in the headlights

in the headlightsBarrett-Jackson auctions are events that really give me mixed emotions.

I like the primetime TV coverage and the huge exposure this auction gives to non-participants in the old car hobby. That is a huge positive.

But I absolutely hate the “charity” side of the Barrett-Jackson auctions.


I have time to think about stuff like this in between the 1st and 85th Corvette sale at a typical B-J auction. It’s like time traveling back to late 1967 and watching the brand new 68 Sting Ray come off the assembly line. Great thrill for the first six “new-look” Mako- Vettes or so but really boring after # 123 rolls off the line.


Watching clone Vette after clone Vette roll up the B-J auction block forces me to drift off so I think about things like the pale imitation of altruism behind the fundraising auctions at Barrett Jackson. These “cause du jour” events always begin with an earnest looking Craig Jackson-typically he grabs the mike to explain why this particular auction is more important than the last auction he shilled. Usually the item up for bid is some kind of donation from a company like Ford or GM and Jackson builds it up with the standard “one of a kind car- never happen again” spiel.


Then he gets (insert celebrity here) to take over the spiel and hustle the item like a 25-dollar hooker on Saturday night because it’s … a good cause. If the item doesn’t move fast enough, he’ll point to the nearest stage prop –usually a sick kid or a guy in a wheelchair.


If that doesn’t work you can bet Craig will jump in there and start personally running up the bid because he’s a decent, concerned  guy and it’s a great charity-even better than the one he worked five minutes earlier. Then he’ll pull out the extra ace in the deck and start shaming some guy in the bidding area to outbid him-that way Craig doesn’t really have to cut a check.


He just has to look like he was prepared to give until it hurts-that’s show biz.


It’s like peeking at the dealer’s hand every time you play Blackjack-it’s going to go your way or ( in this case Craig’s way) every single time.


Not that I have any sympathy for the “marks”. Barrett-Jackson bidders come in two flavors: cold-blooded professional buyers for large collectors or dealers or drunk guys with giant egos. Both types like the warm glow of the TV lights but in fairness to the pros, they are still all about the ‘curbing classic car’ business. That makes them slimy but consistent in standard business practices like “buy low-sell high”.


The drunk guys are another story-these guys usually look like bloated Jimmy Buffetts. (loud Hawaiian shirts with a mega-sized cocktail in each hand and no real empathy for “the cause”). These guys get caught up in the euphoria of a giant cheering crowd, the rum and adrenaline simultaneously kick in and when the gavel hits the wood they just paid 130K for a warmed-over “one of one” brand new Mustang courtesy of  the Ford Motor Company.


At least the charity wins but the “giving ‘til it hurts” part gets very murky with these wannabe Mother Theresas. The same pattern emerges at every charity auction on the face of the planet-get guy drunk, put a signed Peyton Manning jersey in the mix, amp him into full alpha-male mode and suddenly you have a 10,000 dollar numbered shirt.


This B-J auction is no different


These aren’t good guys by definition-in fact; you can bet they’re not even okay guys. They’re simply highly competitive, successful guys with elevated alcohol levels and a seven figure line of credit. There is nothing wrong with winning in business but I can guarantee these guys didn’t get to a “bloated and drunk Jimmy Buffett” level in life by giving away money.


That’s why these quasi-Jimmy Buffetts are more likely to get into a fist fight with suppliers over the cost of paper clips than hand a street bum a buck. They protect every dollar they spend-that’s how they win in business.


So when a drunk guy in a horrible shirt pays insane money for a fundraiser at the Barrett-Jackson circus in the name of altruism we’re happy for the charity. That’s great for charity but do we have to respect or like these guys?


Not a chance-even if they give more money to charity in 3.5 seconds at a B-J auction than Mother Theresa earned in personal income over 8 decades.


So we don’t have to like the guy who cut the check. Nor do we have to like slick guys like Craig Jackson for hustling the moneyed up rubes and constantly reminding us that B-J is taking no commission for the sale.


That’s because all these guys (from Jackson to drunk and fat Jimmy Buffett) like to take  public bows on live TV for what they see (through the beer goggles) as an incredibly unselfish act.


Then when they sober up these cold-blooded entrepreneurs get bragging rights “yeah, I did get gunned and spent 1.2 million for a beat-up ex-Jeff Gordon Monte Carlo at Barrett-Jackson but it was for a good cause and I was happy to give”. Nobody buys that-not even the hung-over guy who said it


There’s the problem- other than the dollar amount there’s nothing sincere or real about drunken charity. Even on live TV at a Barrett-Jackson car auction…


So on to the next Vette- my mind is re-focused on “auction-action” again.barrett jackson pix-3