Russo and Steele 2016: A Field Guide to the Car Auction in Scottsdale

There may be several auctions happening in metro Phoenix this January, but there's only one Russo and Steele. Known as the "World's Most Exciting Collector Automobile Auction," Russo and Steele has a high-energy, frenzied "auction in the round" format. 

New Times had the chance to talk with John Bemis, Russo and Steele's consignment director, about what auction attendees might expect during the 2016 edition of the event, why Russo and Steele is so unique, and why someone might want buy or sell a car at auction.

Bemis has been with Russo and Steele since its beginning in 2001. Working first as a volunteer alongside owners Drew and Josephine Alcazar, Bemis helped develop Russo and Steele into the successful, dynamic auction it is today. As consignment director, he's "in charge of all things related to sales." His works to help find and acquire cars  — and foster relationships with buyers. "I'm the guy who shoots them straight," he says, "I get calls daily from clients who ask, 'What do you think [this car] is worth? Should I buy it?'" 

Russo and Steele is one of a kind, Bemis says, because while all auctions have an established niche — from high-end multi-million dollar cars to "value" autos that sell between $15,000 and $35,000 — Russo and Steele shares clientele with all the auctions. From high-end Ferraris to moderate-dollar vehicles, there's something for everyone, Bemis says. This year is poised to be their best on record, with about 750 cars waiting to be auctioned in Scottsdale. Bemis says the quality, type, and amount of inventory is better than ever.

Many choose to sell their cars at auction to take advantage of the marketing that is beyond what one could do independently. The exposure is greater, Bemis says, and when your car is valued, it can sell for even more due to the energy, ego, and personality in the collector car aution hobby. "People want to be top dog," he says, implying that buyers' bids will go higher as their egos grow. "Two to three people might have an emotional attachment to a car, and someone might just not like the other guy bidding across the way. Millionaires don't like to lose."

Buyers like to go to auction for two major reasons, Bemis says. "If you have the opportunity to buy a $100,000 car, you are two things: successful and busy." Buyers may have the money to buy a collector car, but don't have the time to hunt down and purchase one with the assured quality that a car at Russo and Steele is guaranteed to have. If you're one of the buyers, Bemis says, "you want to be on the hunt, to be the king."

So why go to Russo and Steele as an attendee? "It's like going to a football game where you get to see fabulous plays one after another," Bemis says. Russo and Steele is also an environment to meet and make friends, and some return year after year to reunite at the auction. "It's like old homies week," he says. 

Time and Date: Wednesday, January 27, through Sunday, January 31, beginning each morning at 9 a.m. 

Location: Bemis says they build a small city in the desert in order to host Russo and Steele. The location is 18398 North Hayden Road in Scottsdale. Take the 101 East to Hayden Road, and head west on Mayo Blvd. Follow the signs to General Admission Parking.

Price: For the auction preview on Wednesday, January 27, general admission tickets will cost attendees $20 per person. From Thursday, January 28, through Saturday, January 30, general admission will cost $30, while tickets are $25 on Sunday, January 31. 

Food and Drink:
Although Russo and Steele doesn't publicize a list of its food and beverage vendors, Bemis says the auction will have everything you could possibly want. From domestic beer to cocktails, burgers and hot dogs, there will be food aplenty during the auction week.

Keep In Mind: Russo and Steele is the only auction that operates with an "auction in the round" format. This means the auction takes place on a stage in the center of raised stands where spectators can watch and interact in the loud, fast-paced bidding. "The auction is an awesome experience," Bemis says, "It's like a prize fight, a Vegas show, very energetic, very engaging, electric, with a fun factor of the Richter." Unlike more reserved auctions, Russo and Steele allows people to touch, walk around, and sit in the cars while they're on the auction block.

Don't Miss: Cars line up in a pre-staging area before they roll out onto the auction block. Event-goers can mill around the pre-stage to look at nearly forty cars, talk to the sellers, and catch a final glimpse before they're gone. It's like catching a horse in the stable right before the Kentucky Derby. 

Schedule of Events:
Wednesday, January 27: Auction preview beginning at 9 a.m.
Thursday, January 28, to Sunday January 31: Admission for preview begins at 9 a.m., and the auction begins at noon.
Friday, January 29: John Bemis will host a seminar with owner Drew Alcazar called "Unmasking the Block." Bemis says the seminar will be more of a Q&A session where attendees can ask questions about anything from cars to Russo and Steele. "We'll tell people what they really want to know," Bemis says. 

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Cal Faber
Contact: Cal Faber