Craig Jackson nearly single-handedly created the national classic car collecting craze. The force behind the popular Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction — running this week in Scottsdale — is part car nut, part showman and a wholly driven businessman.
Jackson is widely credited for shifting the collector car market from pre-World War II classics and antiques to post-WWII cars and American muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s.
With the shift, he also expanded the collector car market from its core of wealthy collectors.
It now includes cashed-up baby boomers, who apparently are eager to buy back memories of their teenage years.
Even his sharpest critics — and there are many — concede that point.
Motor Trend magazine ranks him 50th in its 2006 list of the 50 most influential people in the auto business.
“He elevated classic-car auctions from car-nut cul-desac to the mainstream,” the magazine states in its February issue, now on newsstands.
Jackson has been associated with the annual car show virtually his entire life.
It was founded by his father, Russ Jackson, and Tom Barrett in 1971.
Craig and his brother, Brian, became increasingly involved over the years.
Russ Jackson died in 1993, Brian Jackson died in 1995 and Barrett retired in 1997.
Craig Jackson took the helm and expanded the event, and consequently, the entire collector car market.
Jackson glammed up the auction by partnering car sales with VIP-only parties, fashion shows, and of course, TV — lots of TV.
The Speed Channel cable-TV network is in its 10th year of televising the auction. This year, it’s airing 33 hours of live coverage of the Scottsdale auction.
That’s in addition to offseason programming, including the reality show, “Life on the Block,” which captures the behind-the-scenes drama of producing an auction that attracts 200,000 attendees. Got a customer with a gripe about the lack of access at the auction? Roll tape! Got a newspaper reporter with questions about competitors’ complaints? Roll tape!
“Welcome to my day,” he said Wednesday while being taped in his plush recreational vehicle, replete with marble and sculpted mirror accents and a wide-screen TV.
Jackson also spends a fair amount of screen time explaining to novice buyers what to look for in collector cars and how to buy them.
“We needed a new generation to really embrace car collecting, and our market has changed dramatically. We’re part of the reason why. But also, baby boomers now have more disposable income than the World War II generation,” he said.
He’s doing everything he can to ensure they dispose of a good portion of that income at car auctions — and his, especially. A record 1,100 cars with a combined value of $60 million will hit the auction block before Sunday at West-World of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road.
TV plays a huge role in bringing the car-collecting hobby to the masses.
Nathan Welch, programming administrator the Speed Channel cable-TV network, based in Charlotte, N.C., said Barrett-Jackson appeals to a broad spectrum of viewers.
“Everybody wants to see these old cars. I mean, last year we had one that went for, like, $3 million. It’s very exciting,” Welch said.
The car was a 1954 Oldsmobile F-88.
“Marketing-wise, he’s done a hell of a job and I don’t take that away from him,” said Rob Meyers, owner of the RM Auction, which will start Friday at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa.
But Jackson has driven over some toes along the way, Meyers said.
“I’ve been in this business for a long time. I can’t recall a time when I’ve met somebody who made the statement, ‘Yeah, that a Craig Jackson is a really nice guy,’ ” he said.
Meyers said he hasn’t spoken to Jackson in four years, since he banned Jackson from RM Auctions. Part of their mutual angst concerns a deal that unraveled at an RM Auction in California.
Meyers said Jackson emerged as the winning bidder for a Ford Mustang, but then refused to pay.
Jackson said he learned after the sale there were problems with the car — neither the vehicle identification number nor the odometer reading matched those on the title.
Meyers said that as a self-proclaimed expert on muscle cars, Jackson should have known what he was buying.
Dean Kruse, founder of the Kruse Scottsdale Collector Car Auction and Expo at Phoenix International Raceway on Jan. 26-29, offered this comment: “Craig is, ah — I guess I won’t comment on Craig.”
Jackson said as the president of the most successful car auction, he’s an obvious target.
He’s also a full-throttle negotiator.
Jackson has played hardball with Scottsdale, the longtime home of his auction. Even after the city’s purchase late last year of 150 acres of property near WestWorld for $78 million, talks concerning a longterm deal for use of the facility are not complete.
City officials want to ink a 20 to 30-year deal to keep the auction at WestWorld.
City Councilwoman Betty Drake said, “He thinks his auction is certainly a major event in Scottsdale, and he’s anxious that everybody appreciate that to the fullest, shall we say.”
Among the points to be resolved is how the car auction is increasing requirements for asphalt and how it will coexist with a number of horse shows, which need more dirt spaces.
“We would love to have a long-term deal with him, but at the same time we have to keep our eye on the long-term future of West-World and the mission that it was established to serve,” Drake said. “Hopefully, we can accommodate both of them.”
Top sales results from Barrett-Jackson for Wednesday, January 18, 2006
1. Lot # 423, 1964 Amphicar Convertible, $124,200.00
2. Lot # 419.1, 1967 Chevrolet Corvette 427/435 Convertible, $121,500.00
3. Lot # 453, 1937 Cord 812 Westchester Sedan, $118,800.00
4. Lot # 383, 1963 Chevrolet COrvette 327 Split Window Coupe, $108,000.00
4. Lot 315.1, 1957 Chevrolet Belair Custom 4 Door Hardtop, $108,000.00