The History of the Barrett Jackson Auto Auction

The Barrett Jackson

The Barrett Jackson started between two car enthusiasts back in the mid 1960’s and has grown to be one of the biggest and most prestigious auto auctions in the world. It all started in Scottsdale, AZ back when Scottsdale was just a Wild West town that had yet to establish its own identity. The founders were Russ Jackson and Tom Barrett and they came to know each other by a car advertisement. Tom Barrett had been selling his 1933 Cadillac V16 Town Car and the most interested buyer happened to be Russ Jackson. A deal was never struck between the two men but a lifelong friendship had been created by these two car enthusiasts.

The initial meeting of these two car guys is what became the foundation for the legacy that would become the Barrett Jackson auto auctions. In 1967 Russ Jackson and Tom Barrett hosted their first car auction which was called “Fiesta de los Elegantes.” The Fiesta de los Elegantes was initially started as a fundraiser to donate to local charities, which included the community arts and the Scottsdale Public Libraries.

In 1971 Russ and Tom joined their talents to present the company’s first car collector auction, which featured classic autos from the two men’s private auto collections. The big headline featured a Mercedes 770 Phaeton that was priced to sell at $153k and this got the attention of auto collectors from around the world.  The sale of this rare vehicle set the Barrett-Jackson name into motion around the world.

In the 80’s there was a massive growth in the car collector business with prices reaching unbelievable heights and also the participation among enthusiasts grew to numbers the industry had never known. The Barrett- Jackson team refused to just ride the popularity wave and instead set the standard for the entire collector car show industry.

Tom Barrett by all means had the rarest and best vehicles in the auction and he earned himself the name “Grandfather of the Collector Car Industry”, and Russ Jackson had the talent of finding the vehicles and restoring them to “cherry” status. At this point Russ found that he would be able to be more successful by bringing his two sons into the mix and their names are Brian Jackson and Craig Jackson and also his wife whose name is Nellie for she ran all of the inner office management operations.

The company continued to change through the 1990’s and grew bigger and bigger each year. Russ Jackson died in 1993 and his son Brian also died of cancer in 1995. Barrett decided to retire in 1997 and died seven years later. In 1997 Craig Jackson took the company to a new level as he had been involved very early in the game and had all the necessary talents to take this company to new heights.

Craig Jackson and his many talents lead the Barrett-Jackson to growth they had never known by a big expansion and state of the art innovations. The auction started to have live appearances on the SPEED channels in 1997. In that same year you were also able to place auction bids online. The 1998 auction brought 65% increase in sales, a 17 million dollar sale, and over 100,000 spectators came to the auction from all over the world. 1998 marked this event as a major cyber success over the World Wide Web. This year also brought about the introduction of a world-renowned fashion show.

Through the next few years the Barrett-Jackson became more famous for offering more Hot rods and muscle car categories. In 2005 the Barrett- Jackson became one of the first auction houses to offer cars for bid with no reserve pricing which translated into the winner of the car was the highest bidder. This concept brought Barrett- Jackson to even newer heights with the sales totals in 2006 reaching above $100 million. In 2007 they saw an increase to $112 million, and then the recession hit and numbers began to slide a bit like in 2008 they saw revenues of $88 million, 2009 saw $63 million and $68 million in 2010. The business model Craig Jackson used worked and showed immense profits and success. Although the dollars may have been down the attendance in the years of 2008-2010 reached over 400,000 people.

Due to all the success that has taken place in Scottsdale, AZ they even started an auction in the eastern US. The first auction on the east coast took place in 2003 in Palm Beach, Florida. Not only did they show up but they also enjoyed a tremendous success in auction sales and high numbers in attendance from spectators. In the 2009 auction they had earned over $20 million in revenue from the Palm Beach auction. These numbers were reached by the sale of 480 vehicles and the admission of over 1,000 bidders. In 2009 Barrett-Jackson first endorsed Collector Car Insurance, which was policies created specifically for car collectors.

Over the last fifty years Barrett-Jackson have brought a simple love of cars to a thriving and very successful business that continues to grow with each passing year. They had seen a slump in sales from 2008-2010 and were not going to rest on the fact that the economy was sluggish, instead they took more aggressive measures to grow the company in a vertical direction. They teamed up with an equity firm and have continued to grow their shows to the Las Vegas, Nevada area where they hosted the show at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. This Las Vegas show saw profits of over $24 million which was the direct result of 533 auto sales and 50,000 spectators from around the world came to watch and bid.

In 2009 the owner of the company Craig Jackson decided to make an open commitment to bring the show to Orange County, California in 2010. In that show alone they were able to move 358 cars and had over 58,000 guests come to attend and watch the auction. The SPEED channel now has the auction on 18 hours a day of which all the coverage is live which brought profits to a level never seen before.

With all the changes and innovations this family run company makes they continue to strengthen their position on the worldwide stage. Because of the innovations made by Craig Jackson this sport can be enjoyed by more than just the ultra-wealthy and dealers but also by families and average auto enthusiasts. Every year marks a new success in the Barrett-Jackson legacy. 

Here is a cool drifting video we shot last time we went to the Auction.  Drifting at Barrett Jackson