The Beginner’s Guide to High-End Auto Auctions

Thirteen tips for scoring your vintage vehicular dream

By Shari Gab

Thirteen Things You Need to Know Before Hitting a High-End Car Auction
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24 June 2016

The ‘69 Chevy Camaro Custom Coupe. The cherry-red ‘63 Ford Galaxie Custom Fastback. The gleaming white ‘57 Chevy 210.

It would be easier to name the autos that are not making us drool at this weekend’s Barrett-Jackson Northeast auction.

They’re one of the most renowned and reliable auction houses in the auto game. And if you’ve got a bucket-list love affair with an out-of-production, highly coveted steed, they’re the guys you want to see. But auctions aren’t a Sunday stroll in the park. The uninformed bidder can easily land himself a lemon.

So we tapped Craig Jackson, CEO and Chairman of Barrett-Jackson, for some know-before-you-go tips on not gettin’ got on the auction floor.

I'm thinking about buying a car at auction. How do I find the right one?
It depends on what you’re looking for. “If you’re looking for an elevated level of excitement and thousands of bidders in the auction arena, Barrett-Jackson would be your best option,” says Jackson. “We’re not just an auction, but a true automotive lifestyle event broadcast live to millions around the globe.”

Are there different types of auctions?
Some auctions focus on one specific arena, like muscle cars or motorcycles. And there are different types of auctions: English style and American style, for example. Jackson prefers the American style for its high-octane atmosphere. “When it comes to auctioning a collection, we think it’s best to immerse the collection into one of our auctions. We found it to be incredibly successful when we did what so many thought we couldn’t do with the Ron Pratte Collection in 2015. We sold 131 vehicles from Pratte over two days, including more than 1,500 pieces of automobilia for over $40.4 Million.”

I see something I like — should I hold out for another auction or go for it?
Raise high that paddle. You may never get this opportunity again. “Every car has its own story, so if you know what you want and see one you like, you should make your best effort at purchasing it.”

How should I assess the value of the vehicle?
Do your homework. Look online and research comparable sales. Then get there early, have an expert inspect the car and speak directly with the cosigner. “We don’t put the range like most catalogue auction companies because we are predominantly ‘No Reserve,’ but we’re very accurate. The first thing is understanding what the car actually is and understanding the importance of the car’s description.”

What questions should I ask?
“If it’s a restomod: Who built it? What parts? Do you have copies of the receipts? If it’s a stock car that’s been restored: Who restored it? Has it won any shows? Do they have copies of the restoration receipts? Did they use aftermarket parts or new old-stock parts? Do they have original paperwork that speaks to the provenance of the vehicle?”

Am I going to be bidding with pros? Am I out of my league? 
Not at Barrett, at least. It’s a pretty level playing field. “About 40% of our bidders at each auction are first-timers and another 30% are collectors that may only have two or three cars and are looking to sell one and get a better car as they move up in the hobby. The last 30% are the serious collectors with many cars in their collection and looking to grow it.” Guiding principle: just do research on the auction, just like you would any big purchase.

How much bread do I need to bring?
Prospective bidders can qualify financially in one of three ways:

  • Submit a letter of guarantee on official bank letterhead for a minimum of $30,000. Checks and copies of bank statements are not accepted.
  • Obtain financing with a minimum preapproval of $30,000. Woodside Credit provides on-site services at Barrett-Jackson.
  • Submit a bid limit deposit of 10 percent, with a minimum of $9,000. A $100,000 deposit, for example, would allow the buyer to buy up to $1 million at auction.

What is the typical process for bidding? Assume my knowledge base is eBay.
“The best thing is to get with a bidder assistant early. Some novice bidders will want to snipe in at the last second. If the bidder assistant or the auctioneer has never taken a bid from you and you want to come in at the last second, they may not see you.”

What happens if I get a lemon?
“At Barrett-Jackson, there is a 30-day period from the date you purchased the car where the buyer can request mediation. It’s an informal mediation process where Barrett-Jackson helps facilitate a resolution between the buyer and seller. Being that we’re run by automotive enthusiasts, we understand the issue and can get the issue resolved. Sometimes it’s just cold feet; other times it’s a legitimate issue. Cars are sold as is and all representations about the cars are made by the seller.”

Anything I should be especially aware of when inspecting a vehicle?
Certain cars are prone to rust. Get underneath the car and really take a hard look to see if it has anything unsavory happening up there. “If it’s described as a rare original muscle car with matching numbers or documented with show provenance, we don’t guarantee that, but we do have automotive experts that look at them.”

Wait — do I actually have to go to the auction?
No, absentee bidding is available through phone bidding and online. Bidders all over the world take advantage of that opportunity.

What do I need to know about fellow bidders?
“It can be a mind game in there. Different guys are bidding in different ways. Some guys will open high to just blow everyone out of the water. Other guys may hang back, but let the bidder assistant know that they want to bid and come in towards the end.”

What happens if I win?
“When you are the winning bidder, you will be asked to sign a clerk ticket and be provided a carbon copy of the ticket.  That ticket is transferred to Consignment for processing and the bidder at that point can make their way to the cashiering location at any time to sign papers, pay for the vehicle or set up a wire.  We encourage them to do so sooner than later, as this helps avoid the lines.” Then you insure it (endorsed collector car insurance is available onsite) and ship it.

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