Buyers pay top dollar for one-of-a-kind rides

The Barrett-Jackson auto auction in Scottsdale, Ariz. Is nothing but babes, big-block engines — and million-dollar credit lines.

Last month’s event saw the sale of 1,100 cars in six days. These ranged from the 1960 Lincoln Mark V limo once owned by Elvis ($556,200) to the oldest Corvette in existence, a 1953 Chevrolet Corvette “003” ($1 million). However, the highest bid had no celebrity cachet. A 1950 GM Futurliner went for $4.3 million.

What bidders most want is the ride no one else has. That’s also a driving force behind eBay’s auto auction, but real-world auctioneer Drew Alcazar says it has all the charm of online banking.

“The rush and visceral connection can’t exist on computer screen,” he says.

Alcazar owns Russo & Steele, which holds auctions twice a year in Scottsdale and Monterey.

Even at the best auctions, ringers occasionally slip through with doctored VIN numbers and suspect paperwork. Verify casting numbers, look for original documents like window stickers, and get the scoop directly from the sellers. If still in doubt, hire one of the auction house’s on-site car experts. Says collector Terry Thompson, “These are the most expensive toys you’ll ever own.”

Every auction house has its own brand of style. Variety Weekend looks at three popular places to make a bid.

The Big Picture: Brassy and boisterous, it’s the big daddy of car auctions with 225,000 attendees and collector-quality pre-war cars, classic muscle cars, hot rods and vintage buses.
On the Block: The first 2007 GT 500 Fastback sold to the public ($648,000); 1952 Chrysler D’Elegance ($1.2 million); and a 1936 Ford Custom Convertible street rod ($95,040)
Rules of the Road: $300 registration fee and letters of credit required to buy. Buyers and sellers split a 16% commission; no reserves (minimum bids) allowed.
Insider’s Shortcuts: With more than 1,000 cars on the block, you may have to wait through pre-war cars and motorcycles before you can make your bid. For the lowdown on your favorites, go to the staging area for a pre-bid chat with sellers.
When and where: March 29-April 1, Palm Beach; next January in Scottsdale.

Russo & Steele
The Big Picture: A garden party for the gearbox set. The auction tent is buyers only; organizers turn away 20% of potential sellers. Inventory of about 400 European sports cars, American muscle cars, hot rods and customs. Sales topped $20 million at this January’s auction, doubling last year’s figures.
On the Block: American rides like a 1967 Shelby 427 Cobra ($605,000) and a 1971 Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda ($715,000). European highlight: 1967 Ferrari 330 GTC ($195,800).
Rules of the Road: $75 registration fee and letters of credit required to buy. Sellers pay a “no reserve” fee of $600; with reserve, $800-$1000. Commissions are paid by sellers: 10% for “reserve” sales, 5% with no reserve.
Insider’s Shortcuts: Lacks the sheer volume of Barrett-Jackson, but the smaller size means better access to organizers, fewer gawkers and less time waiting for your desired auction lot.
When and where: August 19-20, Monterey; next January in Scottsdale.

The Big Picture: Outside of some sellers’ florid car descriptions, there’s not a lot of fun here. However, an eBay spokesperson says the site sells one car every minute, 24/7, with 10 million unique visitors every month.
On the Block: Everything from clunkers to cherry rides like a 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda ($1 million). But no booth babes.
Rules of the Road: Sellers pay $40 to list a vehicle and a $40 “successful transaction fee” after a reserve is met.
Insiders’ shortcuts: The “Best Offer” option includes $20,000 vehicle purchase protection. More security with paid services like Experian’s Auto Check vehicle history reports and inspections by third parties.
When and where: Anytime on

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