The big news regarding collector car auction news in 2017 wasn’t the prices paid as the hammers announced vehicles being “Sold!” — though for the most part that was, indeed, very good news — but involved what was happening off the block.
Where to start? Well, how about at the beginning of the year, with Worldwide Auctioneers holding its first Scottsdale auction, moving its annual Texas auction from the Houston area to Arlington (between Dallas and Fort Worth), and announcing that it would join the Monterey Car Week party, staging a sale in the shadow of the Point Pinos lighthouse in Pacific Grove.
Worldwide hasn’t quite lived up to its name, but at least it is spreading its geographic footprint in this country. On the other hand, the Finest Automobile Auctions turned out not to be living up to its self-appointed name. It started canceling scheduled sales and faced lawsuits from vendors who said they were owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for their work on the company’s earlier auctions on the East Coast and in Colorado.
Then there was the surprising news that Gary Bennett, vice president of consignments for Barrett-Jackson, was retiring. Bennett, an architect, had been a young customer at the first Barrett-Jackson auction back in the early 1970s and at one time held his own auctions in Oklahoma. After Brian Jackson’s death and Craig Jackson’s promotion, Bennett joined Barrett-Jackson as senior auto specialist, which had been Craig Jackson’s job.
Since becoming vice president, Bennett had joined Craig Jackson and company president Steve Davis in elevating the company to its position as perhaps the best-known collector auction house, in part because of expanded international television coverage of the company’s sales.
Several months earlier, Bennett’s wife, Muffy, also left Barrett-Jackson, where she had been managing the company’s year-around collector car sales business. In 2017 she became “new sector director” for Ritchie Bros. and Iron Planet, a publicly traded auction business that reportedly is eagerly exploring its potential for adding collector cars to its sales portfolio. Meanwhile, Gary Bennett has become a major fund raiser for the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer, a frequent beneficiary of collector car sales at Barrett-Jackson’s auctions.
Tulsa-based Leake Auctions scheduled a special-collection sale in Southern California, only to have the event cancelled by the recent wildfires (the cars will be offered instead during the company’s Oklahoma City auction in 2018).
Meanwhile, Mecum Auctions moved its Southern California sale from Anaheim to Pomona, staged its first major collector car auction in Las Vegas, where it also added a second motorcycle auction, and did its first across-the-border sale, albeit by its Gone Farmin’ vintage tractor division, doing the auction of George Nesbitt’s huge Allis-Chalmers Collection in Ontario, Canada.
After two decades of staging as many as three auctions a year in Arizona, Mitch Silver sold that portion of his auction business to the new Silver Auctions Arizona company headed by former mega new-car dealer Emmett Rice, former Leake executive Andy Stone and former Barrett-Jackson operations manager Jason Rose. Silver retained his auction dates in the northwestern portion of the country.
Among the most significant of off-the-block happenings took place at RM Sotheby’s, with the major global art auction house increasing its stake in the collector car business as Kenneth Ahn concluded his first full year as RM Sotheby’s Group president, bringing in a new chief financial officers, promoting Ian Kelleher to chief marketing officer, Gord Duff to global head of auctions and appointing Shelby Myers, son of RM founder Rob Myers, to global head of private sales as RM Sotheby’s expands the non-auction portion of its collector car sales business.
Amid rumors that it might sell its Auburn (Indiana) Auction Park, RM Sotheby’s confirmed that while it is closing down its Auctions America branch, the former Auctions America sales will continue under the RM Sotheby’s umbrella, including the twice-a-year events in northeastern Indiana.
RM partner Sotheby’s also showed the impact of its expansion into the collector car marketplace and the resulting expansion of the marketplace by offering a Ferrari F1 car raced by Michael Schumacher at its New York contemporary art auction, where the car sold for an astounding $7.504 million, and to a client new to both RM and Sotheby’s. Soon thereafter, it enfolded the biennial RM collector car auction in New York City into the new Sotheby’s Luxury Division’s “A Life of Luxury” week that included auctions of jewelry, watches, wine, fashion and collector cars.
Twenty seventeen was a good year for the collector car auction business, both on and off the block, and more of the same is expected in the new year.