Pratte’s automobilia collection drops green flag on Barrett-Jackson

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Two-sided 1930s’ neon sign with lighted wings spans 106 inches. It sold Saturday for $20,000 | Jim Resnick photos

While the much-ballyhooed car collection from builder/developer Ron Pratte goes up for auction at Barrett-Jackson starting Tuesday, some 1,500 items – that’s 10 times as voluminous as the Pratte car collection – already are being sold from the Pratte collection. Those items include vintage signs, period neon, gas pumps, gas globes, parts testers, rare pedal cars plus motorcycle ephemera and Americana.

Pratte’s private but well-known museum in Chandler, Arizona was a bastion of automobile romance in the grandest fashion. Well, it was until he put every last nut, bolt, carburetor and hood ornament up for sale through Barrett-Jackson. Imagine that phone call.

Pratte’s automobilia collection up for bidding at Barrett-Jackson

“Hi, Craig? It’s Ron Pratte.”
“Hi Ron.”
“Craig, I’m done with the cars. The cars, the signs, the bikes, the globes. Everything. I want you to sell it all for me. A hundred-forty cars and 1,500 pieces of automobilia.”

Like Chief Brody’s classic line to Quint in that famous scene from Jaws when Brody first encounters the shark, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” becomes, for Jackson, “You’re gonna need a longer week.”

And so the whole Pratte flotilla marched its way up to Barrett-Jackson for one last moment of mobile togetherness.

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And that actually makes the point of a wide-ranging collection even more clear for us. America in the 20th Century broke barriers, broke records, broke many societal shackles that restricted people in the 19th Century. Many of those personal restrictions – for women even more so than for men – first ended with sheer mobility. Getting around. The car is freedom.

No country embraced that freedom with as much zeal as did America. Ron Pratte understood and celebrated that ingenuity, that freedom, the best of that wander lust. Now that his huge homage to the most colorful and widely loved cars of the past century (a lair of flair, as it were) sits empty, shorn of cars and car things, the contents will hopefully spread the same automotive gospel to many more as the collection itself informs, liberates, entertains and focuses people on the best we can do.

The sale of Pratte’s automobilia began Saturday and continues today and Monday.

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Jim Resnick began his career as a writer, reporter and photographer for magazines including Vette, Hot Rod, Chevy High Performance and Car Craft. In 1996, he launched Bimmer Magazine as its editor-in-chief. He also was technical editor of Sports Car International. Later, he did public relations and marketing for Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Jaguar Land Rover, and thus brings a unique perspective to his reporting and writing. He also is a "recovering" racer and guitarist.