• Feb 6th 2007 at 12:32PM
  • 23

It seems like the recent rumblings out of Westworld are failing to die down. A high profile ejection of a respected collector car expert, rumors of shill bidding on company-owned muscle cars, and cars not getting their fair amount of stage time have all generated headlines from this year's biggest auction event, the Barrett-Jackson auction at Scottsdale, and those don't even address the biggest gripe most people seem to have – the seemingly insane high bids. For years people have commented on the super high prices muscle cars have been bringing at the Arizona auctions every January. Some have speculated that there might be something shady behind these gavel values, while others have simply been amazed.

We've vacillated over individual vehicles that don't seem to be "worth" six (or seven!) figures, but in the end understand that "worth" is determined by the buyer. At this year's auction we had a lot of fun getting caught up in the show and seeing some of our favorite vehicles throughout history, up close and in the flesh. It was a very exciting week of muscle cars, race cars, classics and customs, with a bit of drama thrown in for good measure. You might recall the story about Keith Martin, the editor of Sports Car Market, who was allegedly ejected from the Barrett-Jackson media center and the premises for his reported sleight of the proceedings and of company President, Craig Jackson. Not one to pass judgment or take sides, we decided to stay out of it. But this story seems to have legs. Follow the jump to find out why.

[Source: The Four Wheel Drift]

We just received a tip from AB reader, Peter, who pointed us to a recent blog by Sam Barer over at The Four Wheel Drift. Sam put together an opinion piece on his own take of the ruckus and went a little deeper, claiming he had spoken to several auction insiders who apparently supported the notion that something was indeed fishy in the big top that is B-J. He even had spoken to a collector car judge whose own vehicle had allegedly been short-timed during the event, not getting its promised three minutes of stage time. As this is an exclusively No Reserve auction, sellers are understandably interested in getting a fair amount of time to get the highest possible bid for their vehicles. Barer's blog went on to speculate about other aspects of the B-J auction that were fairly inflammatory. We speak of this blog in the past tense because it was taken down.

A return visitor to the original link would find a retraction in place of the original article. As Barer explains in this new replacement blog, after some soul searching (and being contacted by B-J President Steve Davis) he decided to take it down. Barer claims he decided to post an explanation because, "after widespread rumors, many emails and telephone calls, I wish to set the record straight." Barer says he went too far and didn't balance the piece by getting B-J's side of the story. Although he sticks to his guns on the material he previously ran, he knows it's only fair to allow Davis to respond to the points made. Barer says he will give B-J and others more time to address the claims and if and when the responses come in, he may update the story. One thing we can count on is that this won't be the last we'll hear of the Arizona auctions, or Barrett-Jackson in particular.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      Keith Martin was bounced from the auction for commenting that muscle car prices might be peaking.

      I find that a good indication that Barrett-Jackson is corrupt.

      The bubble will burst.
      • 7 Years Ago
      How about Russo & Steele Fraud? I sold my 66 427 Corvette at their Monterey Auction Aug. 15th 2008, & called to see if my check would be cut by the 25th as promised on about the 21st,
      & Bob Bemiss told me that my check would be cut. (I had been offered $75,000. for the car here, but agreed to take the reserve off in exchange for getting the net of the sale,
      when the car was up to $65,000.
      It sold for $68,500.)

      I should not have let these crooks sell the car for me.
      I would have my car or the funds now if I hadn't.

      On Sept. 4th I call because the check has still not come.

      I was told first that it was sent but not for the correct amount, we had agreed on for taking off the reserve,
      & that I was not getting paid because the wheel had fallen off.
      (I had taken the car to Corvette Mike to safety check the car, & they dead hammered the knock off's)
      The car sat unattended after the auction, for about 15 minutes while we were at sight, looking at some of the other cars that had not sold, & if this indeed happened, who knows what went on inbetween Friday night & Tues. when this allegedly happened.

      RUSSO NEVER CALLED to tell us about the incident. When we found out about it and asked John Bemiss why, he said because they were going to cut our check when they found out what the damage costs were.
      No word about a near fatal crash.
      Once I found out about this, I contacted my lawyer.

      Drew emailed me yesterday & now claims there was a near fatal crash, & if I contact DMV FRAUD, & the BBB, etc. that he will cease pretending that he is going to pay me.

      There is nothing in the contract that says they can keep our money in the event of any mechanical failure.

      He had possession of the vehicle for 3-4 days after it sold.

      2 mechanics dead hammered the wheels.

      HMMMM What happened here?

      I post his email & I hope that if there are others that have gone through this experience, they will please contact me.

      I have been told that Drew would put a hit out on anyone that sent DMV fraud after him, by a dealer who choses to remain anonymous.

      Here is Drew's email telling me that if I go to the DMV Fraud...

      I will provide you with the evidence and accounting of this matter in due time and in strict accordance with our binding contract an laws governing this transaction.
      My company has a tremendous amount of experience in these matters and will be performing to the letter of the law within our Contract parameters and the laws that govern our business thorough the State of California and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
      In the event you proceed against us with any adverse action what so ever, we will immediately cease any efforts to amicably resolve this situation. Filings with any agency from DMV, BBB, internet postings or any other public airing of this matter will result the full application of our resources to protect the reputation and well earned good standing within our hobby and marketplace.
      It is my most sincere suggestion that you seriously consider the liability and exposure you have been placed in the center of, both with your threatening actions and the negligent safety issues regarding the wheel completely coming off a vehicle which you are the seller. A near fatal accident that occurred as the result of this incident is a very, very serious matter. Threats to adversely affect the business of Russo and Steele will be taken extremely seriously as well. I can assure you, any actions of this nature will be dealt with swiftly and our response will encompass the full extent of our options provided by law.
      In addition, due to the nature of both your phone conversations as well as the irrational posture of your emails, I implore you to have your legal counsel contact me directly. I will be more than happy to clearly outline to your lawyer the implications, ramifications, and obligations that we will proceed with in this matter.
      Very truly yours,


      USING EXTORTION IF I CALL THE DMV FRAUD? Extortion: The crime of obtaining money by the abuse of one's office.

      What have you got to worry about, Drew if you are innocent.

      My insurance company Allstate has to be informed of this near Fatal Crash that you just let us know about tomorrow.

      I reminded Drew of what happened to Rick Cole.
      He did not reply.

      Thank you for your time,

      Bonnie Ember

      • 8 Years Ago
      It's reasonable to conclude some heavy duty legal muscle was applied. Journalists don't often retract entire items. The best a complainant gets is a clarification.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Mike (#6), yours is hardly an unbiased opinion. If I sold cars at Barret-Jackson, they would be my best friends too. You basically proved my point about the "status" factor. What that has to do with the actual value of cars I don't know.

      In all fairness, I have seen cars go for most likely far less than what it costs to build them, customs in particular. Most of the bidding wars are ego initiated insanity, but I don't feel sorry for them #9. And yes, there are many muscle cars genuinely worth $100K+ and then some. Hemi Cuda convertibles are getting a million plus at auctions other than Barret-Jackson. They might be inflated some but I'd bet by not much.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Interesting article. Something else this year, I was there for Fri night Sat and Sun, I also thought the hammer fell too early a few times and there were a number of corrections being made by the various auctioneers, unlike past years. Something was very different this year.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Here is a cut and paste of the article.

      "January 27th, 2007 by fourwheeldrift
      As a collector car journalist, I have been watching the Barrett-Jackson auction for years. For the last five or so years, it has been very apparent that the Scottsdale auction is at best a bastion of greed and manipulation…and at worse, all-out fraud.

      I’ve discussed B-J with collectors, dealers and enthusiasts, many of whom would be considered “insiders,” meaning they’ve bought and sold cars at B-J and other auctions, or are well-known in the collector car hobby. For some reason, it is this year that people are all finally grumbling and passing rumors in unison.

      The bottom line is that Craig Jackson and the B-J company have really screwed themselves this year. Their contracts specifically promise every car three minutes on the stand. Due to ego and greed, they expanded the Scottsdale ’07 auction to the point they could not provide this, plus they had the audacity to do it on live television.

      A well-known former head judge in the Ford Thunderbird circles was one of the sellers who had his car short-timed. He has already filed a law suit against B-J, and this is already headed towards class-action status.
      According to this judge and other sources, it appears Barrett-Jackson was operating a bit on the same level as an evangelical healing show. They had assistants milling around asking what specific sellers thought their cars would bring. Armed with this information at the control desk, if a lot passed the value at which a seller indicated he’d be happy, the car would be rushed off and the gavel would fall – even if bidding was still very much alive.

      Because the event was televised on live television via the Speed TV network, the plaintiff(s) now have video/audio proof that buyers were signaling increased bids before the three-minute marks, but were denied by a too-fast last call and hammer.

      While this all might cause Barrett-Jackson to have to pay money to sellers in the form of a judgment or settlement, it is something else that might land Craig Jackson in jail.

      It is no secret that Barrett-Jackson owns many cars that are run through the auction – it was something I suspected many, many years ago. This was proven when they started maintaining a showroom of cars in Arizona. This is not illegal, but stay with me.

      I’ve always suspected that the cars owned by Craig Jackson and the B-J company were often driven up by shill bidders working for the company. Essentially, the strategy works in the sense that ever since the auction focus moved from classics like Packards and Duesenbergs to muscle cars, B-J has been able to shill, say a Hemi Cuda or mid-year Corvette 427 they own, which causes the value of the 10 other identical cars to increase. They wind up “buying” their own car back, but the others go on to regular buyers, who now are paying higher because of the perception the market has moved up.

      This suspicion has been validated by auction attendees this year that witnessed cars sold at auction headed in trailers back to B-J’s warehouse. The lawsuit allegedly points out that these cars also spent significantly more time on the block than others.

      If this isn’t all interesting enough, during this year’s auction, fellow collector car journalist, Keith Martin of Sports Car Market, was booted from the Westworld premises and his media credentials revoked for voicing loud, specific concern regarding the event while sitting in the media room. Barrett-Jackson accused Keith Martin of “holding court” and attempting to send VIPs and journalists to the competing RM and Russo and Steele auction events. Among the alleged opinions included that the cars at B-J were of inferior quality (and had quality misrepresented,) as well as that the bidders were significantly over-bidding cars, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has witnessed people paying six figures for cars they could have bought for under $50,000 any other day of the year!!!
      This is somewhat of an interesting twist. Keith Martin’s publication has marketed the B-J events and has helped fuel its popularity. Keith is definitely one of the great “insiders” of the hobby, and has been a friend to Craig Jackson. In past years, Keith nor his publication have been critical of the goings-on and rumors, while other collector car journalists have been
      bob scanlon
      • 8 Years Ago
      I find it interesting that BJ threw Keith Martin out of their auction for "reportedly" bashing BJ to other "jounalists"in the BJ media center, yet no one has come forward for attribution as having been present or actually hearing Keith saying anything negative about BJ. All I've read is that "someone from BJ told someone else from BJ that he or she saw/heard Keith say it" blah blah blah.
      BJ had an axe to grind over keith's OPINION in HIS OWN MAgazine ABOUT THE shaky future of muscle car pricing. BJ pressured SPEED into not hiring Keith back, and what viewers (and BJ) got for their trouble was an inept, uninformed guy on the stage who misrepresented the authenticity and provenance of more than one car.
      Here's the bottom line as I see it. Most muscle cars, by the sheer numbers that were manufactured and still exist, are NOT rare. They might be DESIREABLE, on an emotional basis, but they are, for the most part, not INVESTMENT cars. That category remains the domain of marques like Ferrari, Alfa, Jaguar, Delahaye and the like.
      • 8 Years Ago
      it's always easy to take potshots at the leader in any field.

      I've sold two cars at Barrett-Jackson, both in 2003. the first one was in Scottsdale, and the second in Palm Beach. did great with the Scottsdale car, not so great with the one in Palm Beach.

      2003 was the first year for the Palm Beach auction, and that's probably why the bidding didn't get that high. but guess what? I signed up for it, and I'm a big boy. I'm not going to start whining now that I didn't get "full price", and blame someone else. I can be responsible for my own decisions.

      it's hard to explain this auction if you have never actually been there to experience it yourself. I think the one thing that escapes non-attendees is the sheer spectacle of it. it is not only a status symbol to sell here, it's a status symbol to BUY here. the money that floats thru here is just unbelievable.

      the buyers (and sellers) have changed tremendously in the past ten years. the average buyer used to be some old fart with his trophy wife dressed head-to-toe in gold lame and mink, buying old Rolls Royces and Packards. now, the buyers and sellers are wearing Harley t-shirts and jeans, buying muscle cars.

      I certainly can't speak first-hand about whether the muscle car trend has peaked, but I'm sure the market will dictate this, not the opinion of some writer.

      • 8 Years Ago
      I've been to a number of BJ auctions over the years and have bid but never bought from them. Why? I've been able to do better outside the "auction arena"

      That being said, the last few years have been different. Some thoughts.

      Have you ever been to an auction unless run by beginners where there isn't some shilling going on? Come on it happens on E-Bay too.

      Why do you think people go to an auction, come on, to try and get a better price. The amount of times that happens is pretty small. Auctions are there to make money.

      The reality of muscle car pricing? Please, all you have to do is watch or go to other auctions to see there is very little reality with BJ.

      BJ is entertainment and the focus is on money for BJ more than the cars anymore. The sellers might do very well also. The buyers? That's a whole different story------- You can find many of these cars outside the auction arena for the same or many times much less and no buyer/seller fees.

      If you want to see what really happens after the fact watch or go to the other auctions. Guess what? Some of those cars that sold last year at BJ are going for a 1/4 to 1/2 the price.

      Entertainment/Auction supposed good deal, Uh Huh.

      • 8 Years Ago
      Restorations costing more than the value of the cars is nothing new. Some of that is just simple pride in a job well done or---not knowing when to stop or by sheer accident and the other item is timing and market.

      I've done a few completes over the years I'd say it's 50-50 on what I've made, so basically a break even. I used to do Corvairs 2 did really well, 2 went backwards, the market softened but I needed some cash at the time.

      Something that gets lost here is the word "hobby" I don't look at my cars as "investments" they are cars, subject to market conditions. You make some, you lose some. If you can stay about even and have fun, you're doing ok.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I've always thought the prices they get are way too high. And I feel sorry for those who have paid those prices when they try to sell the cars for anywhere near waht they paid.

      There are very few classic muscle cars worth $100k+. Those prices should be reserved for the "true" cars, not the many "clones" that are sold
      thru their auctions.

      As far as them "running" people...well, that's a risky business unless you can gauge just how badly the guy being "run" wants the car. Because if you guess wrong and he stops before you thought he would then "you" the auction would own the car (since there isn't a reserve to get you out if it). If they are doing that then they are some really ballsy dudes.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Let the scam of an auction go out of biz! Someone gets bounced because of freedom of speech? Another website "talked to" by BJ? Who do these people think they are? God? They make me laugh. They're a little full of themselves. and $100k for a classic muscle car? yeah i think it's a bit puffed up. Classics in good condition are worth something but not a crazy high price.

      I wouldn't buy from them either, just too many "questions" of their practices. No thanks.

      Oh what? BJ is going to come "talk" to me for posting my thoughts too? hahaha.. whatever.
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