Go Inside a Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction

1966 Honda S600 Convertible
1966 Honda S600 Convertible

Doug Wilson, VP of Marketing at TireBuyer, recently had the opportunity to attend a Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Las Vegas. We thought you might enjoy his account of the event.

I attended the Barrett-Jackson Car Collector Auction on September 24-26 in Las Vegas. Having previously only seen portions of the auction on TV, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when seeing it in person. I was invited by the folks at Barrett-Jackson and was lucky to have a guide show me the behind-the-scenes activities. I even got to stand up on the auction stage and meet Craig Jackson, the Chairman and CEO of the company.

The auction was held at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas over a 3-day period. From talking to other people at the Las Vegas auction, I learned that the annual show in Scottsdale, Arizona in January is massive by comparison, spanning nearly 10 days.

The auction was a fascinating experience. For those of you who have never attended a Barrett-Jackson auction, here’s my account of how it works:

All the vehicles that were up for auction were staged in a huge convention center hall; you need to buy a ticket to access the hall. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of vehicles lined up for display prior to the auction. Each vehicle had a numbered detail sheet stuck to the windshield that explained the vehicle in more detail. Each vehicle was also listed by number in a glossy, bound auction catalog; most vehicles had a dedicated catalog page with photos, a description, and history information. Some of the vehicles had the hoods open to reveal engine compartments. Some vehicles were up on blocks or ramps, and some had mirrors on the floor so viewers could see underneath the vehicle.

1978 Cadillac Seville Opera Coupe
1978 Cadillac Seville Opera Coupe

Cars were driven out of the exhibition hall into a three-lane holding area that led to the main auction hall. The holding area was full of activity and had a party-like atmosphere as each car was called up into the main auction hall.

As cars entered the main auction hall, each was met by handlers who provided a last-minute wipe-down of the car with a soft cloth, shining it up before it was featured on the auction stage in front of the crowd and the TV cameras. The auction hall itself was like a sports arena, packed with bidders in the main floor area, and there was an elevated platform behind the stage for the auctioneers, bidding assistants, and key personnel, including Gary Barrett, Vice President of Consignment, and Craig Jackson. There were also spectators in the upper deck seating areas around the arena as well as box seats for large sponsors like Ford. I asked about how to become a bidder and was told that most people sign up in advance of the show, since they must meet certain financial criteria in order to bid.

Each car on the auction block was briefly described by the auctioneer, and was also shown on two huge video displays on either side of the stage. The video displays would update in real time with the current bid and the winning bid amount. The winning bids ranged from a few thousand dollars to more than a million dollars for certain rare vehicles.

1952 Chevrolet 3100 Custom Pickup
1952 Chevrolet 3100 Custom Pickup

I’m always amazed when I hear auctioneers calling for bids in their fast speech. To be honest, I had a hard time hearing some of the prices because they talk so fast! Since the hall is so large, there are “spotters” standing throughout the crowd to assist the auctioneer when bids are made; they would call out or signal when someone in their section of the floor made a bid.

All in all, they have it down to a very smooth procedure, with each car lasting about 2 or 3 minutes on the auction block, and a steady stream of vehicles all day long, from about 11:00 am until 8:00 pm each day.

What surprised me most about the event was seeing the other items that were auctioned besides classic vehicles.  For example, during the first part of morning bidding, there were all kinds of items up for auction like antique gas station signs, vintage neon signs from various vehicle, motor oil, and gas station companies, etc. Barrett-Jackson refers to these items as “Automobilia.”

1953 Scoot About Gum Drop
1953 Scoot About Gum Drop

I was also surprised by the alternative vehicles that were up for auction. For example, I saw a classic motorcycle, a small hover airplane that reminded me of the flying cars on the old Jetsons cartoons (the 1990 Sky Commuter), and a small “clown car” that might have been used in parades (the 1953 Scoot About Gum Drop).

Inside the exhibition hall, there were also many different vendor booths to visit.  You would expect some vehicle-related vendors selling automotive parts & tools, which there were, but there were also many other vendors selling things like patio furniture, jewelry, clothing, hot tubs, motorized bicycles, futuristic concept cars, party boats, gun safes, kitchen knives, cooking equipment, and even insurance.

1931 Ford model A Roadster
1931 Ford Model A Roadster

All in all, it was pretty fascinating to see the entire event and some of the behind-the-scenes areas and activities. If you like going to car shows, and you appreciate beautifully restored and preserved classic automobiles, or if you’d like to become a collector, you would definitely have a blast at the event. I took hundreds of pictures just walking around the exhibition hall and there were definitely a lot of interesting and rare cars and trucks on display. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and clothing, especially because some of the activities may be outdoors.


Established in 1971 and headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, Barrett-Jackson is a leader in collector car auctions and automotive lifestyle events. Their next auction is planned for January 23-31, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information, visit www.barrett-jackson.com and read our previous blog post, Meet the Car of Your Dreams at a Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction.


Photos by Doug Wilson

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