Editor’s note: This is the second in a 6-part series examining where the collector car hobby is headed in the next decade and beyond. Read the rest of the series here. Craig Jackson is chairman and chief executive of the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction company, which was founded in 1971 by his father, Russ, and Frank Barrett. Craig helped park cars at the company’s first auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, and later did hands-on car restorations before succeeding his late brother, Brian, as the company’s leader in 1995. He has grown Barrett-Jackson into an automotive lifestyle events and auction company that keeps his mother, Nellie’s, legacy by raising money for charities through its auctions.
They say history always repeats itself. I tend to agree. especially when you apply that school of thought to the collector car market.
This hobby has been, and will continue to be, vibrant and adaptive. When we look in the rearview mirror at the evolution we’ve experienced over the last 20 years, you see a pattern that is both repeatable and sustainable for a decade down the road.
While several indicators are worth noting, there are at least three that rise to the top:
First, we’re seeing a new generation of buyers who have the interest and income to buy the collector vehicles of their youth. This is not only growing the base of auction buyers and sellers, but ultimately changing how auction dockets are structured.
Secondly, technology for restoring and maintaining collector vehicles has accelerated at an unbelievable pace. Growing in tandem with that technology is the access to advanced technical education that’s building the next generation of professional coachbuilders and craftsmen.
Third, the explosion of digital exposure is giving the collector car auction market greater visibility – and accessibility — through online media channels.
When I took the helm at Barrett-Jackson, prewar classics like the Duesenbergs were still hot. However, I recognized the generation connected to these vehicles was aging out of the market. That’s when we started adding ’60s- and ’70s-era muscle cars to our dockets.
People thought we were crazy, but the trend caught on like wildfire. And it’s still an incredibly strong market today.
But now that generation of classic muscle car enthusiasts is maturing, and we’re naturally looking to the generation who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s to take the market to the next phase of growth. This is highlighted by increased interest in imports, and we’re seeing a rapid expansion in that market with examples like the early 240Zs and Porsches that span decades from the ’70s and ’80s to more contemporary models like the last 997.
The Resto-Mod market has also taken off with many younger collectors and we’re seeing great custom work with everything from Corvettes and classic muscle cars to SUVs and pickups, like the Chevy Blazer and 3100, Land Rover and Ford Bronco. The market is broader than it has ever been and we certainly expect it to continue growing over the next decade.
I also want to point out that this rising generation of collectors is more substantive than just their youth. The demographics of this up-and-coming group is both far-reaching and deep. It’s a generation that crosses gender, race and nationality.
Women, for example, are playing a greater role in the market. In 2016, Barrett-Jackson sold more than 80 vehicles from the Tammy Allen Collection during our 2016 Las Vegas Auction. And last year, Paulette Carpoff, chief operating officer of DC Solar, was the winning bidder of our 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snake that raised $1 million to benefit Las Vegas’ first responders.
The rising generation also is comprised of enthusiasts from the international community, from which we have seen increasing engagement over the years. This includes vehicle consignments from countries like Brazil, Italy, Australia and Canada. We’ve also had over 900 international bidders representing 19 foreign countries in the last year alone, including Argentina, England, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Puerto Rico and Spain.
A major factor contributing to the growth of the market is the spike in new and emerging technology. And growing alongside this new tech are schools, like McPherson College in Kansas, that are dedicated to teaching students how to use it.
By and large, restoration of the past was a very physical hobby. I spent a great deal of my youth in the garage learning how to rebuild engines, restore upholstery and pinstripe. And while it remains a very hands-on craft, technology is making, building and restoring vehicles easier. It’s also reducing a lot of the time that was spent doing things by hand. McPherson, for example, is giving students the skills they need to build the next generation of cars. In fact, I believe that in the next 30 years there will be a whole new trade devoted to restoring and integrating tech into today’s cars. Eventually we’ll see a day when electric motors will be widely retrofitted into vehicles that were produced with a gas engine.
If you feel like automotive restoration and design is a dying art, I encourage you to visit McPherson College. You’ll not only see it is still alive, but thriving among a new generation of auto enthusiasts and craftsmen who will keep this industry alive for decades to come.
Finally, the explosion of digital media has made being a part of the collector car auction market easier for everyone around the globe.
At Barrett-Jackson, we’ve always strived to make the collector car hobby accessible to anyone who wants to be involved in this community. We kicked that off by being the first televised collector car auction in history. We brought the excitement of our auction stage right into the living rooms of people across the county. In 1995 we added online bidding, which brought the auction even closer. Now we’re leveraging digital media to connect with enthusiasts around the world. This not only gives enthusiasts access to auctions, but creates a greater bond and unites the community, which in turn fuels the excitement and growth of this amazing hobby.
Of course, there other factors that contribute to what I see driving the excitement of this hobby over the next decade. I know our team is looking forward to that growth and being a part of a collector car industry working to foster a new generation of enthusiasts who will drive this market into the future.