Some things we learned during Arizona Auction Week

Some things we learned during Arizona Auction Week

Barrett-Jackson has joined the group of auction houses that can pull off the sale of a significant private car collection.

One of several truckloads of Pratte vehicles as they arrived at Barrett-Jackson | Larry Edsall photos

One of several truckloads of Pratte vehicles as they arrived at Barrett-Jackson | Larry Edsall photos

Barrett-Jackson has joined the group of auction houses that can pull off the sale of a significant private car collection. And the Barrett-Jackson twist is that it held that sale as part of its annual Scottsdale auction, not as a stand-alone event in some remote location.

Typically, the sale via auction of a big collection such as Ron Pratte’s takes place in the facility where the collector stores his or her vehicles. Yes, Barrett-Jackson benefited from the fact that Pratte’s car-filled aircraft hangar in Chandler, Arizona, was just a few miles down the freeway from WestWorld of Scottsdale, where Barrett-Jackson stages its annual January auction.

But there were those who wondered if holding the sale there would work, especially holding it mid-week, on a Tuesday yet. Wouldn’t that limit the number of bidders and the prices they were offering?

Many of us — me included — believed Pratte had overpaid for many of the cars in his collection and that in many, many cases, those buying the cars in Scottsdale would pay less — maybe much less — than Pratte had spent. And, yes, one reason Pratte had overpaid for several of his cars was that they were being sold to benefit a charity, and he was a generous benefactor when it came to supporting those charities.

Well, we the doubters were wrong, at least in many cases. Pratte did not get back as much as he spent on vehicles such as the Shelby Super Snake, the GM Futurliner or the Bonneville Motorama concept car. OK, maybe the Futurliner doesn’t really count since it was sold to benefit charity. Maybe the ex-Howard Hughes Buick is a much better case in point. Nonetheless, many of Pratte’s prominent pieces did sell for more — much more — than he had paid.

Rick Carey, auctions expert for Sports Car Digest, keeps extensive records on classic car auction sales. Of the 110 Pratte cars sold last Tuesday at Barrett-Jackson, Carey was able to track what Pratte paid and got for 60 of them. In less than a decade in Pratte’s ownership, their collective value had increased by 22 percent.

And consider this: Barrett-Jackson announced that Pratte’s collection of cars and automobilia realized $40.44 million last week. That number exceeds the $9.1 million for the Microcar Museum collection, the $9.88 million for the Dingman collection, the $10.24 million for the Littlefield Military collection, the $11.5 million figures posted at the Sam Pack Five Star collection and John Staluppi Cars of Dreams museum sales, the $21.2 million for the Don Davis collection, or even the $36 million paid for the Otis Chandler collection or the $38.3 million for the Milhous collection.

Gone but not forgotten: The Pratte hangar

Together no longer, the Pratte collection in the hangar

Don’t be surprised if Barrett-Jackson does another big private collection sale in Scottsdale on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.

(A couple of months ago, I finally got to tour Pratte’s collection in its hangar. It was a spectacular display of cars and signs and gas globes and such, and would have been a true world-class car museum had it been open to the public. I remarked at the time that I wish someone would just offer $50 million for everything — the collection and the building that houses it — and then leave it as is and make it a museum. I still feel that way. Yes, the auctioning of the collection was a wonderful show and the sale of the Futurliner generated several million for charity, but to see the collection as it was is something I wish all car enthusiasts had an opportunity to experience.)

A Ferrari California Spyder

Ferrari California Spyder

Ferraris continue to pace the classic car price race. If you look at the top-10 sales during Arizona Auction Week 2015, and if you eliminate Pratte’s Super Snake, Futurliner and Bonneville, the list is monopolized by Ferraris.

Only three cars sold last week for $7 million or more. Each of them was an Enzo-era Ferrari — a 1964 250 LM coupe for $9.625 million at RM, a 1966 275 GTB Compitizione coupe for $9.405 million at Bonhams, and a 1959 250 GT Cal Spyder for $7.7 million at Gooding & Company.

Last year, four of the top-5 sales in Arizona were Ferraris, with a 1958 250 GT Cal Spyder topping the list at $8.8 million.

The 300SL Gullwing sold for $1.485 million

This 300SL Gullwing sold for $1.485 million

Have 300SLs encountered a speed bump? Bob Golfen is doing a story about how Porsche prices are escalating, and he mentioned that while looking through the auction results, it appears prices being paid for Mercedes-Benz 300SLs may have flattened like a tire hitting a Midwestern-winter pot hole.

Gullwings did bring as much as $1.5 million and a roadster sold for nearly $1.6 million, but another went for $900K.

Could it be that demand for 300SLs, the long-time gold standard for claiming that your’s is a world-class car collection, has softened a bit? Or could it be that collectors who saw 300SL prices edging toward — and even beyond — $2 million last summer are overvaluing their cars this winter?

And it’s not only 300SL owners who may be overvaluing their cars. Auction executives have told me how difficult it’s getting car owners to set realistic reserves on their vehicles, and how competitive it’s getting between the auctions to maintain the quality of their dockets.

I heard much the same thing last week from collector-car dealers who attended a breakfast hosted by After reading about or watching televised auctions featuring the very best examples of the various makes and models, the dealers say classic car owners have inflated opinions about their own examples and want more for their vehicles than the dealers or their customers are likely, willing or even able to pay.

Several dealers said they were in town to take the pulse of the marketplace, but worry that auction prices may make car owners think their cars are worth more than they really are.

The Keno Brothers are coming. We reported last week that Antiques Roadshow stars Leigh and Leslie Keno have formed their own classic car auction house that will focus on online sales via Proxibid. I spent an hour during Arizona Auction Week with the brothers and their team and will share what I learned in a story very soon.larry-sig


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