When you mention car auctions to any automotive enthusiast, the name that will probably come up in conversation is Barrett-Jackson. Since starting in 1971, the company has built a massive reputation for itself as being the place to go if you are interested in rare and historic cars. Integral to building that reputation is Craig Jackson, Chairman and CEO since 1995. But as ever-present as Jackson has been at his auctions, so has Chevrolet. The premier auction venue has seen many historic Chevrolets cross the block over the years, either as a direct result of the partnership or simply as a result of demand. With that in mind, and with the enormous success of the auction over the past several decades, we sat down with Jackson himself to ask about his empire as well as the role Chevrolet has played in it.
Chevrolets always garner a lot of attention when going across the auction block. When asked why people naturally gravitate toward classic Chevrolets, Jackson chalks it up to how consistent the manufacturer is at producing great cars. “Almost every year, Chevrolet has produced something that becomes one of those iconic cars you’ve always wished you could own,” he said. “And that trend just keeps on coming. You go back into the ‘50s, and there’s the ’55, ’56, or ’57 Chevys with fuel injection. And then there were the Nomads. You know, it’s just such a deep, rich history. It really does pull on the heartstrings of America.”
And Jackson feels his own heartstrings pulled personally. “I grew up a Chevy guy myself,” he said. “I had a ’68 Corvette 427 in high school that I personally restored. I aspired to ZL1s and L88s. I’ve always loved the marque, and I love to see Chevrolet bringing back those iconic nameplates, especially when I can be a part of that through my auctions.” In fact, having Jackson pick his favorite Chevrolet that’s rolled across his block is a deeply personal question to him. “That’s like asking me which one of your kids do you like the best.” But he goes on to mention Harley Earl’s personal ’63 Corvette, and C7 Stingray #1, now owned by Rick Hendrick. “Those are moments in history that you’ll always remember,” he said. In his personal collection, Jackson has at least two favorites: a red-and-black ’67 Corvette Roadster 427 and a silver ’69 ZL1 Rally Sport, fully restored.
It didn’t take long into our conversation before Jackson revealed his vision for the future of his auctions, and that his events are so much more than just a car auction. “The atmosphere is second to none,” he said. “Scottsdale is something different to even our other events.” He went on to say that when some of the more popular cars come up for auction, “You could have north of 10,000 people in a room at one time. And when you get that many people and that much energy in a room, magic happens.” But if that sounds crowded, don’t fret. This year, Jackson hosted the event in his new auction building that brings the overall footprint to more than 950,000 square feet, all covered. In fact, the new facility was so large that the outdoor tent alone was being surveyed by the Guinness World Records staff to certify it as the largest temporary structure in the world. “From the front door to the end of the tent where the Chevrolet ride and drive takes place is eight-tenths of a mile straight,” said Jackson. “Bring your walking shoes.”
And don’t think that he doesn’t have enough going on to fill all of that space, either. “I would certainly call our events more a general automotive lifestyle event than strictly a collector auction,” he said. “And Chevrolet is a big part of that, by having the ride and drives and displays show up outside.” In fact, Jackson lined up Brett Michaels as the opening entertainment for the first night of the 8-day festival. “I’ve been waiting for this building for 25 years,” he added. “I wanted to rock the place.” In between stunning cars being rolled across the auction block, the event also featured nightlife events surrounding some of the most exotic and rare sheet metal in the industry.
When asked what makes his events different from other automotive auction events, Jackson says it’s more than just flashy entertainment and rock shows. “We truly care about this stuff,” he told us. “The company is made up of true enthusiasts, both men and women. We’re passionate about the subject and take great pride in our expertise and knowledge of the scene.” Jackson got into the company, started by his dad, Russ, and Tom Barrett, by climbing the corporate ladder, starting in Barrett-Jackson’s restoration garage. During his time there, he started developing his eye for detail and ability to differentiate a clone car from the real deal. “I didn’t necessarily want to follow my dad’s footsteps into the automotive industry,” he confessed, “but I worked in that shop every day, and now here I am.” And since taking over, Jackson has surrounded himself with some of the best automotive minds in the business, keeping that passion alive and evident in each event he hosts.
“You know,” he added, “this started as a family company, and it’s still run that way. My mother helped start this company, by running it, and setting the ethics for this company, and she still does today.” And those ethics are still the cornerstone. “About 99 percent of the cars we sell are sold at true no reserve,” Jackson explained. “We don’t run up the prices by bidding for the owner, we don’t hold presales, and we do our best to represent the cars for what they really are.” In fact, Barrett-Jackson has won a few awards for how open and ethical the company is. “We had Deloitte & Touche come in and audit our business practices after the financial meltdown,” he explained. “And we ran their opinion letter without even reviewing what it said first. That’s how confident we were in the results.”
Ethics are such a strong part of the Barrett-Jackson ethos that it has raised more than $60 million for charity since the first auction. In fact, Barrett-Jackson has taken home many awards for its philanthropy, including the Sterling Award for Small Business, which honors excellence, innovation, and local stewardship within the business community. As a Chevrolet Performance fan, you need look no further than the many auctions held in partnership with Chevrolet, auctioning off many special cars over the years. Since the revival of the COPO nameplate, two COPOs have been sold at Barrett-Jackson auctions: 2012 COPO #69 and 2014 COPO #1. Other recent Barrett-Jackson auctions have featured the first C7 Stingray and the new Z/28, with most of the proceeds going toward donations to charities such as the American Heart Association, Habitat for Humanity, and many Detroit-area charities. In all, through the partnership with Barrett-Jackson, Chevrolet Performance has been lucky enough to donate millions of dollars over the years.
If you can’t make it to a Barrett-Jackson auction in person, Jackson is doing his best to bring the hobby into the living room. This year marked the first time a car auction was aired on broadcast television, and he got a two-hour block, no less. In fact, the company was the first automotive auction house to utilize the Internet and be broadcast on cable television, as well. “About 50 percent of bidders at our auctions are first-time bidders,” he said. “I’m trying hard to bring new people into the community.”
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