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Classic car collectors spend freely at Arizona auctions

Bidders pay an average of more than $100,000 for hundreds of cars auctioned off in Phoenix and Scottsdale. The high was $8.25 million for a 1958 Ferrari.

January 22, 2013|By David Undercoffler, Los Angeles Times
  • A 1958 Chevrolet Corvette owned by General Motors CEO Dan Akerson was sold for $270,000 at a Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Ariz. Akerson will donate the proceeds to Habitat for Humanity in Detroit.
A 1958 Chevrolet Corvette owned by General Motors CEO Dan Akerson was sold… (Paul Morton, General Motors…)

A pair of classic Ferraris sold for more than $8 million apiece. The original Batmobile fetched more than $4.6 million. A racing Porsche from 1959 brought in $3.1 million.

At a series of Arizona classic car auctions last week, these and hundreds of other cars sold for an average of more than $100,000 — a big jump over the average of about $85,000 last year, according to Hagerty Insurance Agency, which insures and tracks values of classic cars. The total take for the auctions in Scottsdale and Phoenix jumped 22% from last year, to nearly $224 million.

Sales at the Arizona auctions speak to larger trends in the market for classic cars. The growing and increasingly global number of collectors is competing for a shrinking supply of classics. Furthermore, collectors are focusing on curating collections that focus on quality instead of quantity, classic car experts said.

So buyers who closely track classics from blue-chip marques such as Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz and Duesenberg don't hesitate to pay top dollar when a rare model becomes available. The average price of a classic Ferrari is up 59% over the last 36 months, Hagerty reports.

"Regardless of how you made your money, what industry you're in or what country you're from, if you want to build a world-class car collection, you're going to have to spend some money," said McKeel Hagerty, founder and chief executive of Hagerty Insurance. "As older collections start to release better cars into the world, they're getting snatched up immediately. There's a huge demand for the best stuff."

Each year, half a dozen auction companies bring thousands of cars to Scottsdale and Phoenix, attracting hundreds of thousands of car fans. Many bring bounce-proof checks and big eyes for old sheet metal.

This year, a 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider fetched the highest price. Gooding & Co. of Santa Monica sold the car for $8.25 million, including a commission. A close second: a 1960 Ferrari GT SWB Competizione Berlinetta, sold by RM Auctions for $8.14 million.

Not to be outdone, Barrett-Jackson — the Scottsdale company largely responsible for turning the

Arizona auctions into the spectacle they are today — sold the original Batmobile from the 1966-68 ABC television series "Batman" for $4.62 million.

Auction companies such as Barrett-Jackson, Gooding & Co. and RM Auctions, based in Ontario, Canada, are acutely aware of the ebb and flow of collectors' preferences, Hagerty said, and they are growing more adept at choosing what will bring the highest prices at auction.

"There's no doubt about it that auction companies are getting better at bringing cars to market that have a pretty wide appeal," Hagerty said.

This growing demand was on display at this year's Arizona auctions, said David Gooding, CEO of Gooding & Co.

"There are lots of people hungry to buy," Gooding said. "Our clients were not hesitant.... They were just bidding freely. Sometimes clients really toil over whether to bid on a car. They'll change their mind at the last minute. This year, everyone seemed confident."

This eagerness helped Gooding & Co. sell $52.6 million worth of cars this year, a 32.2% increase over last year. Meanwhile, RM Auctions sold $36.4 million worth of cars in Arizona, a 41.6% increase. Both companies said they sold vehicles for record-setting auction prices.

Yet neither company sold vehicles in the volume that Barrett-Jackson did. Unlike RM and Gooding, which hosted one- or two-day auctions, Barrett-Jackson put cars up for bid over five days. The company said it sold 1,343 cars for a total of $108.77 million, a 17% jump from last year.

Notable sales from the Barrett-Jackson auctions, which have been broadcast live on the Speed Channel since 1997, included 21 vehicles for charity, as well as the George Barris Batmobile.

Perhaps the highlight of the charity auctions was the sale of the first production 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. The seventh generation of the iconic American sports car was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 13, and a preproduction model was shipped from Detroit to Scottsdale for the auction.

NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick bought the car for $1.1 million. Hendrick won't get the car until late summer, when it rolls off the assembly line, but he'll have the opportunity to customize his Corvette, which will bear a vehicle identification number ending in 0001. Proceeds from the sale will go to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

david.undercoffler@latimes.com

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