Thomas Barrett III, 75, considered an elder statesman of car collectors who co-founded and built the prestigious Barrett-Jackson Auction Co., died Tuesday of a heart attack at his home in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Barrett and fellow classic car enthusiast Russell Jackson formed the auction in 1971 in Scottsdale, Ariz., earning international fame when Barrett's Mercedes 777 Phaeton sold for $153,000.
The event became known as the World's Greatest Classic Car Auction. Barrett retired after Jackson died in 1993, turning the operation over to Jackson's sons. The 2004 auction in January took in $38.5 million.
A native of Oak Park, Ill., Barrett moved to Arizona in 1960 to deal in real estate.
But his passion for classic cars prompted him to develop a network of collectors throughout the U.S. He became an authority on collectible automobiles and traveled the world searching out the rarest and most valuable, including a Duesenberg owned by actor Clark Gable and two of Adolf Hitler's parade cars. The Barrett estate became an elite used-car lot, showcasing thousands of rare automotive masterpieces available for purchase.
Barrett sponsored cars in the Indianapolis 500 for several years and contributed generously to the Classic Car Club of America.
In 1989 the organization named its restored two-story antique car barn in Kalamazoo, Mich., for Barrett.