Mark Hyman came from St. Louis to Scottsdale to buy a bunch of cars. So far, he’s picked up a 1960 Skoda Felicia, "for under $20,000 — a really good deal," at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction, the collector car extravaganza that has packed WestWorld, 16601 N. Pima Road, with 900 pricey autos and tens of thousands of car lovers.
Hyman, who buys and sells vintage cars for a living, expects to buy more vehicles today when the elegant classics — the Pierce-Arrows and Packards — drive onto the auction block.
Hyman and other experts credit Barrett-Jackson president Craig Jackson for turning car collecting from an avocation of a few knowledgeable car junkies to a hobby of the masses. Especially the wellheeled baby boomers who want to have fun while they spend their money.
"Barrett-Jackson is a phenomenon," Hyman said. "The cars are secondary. People like the cars and love the event. Craig is a genius. He has brought car collecting into every person’s living room."
McKeel Hagerty, president of Hagerty Insurance, the largest insurer of collector cars, said Jackson’s hook-up with cable TV’s SPEED channel has helped revolutionize the industry.
SPEED is broadcasting 24 hours of auction coverage live and has been hosting Jackson’s weekly show, which teaches wannabes how to become savvy car collectors.
"Barrett-Jackson is very much a market-maker," Hagerty said. "It changes the market — establishes the upper end."
Hagerty said he expects this week’s auction to "set a number of world record prices."
Several records were shattered Friday. A 1953 Chevrolet Custom Pickup went for $95,000. A 1961 Chrysler 300G Convertible sold for $190,000.
That was one of the biggest totes for the day, too. Other cars that sold Friday for more than the price of a typical house are a 1970 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda, that a collector bought for $250,000, and a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Copo Coupe that changed hands for $187,000.
Today, a 1958 one-of-a-kind custom Chevrolet Corvette with a retractable hard top could fetch the biggest tab. It has been appraised at $730,000, Jackson said.
Part of the reason for the frenzy of high bidding is the gap between the nearly 5,000 registered bidders with a combined credit line topping $580 million who have qualified to buy the cars and only 900 cars for them to buy, Hagerty said.
Some folks will pay a premium just to be part of the auction action, Hyman said.
"The sun is shining. The mood is festive. If I did my homework, I might be able to buy a car for less in the open market, but it’s not as much fun," he said. "There are people who go to the auction just to have fun. If they lose twenty grand, they don’t care."
Hyman said he’s concerned about an influx of new collectors driving up prices for some segments of the industry, such as the muscle cars — the big-engine, high-powered ’Cudas, Camaros, Mustangs and the like that roared in the ’60s and ’70s and have become the darlings of the baby boomer collectors in the last few years. He’s worried that the cars’ rapid appreciation will lead to a correction, similar to what happens in the stock market when shares are bought for more than their intrinsic value.
But Hagerty said the muscle cars, which are more affordable and more drivable than the old classics, are revving up the collector car industry.
"The muscle cars don’t have the refinement of a Duesenberg, but they are injecting energy into the market," he said. "And it’s good because more people can afford them. A person can buy one for $20,000 to $25,000 and have a great time with it."
As for those who are looking to buy classic cars as an investment, Hyman said old cars are generally a safe bet but not a sure thing. He advises would-be collectors to research before buying.
And buy something you like, he said, because if it depreciates but you’ve had fun with it, you won’t care.