Thought some of you may find this of interest...I jacked it from another board. It's somewhat long, but interesting. http://fourwheeldrift.wordpress.com/
Barrett-Jackson’s Westworld Tent Turns Out to be a House of Cards
January 27th, 2007 by fourwheeldrift
As a collector car journalist, I have been watching the Barrett-Jackson auction for years. For the last five or so years, it has been very apparent that the Scottsdale auction is at best a bastion of gross consumption…but now some hobbyists are claiming a worst: fraud.
I’ve discussed B-J with collectors, dealers and enthusiasts, many of whom would be considered “insiders,” meaning they’ve bought and sold cars at B-J and other auctions, or are well-known in the collector car hobby. For some reason, it is this year that people are all finally grumbling and passing rumors in unison.
The bottom line is that Craig Jackson and the B-J company seem to have really screwed themselves this year. Apparently, a well-known judge (legal, rather than concours) selling a vehicle at B-J this year has filed papers with the court, because B-J contracts specifically promise every car three minutes on the stand. Evidently, he was one of the sellers who had his car short-timed. He communicated the story, which got broadcasted via the Classic Thunderbirds List. According to the grapevine, this is already being discussed as translating into class-action status for the benefit of other sellers.
According to this judge and other sources, it appears Barrett-Jackson was operating a bit on the same level as an evangelical healing show. Allegedly they had assistants milling around asking what specific sellers thought their cars would bring. Armed with this information at the control desk, if a lot passed the value at which a seller indicated he’d be happy, the car would be rushed off and the gavel would fall – even if bidding was still very much alive.
Because the event was televised on live television via the Speed TV network, the plaintiff(s) now have video/audio proof that buyers were signaling increased bids before the three-minute marks, but were denied by a too-fast last call and hammer.
While this all might cause Barrett-Jackson to have to pay money to sellers in the form of a judgment or settlement, it is something else that might land Craig Jackson in jail.
It is no secret that Barrett-Jackson owns many cars that are run through the auction – it was something I suspected many, many years ago. This was proven when they started maintaining a showroom of cars in Arizona. This is not illegal, but stay with me.
Along with many collectors, I’ve always suspected that the cars owned by Craig Jackson and the B-J company were often driven up by shill bidders working for the company. Essentially, the strategy works in the sense that ever since the auction focus moved from classics like Packards and Duesenbergs to muscle cars, B-J has been able to shill, say a Hemi Cuda or mid-year Corvette 427 they own, which causes the value of the 10 other identical cars to increase. They wind up “buying” their own car back, but the others go on to regular buyers, who now are paying higher because of the perception the market has moved up.
This suspicion has been supported by at least one auction attendee this year that says he witnessed cars sold at auction headed in trailers back to B-J’s warehouse. The lawsuit allegedly points out that these cars also spent significantly more time on the block than others.
If this isn’t all interesting enough, during this year’s auction, fellow collector car journalist, Keith Martin of Sports Car Market, was booted from the Westworld premises and his media credentials revoked for voicing loud, specific concern regarding the event while sitting in the media room. Barrett-Jackson accused Keith Martin of “holding court” and attempting to send VIPs and journalists to the competing RM and Russo and Steele auction events. Among the alleged opinions included that the cars at B-J were of inferior quality (and had quality misrepresented,) as well as that the bidders were significantly over-bidding cars, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has witnessed people paying six figures for cars they could have bought for under $50,000 any other day of the year!!!
This is somewhat of an interesting twist. Keith Martin’s publication has marketed the B-J events and has helped fuel its popularity. Keith is definitely one of the great “insiders” of the hobby, and has been a friend to Craig Jackson. In past years, Keith nor his publication have been critical of the goings-on and rumors, while other collector car journalists screamed that something stunk.
It makes sense, since Sports Car Market really only tracks the value of vehicles and other items sold at auction, rather than via private sales (which really has skewed SCM’s values for years!) So without kissing-ass to B-J, Keith would have missed insider info on the largest events covered by his mag. So we can only guess that Keith and Craig had a falling out of some type.
I applaud Keith for turning the corner on his view of B-J, but I’m with others I’ve talked to about this: I hate to say this about a colleague, but I believe his behavior was a bit unprofessional. As journalists, it is our responsibility to write what we think, but going to the show for years, then promoting RM and Russo+Steele while at Westworld is somewhat unkosher. I agree that Keith, a true hobbyist who started out by writing an Alfa Romeo newsletter, was for a long time too much a part of the “circus” about which he finally rejected, and that SCM has to a significant degree helped to fuel misinformation and a house of cards regarding specific auction prices and bidding behavior. Keith, by all accounts, is a really good guy — an enthusiast, who maybe just needed to take a step back and a big breath and reacquaint himself with those outside of the very insulated collector car “in crowd” — and spend time with some car people who are not trying to exploit the collectors. There are plenty of guys who have dug themselves too deep into this little crowd, and are no longer fun to deal with, because they’ve put personal greed well ahead of the cars and the collectors. Keith will rebound — he has a great internal staff of really fantastic people, who hopefully will help him return to his roots.
And Keith got his chance at revenge today, when his piece in the New York times said: “the red-hot market was cooling a bit.” He likened the high auction prices to the Dot.com craze, then went on to say: “While the prices of some types of cars remain strong, primarily low-production muscle cars with their original engines (“numbers matching” is the trade term) or sports racing cars like Ferraris, other more common cars produced in larger numbers, or cars whose engines have been replaced, are holding their values, at best.”
If you want to get back at someone who owns an auction house, the best way, I suppose, is to tell everyone that prices are too high. Ouch!
While I’ve never met him, the buzz among those in the hobby — both collectors and journalists, is that Craig Jackson is quite arrogant, so don’t expect many to come to his rescue. He inherited his father’s company, and has fueled B-J’s admirable growth with a combination of intelligence, drive, ego, and greed. While there is nothing wrong with that combination, if it results in unethical and possibly illegal activities, that’s inexcusable.
Like many surrounding the hobby, I will be watching the events unfold. Will the Westworld tents come down like a house of cards, or will everything just go away with an exchange of a little money? It’s happened before, like the 2006 event’s Futurliner debacle when investor Ron Pratt allegedly negotiated a $3.0M price (after B-J staff admitted to mistaking the high bid), but the reported sale was for $4.0M.
It’s hard to predict the outcome. None of us have all the facts. Craig Jackson has become a very powerful man, and his company has pumps an estimated $96M dollars into the Arizona economy annually. He’s allowed his say, and the appropriate judge/jury might very well decide he personally has done nothing wrong.
This all being said, there’s no doubt that Barrett-Jackson “jumped the shark” this year. Unlike when Fonzi did it, this story has Craig Jackson driving his allegedly shill-bid Hemicudas over the tank and down a ramp that could lead to six years in a minimum security prison-issued orange jumpsuit. If that’s the case, maybe he can get Sports Car Market in the slammer to keep-up on Russo and Steele, RM and Kruse auction results.