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First Classic Car Auctions of ’10 Deliver Mixed Results

No fire sales, but no records, either.

by on Jan.25, 2010

The annual Barrett-Jackson Auction has spurned a classic car industry, each January, in Scotsdale.

Even the windstorm that flattened two tents, damaging 100s of classic cars waiting to go on the auction block couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm at what has become the biggest week of the year for collectors who gathered in the tony Phoenix suburb of Scotsdale, over the past week.

The weekend has been a must-attend for more than a decade, starting out with the granddaddy of Scotsdale events, the annual Barrett-Jackson Auction and now including five other events that aim to serve every possible niche of the classic car market, from muscle cars to rare and exotic imports.

Preliminary figures from the four largest events show sales of about $135 million in classic metal.  That’s almost identical to last year’s numbers for the Barrett-Jackson, Russo & Steele, Gooding and RM Auctions.  And the figures actually would’ve been higher, says David Kinney, Publisher of Hagerty’s Cars That Matter, were it not for the windstorm that brought down the two Russo & Steele tents.

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On the other hand, Kinney cautions, the auctions gaveled off more cars, this year than during the devastating January 2009, when the economy was in freefall, so buyers paid less, on average.  At the 800-pound gorilla of the auction scene, the annual Barrett-Jackson, the typical car was auctioned off for $54,814, a bit less than a 4% decline.  But at Gooding, which specializes in exotic autos, the average price slipped from $386,226, last year, to just $297,368.

“Doldrums may be a good way to describe it,” suggests McKeel Hagerty, a long-time auction observer and owner of Hagerty Insurance.  “The quality wasn’t the wall-to-wall perfect cars we would have seen in prior years.  Some of the best cars just aren’t coming to market right now.  People are waiting for the market to improve before selling.”