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HomeThe MarketRear view: 2 – Covid trashed Arizona auctions, but Mecum played through

Rear view: 2 – Covid trashed Arizona auctions, but Mecum played through

January sales in Scottsdale, Phoenix were scaled back, canceled, postponed or held online

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While Covid continued sweeping around the world, the collector car community gradually emerged from its cocoon as 2021 wore on to begin again staging auctions, car shows and other events.

But the year started out in the thick of the pandemic, before vaccinations became widely available, and generally accepted, and with most everything shut down. 

Sadly, we had become accustomed to cancellations and postponements – after the events of Monterey Car Week, including the Pebble Beach Concours, were canceled in August 2020, anything seemed possible.

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A 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Tourer by Corsica was a top seller at RM Sotheby’s OTTO auction in Scottsdale | Howard Koby

So January’s Arizona Auction Week 2021 appeared endangered. In contrast, Mecum Auctions was going gung ho on its annual supersized auction in Kissimmee, Florida, with more than 2,000 collector vehicles and hordes of people attending.

On the annual auction calendar, Arizona Auction Week is second only to Monterey, but it seemed highly unlikely that anything would be stirring among the no-fewer-than-eight collector car auctions that had taken place in January 2020, before the pernicious virus had reared its ugly contagion.

No, it seemed that everything in Arizona would be called off, as it had in Monterey.  Yet, while the January 2021 auction scene was a mere shadow of its usual self, the show did go on, only different and much smaller, and way less exuberant.

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Carroll Shelby’s own Cobra 427 Super Snake sold for $5.5 million at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale | Howard Koby

First off, Arizona’s big dog, the Barrett-Jackson extravaganza, which was keyed up to celebrate its 50th anniversary in January 2021, was postponed.  The huge event, as much a lifestyle happening as a car auction, took place instead March 23-27 at its usual WestWorld venue.

Scottsdale in January seemed weird without Barrett-Jackson, but the March sale went off well, scoring a total of $105 million, which included $5.8 million for charity, a 100 percent sell-through rate for the mostly no-reserve auction, and the pulse-quickening sale of Carroll Shelby’s own 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake that went for $5.5 million.

The 50th anniversary party also was delayed, and for an entire year, with the January 2022 edition of Barrett-Jackson preparing to mark the occasion instead.

auction, Rear view: 2 – Covid trashed Arizona auctions, but Mecum played through, ClassicCars.com Journal
A bright-red 1955 Jaguar D-Type race car topped RM Sotheby’s Scottsdale sale | Howard Koby

RM Sotheby’s was ready in January to hold its 22nd annual Arizona auction as usual, though scaled back with Covid precautions, although it was forced to accommodate a major glitch – its customary haunt at the historic Arizona Biltmore Resort in Phoenix was closed until March.

Not to be deterred, the Canadian auction company held its January sale at the OTTO Car Club, a car-storage and event center in North Scottsdale, which hosted the sale of 80 high-value collector vehicles, although with limited attendance permitted. 

Afterward, RM Sotheby’s called the sale an “unrivaled success,” with a 90 percent sell-through and a total result of $35 million, which was about $4.5 million more than the previous year’s pre-pandemic Arizona total.

auction, Rear view: 2 – Covid trashed Arizona auctions, but Mecum played through, ClassicCars.com Journal
Gooding sold this 1926 Bugatti Type 57 Grand Prix for an auction record price | Gooding

Gooding & Company held a January sale that it called its Geared Online Scottsdale Edition auction, only it wasn’t staged in Scottsdale.  Instead, the auction was conducted entirely online January 18-22 from the company’s Southern California facility.

Just 49 collector cars were offered, of which 40 sold, for a total of about $7.1 million. 

The Geared Online auction might have set a precedent for Gooding, which will stage its January 2022 auction as a hybrid live/online event, with the auction vehicles available for inspection in Scottsdale as usual, but the auctioneer-led bidding held online.

auction, Rear view: 2 – Covid trashed Arizona auctions, but Mecum played through, ClassicCars.com Journal
Bonhams scored with the $1.8 million sale of a 1959 BMW 507 in Scottsdale | Howard Koby

Bonhams, which along with RM Sotheby’s was the only auction company holding a “normal” live Arizona event in January, had a heavily reduced sale at its usual Westin Kierland Resort venue in Scottsdale.  The limited-attendance 10th anniversary auction offered just 37 cars, of which 29 sold, for a total of $5.89 million.

Russo and Steele, which like Barrett-Jackson is based in Scottsdale, held an entirely different sort of affair for January 2021, an “exclusive private event” featuring an invitation-only preview reception and a full-course dinner, followed by a memorabilia sale and an 80-car auction, all at no reserve. The auction company has not made results available.

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A 1947 Mercury Series 79M equipped with Marmon-Herrington 4-wheel drive was a top seller for Worldwide | Worldwide

Worldwide Auctioneers held its January sale entirely online, with live/online bidding of 60 cars, resulting in a 93 percent sell-through and an estimated total of $4.9 million – the company did not provide official results but this is what Hagerty’s auction watchers have compiled.

The two other auction companies that conducted Arizona sales in January 2020, MAG and Leake, canceled their 2021 events.

auction, Rear view: 2 – Covid trashed Arizona auctions, but Mecum played through, ClassicCars.com Journal
A 1966 Ferrari 275 GTS rolls passed the crowded arena at Mecum’s Florida auction | Mecum

Meanwhile, in Kissimmee, Mecum held its usual massive collector car auction that serves as the East Coast rival for Arizona Auction Week.  Mecum, which had resumed live auctions by the middle of 2020, though with Covid restrictions, held its 10-day Florida sale with more-than 2,000 collector vehicles available, albeit with attendance strictly limited.

The unexpected result set a record for Mecum.  The total of $122.8 million was the highest amount ever recorded for a single Mecum auction. The company also called its resounding 89 percent sell-through in Florida, “an unprecedented sales percentage for a reserve-based auction of this magnitude.”

As it turned out, the Kissimmee sale set the tone not just for Mecum but for most 2021 collector car auctions after January, as they seemed to tap into pent-up demand from the pandemic lockdowns to score strong sales percentages and record-breaking total results.

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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