Jackson, the scion of one-half of the partnership that founded the legendary Barrett-Jackson car auction and show (barrett-jackson.com), is the car guy. Since taking over as chairman and CEO in 1995, Jackson has grown the company into “The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions,” per the company’s humble self-description. And the 2015 event taking place in Scottsdale January 10-18 promises to be a banner year for the auction, which is projected to top last year’s gross of $113 million in six days, break its own Guinness World Record for largest free-standing, manmade tent, and be the first collector car show broadcast to 1.6 billion people worldwide. We sat down with Jackson in – where else? – one of his cars, a black Cadillac Escalade, to talk about cars, Arizona and his family legacy.
There’s been a lot of buzz about perennial collector Ron Pratte auctioning off his entire collection this year. Any favorites?
Having Ron Pratte as an anchor is just an unbelievable opportunity. He has, by far, the greatest collection of automobilia anywhere. His collection’s got a lot of favorites: the Bonneville Special, the Super Snake. His Shelby collection is an unbelievable Shelby collection. There’s quite a few cars in there I wish I would have, but it’s all going. I don’t bid against my customers, so it’s for them. Unless it’s for charity – then I may step in.
What does the auction mean to you and your family?
There are auctions that are big, but Barrett-Jackson is large in size, quality and quantity, and really kicks off the start of the year. People look so forward to Barrett-Jackson, and Barrett-Jackson for a lot of people is a bucket list item. When we’re going around to the other cities [the auction tours to West Palm Beach, Florida, and Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada] we tell people, “These are small compared to Scottsdale.” Scottsdale really is the flagship.
What makes Arizona such a car state?
Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson moved here in 1960 and started car shows for charity [which] caused a lot of other car collectors [to] come. They come to Barrett-Jackson, they decide, “Maybe I’ll buy a second home here,” and now you’ve got some of the greatest car collectors in the world here in the Phoenix area. [The TV deal will] show Scottsdale worldwide now – Scottsdale and the Valley. Every time they go to commercials, zooming in on the McDowell Mountains or the sunset over Camelback Mountain – those will be the images that go across the world. I’m extremely proud of that.
What was your first car?
I still have it: a 1966 Pontiac LeMans. It was my grandmother’s car. I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year painting it and fixing it up. Then I blew it up. But I still have it.
You’ve always been surrounded by cars.
I grew up in it, my whole life. I started emptying trash cans and running the drivers. I worked my way up. Which is good – when things happen, or somebody quits or something, it doesn’t panic me that much. I know how to do virtually every job in here because at one time or another, I did every job in here.
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