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The need for speed: Car lovers convene at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction.
courtesy of Barrett-Jackson

People assume that big spenders head to Las Vegas for high-rolling, hedonistic pleasure. That may be true some of the time, but for four frenzied days every January, Scottsdale becomes the planet's prime destination for elite car connoisseurs prepared to duel it out to purchase amazing autos. The Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction, which touts itself as "The World's Greatest," is indeed famous for a good reason.

Barrett-Jackson shows the highest of high-end hot rods, classics, muscle cars, exotics and sports cars from all eras. While many of the vehicles have been lovingly and expensively restored to their original gleaming glory, others have been maintained in mint condition all along.

"This event is the pinnacle of our hobby," says Craig Jackson, avid car collector, and president and CEO of Barrett-Jackson.

Jackson's father, Russ, founded the auction 31 years ago with partner Tom Barrett. After hosting car shows for years during the 1960s, the two decided to put their collections together and hold an auction in 1971. What started as an opportunity to buy and sell classic cars has evolved into an enormous international event encompassing all categories of cars.

Last year, more than 140,000 attendees witnessed heated competition from 3,200 registered bidders. "Until you're there, you can't imagine the emotions involved," says Jackson. "It almost gives you goose bumps to see some of these guys go at it in the bidding." The event produced a remarkable total sales figure of $26.7 million -- in four days. This year, planners anticipate 4,000 bidders and even more visitors.

Of course, not just anyone can sell a car at Barrett-Jackson. Only people with something rare and exquisite to offer, like a 1967 Corvette L-87 Convertible (one of only 16 ever built), can hope to see their cars on the auction platform. Between 3,000 and 4,000 vehicles are thoroughly screened for the exclusive privilege of being one of the 850 cars auctioned off.

"I think the people that live here are spoiled," Jackson says. "They don't realize what Barrett-Jackson really is." Well, people seem to be catching on. Fortunately for those of us dying to drool over some sweet rides, anyone can attend the auction. This year's special focus will be race cars, including the vehicles of legends Richard Petty, Mario Andretti and Dale Earnhardt. Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep will sponsor an expo pavilion, and a sports bar will be set up to provide a venue for people-watching. An automobilia auction of car-related collectibles will also be held daily. As it sets up its giant white tents covering 135,000 square feet of the grounds at WestWorld, Barrett-Jackson is about to become a fantasy land for car enthusiasts.


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