A few weeks ago, at the 19th Annual McPherson College Auto Restoration Program CARS Club Show, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Craig Jackson, owner and CEO of Barrett Jackson Auctions. This is part one of that conversation.
BH: I appreciate you taking the time to sit down with me. The collector car auction community has exploded over the last 20 years. I'm wondering how much bigger do you think it can get?
CJ: I think that was part of why I changed things when I took over. Look at the car collector community after the recession of 91, it was sort of stagnated. That's why I put us on television, to try to open everybody's eyes to car collecting. If you didn't pick up one of our niche publications, or go to a car show, you weren't exposed to it. I wanted this whole thing on the internet. I got our website in ‘94. I thought, “The internet/multimedia is going to attract new people”, and that was the goal. Every one of our auctions, about 40% of our bidders are first-timers. Forty percent. In Palm Beach it was more; of 1750 bidders, 750 were first timers. Scottsdale average is right at 40%; sometimes it's 36, sometimes it's 48, but it's right in that area. When I took over the company, it was just an auction. I sent out surveys and asked people what they wanted. I listened to everybody. Some guys wrote War and Peace, and told me everything they thought. I read every one of them, and really took it to heart. I tried to change a lot of things. I changed the mix of cars from just pre-war classics, that we used to focus on, to post-war cars. We were early adopters of Hot Rods, Resto-Mods, you know broadening it. To answer your question, I think by broadening it, it has made a lot more people feel included, rather than you don’t belong if you don’t have a full-blown classic, and you don’t get on the lawn at Pebble. That's the market. The market is much broader. Just look at Good Guys, and look at how big SEMA is now. The markets’ going to keep on growing. We just came back from the Big Three. Hearing about the exponential growth of their aftermarket motor division...One of the companies I won't mention, going from $250 million to $1 billion in one year, to $2 billion this year, in 3 years since they launched it...putting those engines in a lot of cars that weren’t as desirable, built in the smog years. We just built a car last year for Prestone. Jeff built it in our shop. We did it for the web, to show the younger generation, the X-Genners, that you can do this in your garage on jack stands. By changing the auction and how we talk to people, we try to make it inclusive, and I think that has brought a lot more people. No matter what they like, they'll find it at Barrett-Jackson. We just don't sell 80 pre-war classics, or 80 Ferraris. We sell everything, but we do it in an atmosphere that's fun. We scrutinize the cars with, I think, the best experts. My attorney will tell you we don't guarantee the cars. But by having Kevin Marti, who owns the Marti Report, go through the Fords, by having Jim Madison, who owns Pontiac Historical Services, go through all the Pontiacs, by having these guys really look at the description. We’re not guaranteeing the car. If we find something wrong, all we want them to do is change the description, and then their price expectation may change. You’ve got to tell a guy when you find out. Early on we’ll find out the discrepancies through our portal that the experts look at. If a guy has a GTO, and we get the build sheet that says it came as a Tempest, we’ve got to tell him. When a car goes through, and everything sorta checks out, but then when it comes to the auction, you’re really looking at it to make sure, we change a lot of descriptions, and you'll hear those announcements. Since the catalog, the description has been updated, and [during the auction] we read what has been updated. Whether it was claimed to be a numbers matching and we found out it’s not, or options were added, and so on. I think that has made the first-timers feel more comfortable coming in, and I think that the biggest part. This is a hobby. It's my hobby. I’m lucky that my hobby is my business. I want it to be enjoyable for people. That's why I changed the auction [when I took over] from just an auction to a lifestyle. To be inclusive, to have multiple things that go with car collecting available, so that you can understand all the different things. The auctions have grown, but still have all the ancillary things to do with your cars. There's more road rallies nowadays, there's more Good Guys, there's more types of shows to go to, cruise-ins, Cars and Coffee, there's all these activities. Cars are very social, and we've tried to make Barrett-Jackson that epicenter. If you want to get into this, come there and get a sampling of everything there is to go do. When you have an auction like Scottsdale, with 325,000 people-and that’s dead accurate numbers, because everything is bar-coded and RFIDed nowadays. There’s no more clickers. That's how many individual people came through that gate, and that’s an astonishing number when you think about it. Putting all that knowledge and enthusiasm in one place, and putting all that on worldwide television for everyone to see has brought a lot more people, and I think that has helped across the board. That's been sort of my goal.
BH: With the advent of hybrids and electric cars, and what we hear are going to be self-driving cars, lots of people have posited there won't be collector cars or there won't be classic cars on the roads in 20-25 years. I’m kind of curious what your thought is when you hear things like that.
CJ: I think you'll probably have autonomous vehicle lanes. I don't think with the millions of cars out there they can ban them from driving on the on the roadways. We're building on automotive country club in Arizona. I think you're going to see more of those coming up, where you can take your cars out and really have fun with them, and I think there will always be some sort of way to drive the cars.
We're embracing technology, but I’m not that sold on autonomous vehicles. It’s like the hybrids we’re going to build in our shop. This year, we did the Project Prestone car. We took a 1988 Chevy Monte Carlo, and put in a modern drivetrain, brakes, and suspension. The hardest part of that was tying the new computer to the antiquated computer in it and making the two talk to each other. Now, we’re going to take a 1969 Bronco and put a hybrid drivetrain in it in anticipation of the new Bronco that is coming out. This will be our version of the new Bronco.
In our shop, we’re restoring our 1934 Cadillac V12, I’m doing a 1947 Record T-26 Talbot Lago, but we still are on the cutting edge in our shop with blending modern technology into these older cars. We want to show people how to do it, but also doing it through social media to bring the next generation in and show them something that would interest them in a format they are familiar with and they are on all the time. That’s FaceBook, Instagram, and YouTube. That’s why we are showing them what we are doing, and I think they’ll be interested in building a hybrid Bronco.
BH: Do you think the new Bronco will be a traditional two-door design?
CJ: I think it will be. I don’t have any inside scoop, although I was at Ford this week, and there were a lot of big SUVs with camouflage on them. I can’t say any of them looked like two-doors, but I don’t know what I was seeing. They all had those huge body kits over them, so you can’t tell what they are.
BH: As a guy who owns an old Bronco, I sure hope they are two-doors.
CJ: I would think they would. Almost every retro car that has come out, either European or domestic, has got the lines of the old car. Whether it’s the Jaguar, or the Camaros, or the Mustangs, if you’re gonna do something and you’re gonna put that badge back on there, it better look a little like an updated version of what it was.
BH: In relation to the growth in the collector car world, with the auctions, events, rallies, and the expanding interest, what part do you find most exciting?
CJ: I love running our events, but I’m also at that point in my life where I want to go enjoy more of the other events. I like getting out and driving the cars. I want to do a lot more road rallies, and go see the world while enjoying my cars. That’s sort of my next phase in life. As I bring a lot of younger guys into the company, and start giving them more jobs to do, I can go play with my cars, and enjoy the car collector community. I vintage race, and I want to do more of that while I’m young enough to do it. I want to go out and play. I’m almost an empty nester, in a few weeks. Then I can go do what I want to do.