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HomeNews and EventsThe Classic Car World Celebrates Don Williams

The Classic Car World Celebrates Don Williams

Blackhawk Collection co-founder’s impact is over 50 years strong

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Don Williams, an esteemed expert and collector who co-founded the Blackhawk Collection in the northern California hamlet of Danville, has passed away.

While in his early twenties, Williams worked at Old Time Cars in Los Angeles. His experience and passion led to him running his own classic car dealership, which then led to the auction side of the business, where he produced California’s first collector car auction. Then, in 1979, he moved to Arizona where he met Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson and became part of the Barrett-Jackson family.

Bugatti Royale
Don Williams sold ‘The Berline de Voyage,’ one of six surviving Bugatti Royales, in 2021. | Rick Cole photo

But then opportunity knocked again when real estate tycoon Ken Behring requested Williams’ assistance in building the finest classic car collection possible. Their association led to the 1981 creation of the Blackhawk Collection to acquire and sell classic vehicles. Behring told the Los Angeles Times that their modus operandi was “big powerful cars with a lot of flair, a lot of design … and because of that we are quite heavy with European creations, the Hispanos, the Delahayes, the Bugattis, the Bentleys,” contrasting with the Bill Harrahs, Briggs Cunninghams and Jack Nethercutts of the time. These were the cars that Williams knew and loved. Their search for the best wasn’t limited to that straight and narrow, however, as they also sought “pieces of art, sculptured cars … and that’s most of the French and Italian cars, the Delages, Buccialis and Ferraris, plus Rolls-Royce and Mercedeses.”

Bucciali
Though not a Blackhawk Collection vehicle, this Bucciali demonstrates Williams’ fascination with the marque. French brothers Paul and Angelo Bucciali produced front-wheel drive cars in the 1920s and early ’30s.

Within three years, Williams became the first person ever to sell a car for more than $1 million, a 1931 Figoni-bodied boattail Duesenberg. Williams became a leader in brokering classic cars, especially coach-built pre-war vehicles. Yet, through this exciting time, Williams remained close to the Barrett-Jackson family, helping create the Barrett-Jackson Salon Collection in 2012.

“I spent many a day restoring cars for Don, as well as for Tom Barrett and my father,” Craig Jackson reminisces. “I considered Don a valued resource and trusted advisor, and not a day will go by that I won’t miss his influence and friendship.”

The Blackhawk Museum, the umbrella organization that housed Blackhawk’s Classic Car Collection as well as featuring collections on Chinese history, wild nature, African art, Old West artifacts and more, opened in 1988.

Pebble Beach 70 reunion
Don Williams was a veteran of Pebble Beach for over 50 years.

In 2021, Williams celebrated 50 years at Pebble Beach — an unprecedented showing for an unprecedented show.

Craig Jackson posted on Facebook, “All of us at Barrett-Jackson are saddened to learn of the passing of Don Williams, an absolute legend in the collector car world and a cherished member of our founding family. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his loved ones at this difficult time. Don’s influence on the collector car hobby and on our company will always be celebrated.”

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Diego Rosenberg
Diego Rosenberg
Lead Writer Diego Rosenberg is a native of Wilmington, Delaware and Princeton, New Jersey, giving him plenty of exposure to the charms of Carlisle and Englishtown. Though his first love is Citroen, he fell for muscle cars after being seduced by 1950s finned flyers—in fact, he’s written two books on American muscle. But please don’t think there is a strong American bias because foreign weirdness is never far from his heart. With a penchant for underground music from the 1960-70s, Diego and his family reside in metropolitan Phoenix.

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