shelby Cobra Super Snake, which sold for $5.5 million in 2007. “Having Ford’s Mark Fields and Carroll on the block while we made Ford history was very memorable,” he says.
Then there was the sale of a 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 in 2005 for $3.3 million. “Those moments completely blew the roof off the place,” Jackson says.
Highlights of this year’s auction include a “Mopar Mecca” docket featuring a Plymouth HEMI Cuda (one of 59 built in 1971 and the last known of its kind) and a 1970 Super Bee R-Code (one of 21 with a 426ci HEMI engine); a custom truck show headlined by a 1956 Ford F-100 with a custom chassis and NASCAR racing legend Rusty Wallace’s 1966 Chevrolet El Camino custom pickup; a Chevy show including a rare 1965 Corvette Stingray Cutaway and a 1969 COPO 9560 high-performance Camaro; and a Ford lineup featuring a 1966 Shelby GT 350 Protoype #001 and a 1969 Mustang Q-Code 482 Cobra Jet Convertible (one of 20 made that year).
Barrett-Jackson’s 47th annual auction is expected to draw around six million viewers on the internet and television, and 51,000 attendees to WestWorld of Scottsdale. Though the auctions have expanded to include events in Florida, Connecticut and Nevada, Scottsdale remains Barrett-Jackson’s home and the center of the car collector universe to Jackson.
“It’s our hometown. This is really where it all started, beginning with Tom Barrett and my parents moving here. Climate also plays a role and Scottsdale is a great place to go in the winter time when it’s freezing back east, in Canada and Europe. Arizona is perfect for storing and driving cars,” says Jackson, who estimates he currently has “somewhere around 50 cars” in his personal collection. “Quite a number of Barrett-Jackson customers have bought second or third homes in the Valley and keep their cars here. It’s become quite a place for car collectors.”
The Barrett-Jackson 47th Annual Scottsdale Auction takes place Saturday, January 13 through Sunday, January 21 at WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale. Ticket prices vary by day and range from $17 to $195. VIP packages are also available. See barrett-jackson.com for more information.