Like many of you, as much as I enjoy curbside car spotting it’s always fun to go to an actual car show and see a bunch of cool cars in one place. I had the opportunity to be in Arizona during the annual Scottsdale classic car auction week last week and spend three fantastic days looking at cars. Some of you no doubt have been to these before, but if you haven’t and you enjoy old cars, you should put it on your short list of lifetime goals. Watching it on TV is a poor substitute! It’s so great, it can be overwhelming. I used to live in Phoenix and would go to at least one auction annually, but I never did three in one year. Based on the number of cars registered to each event, I estimate I saw about 2700 cars. Many I passed over, but I probably actually looked at half of them and photographed about 300.
I attended Russo and Steele, Barrett-Jackson and Silver. There were still four auctions I didn’t attend. Russo and Steele bills itself as the auction for Muscle Cars, Sports Cars and Hot Rods, though they had many vehicles that didn’t fit into those categories, including a surprising number of full classics. Barrett-Jackson is the original and by far the biggest, at about 1,700 vehicles, with the most variety. It’s insane. They have 7 huge open-sided tents, each one as good or better than the best local car show you’ve ever been to. Then you go to the indoor tent where they keep the premium cars.
After you’ve taken in all the #1 condition cars you can handle, you proceed to the Marquee Tent where they have at least 50 of the headline cars, museum pieces, million buck cars, etc. By that time, I had been on my feet for 7 hours, my camera batteries were dead, my phone was dead, I had a date to meet a friend for dinner and my head was about to explode from awesomeness overdose and their none-too-well-ventilated tent. So, I didn’t photograph much indoors.
That’s OK for us here, though, because those cars are trailer queens, the polar opposite of Curbside Classics. Silver Auction could be considered the Curbside Classic auction. They specifically say that they are the affordable auction, with 300+ cars that may be in less than perfect condition, less desirable models or lacking provenance (clones, non-numbers matching, etc). That is true, but they still had a number of very high quality cars that would fit in fine over at B-J and were nicer even than many of the cars at the big event.
My interest runs most deeply with postwar American cars, so they are what I spent most of my time looking at and photographing. Some of the auctions I didn’t attend focus more on special-interest imports and full classics. Here, I’m going to show a sampling of cars I liked best in one of my favorite categories: unrestored vehicles in all original condition. Though most of these cars wouldn’t be seen parked on the street, they are cars that have beaten huge odds to exist today in beautiful condition with no restoration. Key for me is having original paint, which is rare even among Scottsdale auction cars. Many cars have mostly original interiors or mechanical parts, but for paint laid down in the 50s, 60s or even 80s to survive intact to today, let alone be immaculate, takes a charmed life indeed.
The links on the car names will take you to the auction house web page for that car.
This is a 1952 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville. This was one of the higher quality cars at Silver and is every bit Barrett-Jackson worthy. While it has original paint and interior, the owner states he did clear coat the paint and put clear covers on the seats to preserve the car. I saw no reason to doubt the originality of the paint, though it is immaculate. This is a seriously beautiful car, if you’re into this sort of thing. It’s amazing how low riding these 50’s Caddys were made to look as they slink along in classy stylishness. The body came out in 1948, with its pioneering vestigial tailfins.
The Coupe de Ville came out for 1949 as the first (along with Buick and Olds versions) production hardtop. The Coupe de Ville was always a hardtop through 1973, as was the Sedan De Ville from 1956 through ’76. The hood and decklid featured gold-plated ‘V’s commemorating Cadillac’s 50th anniversary. I think it has the wrong hubcaps. They look more like ’57 hubcaps to me, but I’ll bet somebody here knows for sure. Auction results aren’t available on the Silver website yet, so I don’t know if this car sold or for how much.
The underhood view lends credibility to the claims of originality, but things have been maintained for drivability with modern hoses, radiator cap, 12-volt conversion, etc. All ’52 Cadillacs had the 331 cid OHV V8 introduced for 1949, now with a four-barrel carburetor increasing the horsepower to 190, the most powerful in a U.S. car that year.
I appreciate the owner taking steps to preserve the upholstery, yet it somehow bothers me. What good is having original seats if you can’t touch them or feel them or smell them? It’s kind of like Grandma’s couch, just missing a bowl of hard candy on the dash. Hydraulic power seats were standard on the Coupe de Ville.
You know what this is! Of course it’s a 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona, the NASCAR homologation special that dealers struggled to sell at the time due to its being one of the most absurd production cars ever, but is therefore hugely collectible today. They made 505 of them, 5 more than NASCAR required to approve the bodywork. They are generally more valuable than the ’70 Plymouth Superbird since there were 1,920 of those made, plus it’s a freaking ’69 Charger, arguably the sexiest car to come out of the muscle car era. It has the standard 375 hp, 440 cid 4-barrel engine and the A727 Torqueflite automatic.
The seller says this has been in storage since 1977. He doesn’t specifically claim all originality other than having 58k miles, but it sure looks it to me. The paint is not perfect and shows no telltale signs of overspray. The tires may not be original, but they are definitely of the era. I didn’t look closely at the undercarriage. The body looked really good with no signs of rust on the lower portions at all. The interior looked like the rest of the car, dirty but no significant flaws. This one was at Russo and Steele and sold for $198,000. Obviously bidders believed it was a true “barn find” car.
The years have passed this bias-ply beauty by, as this looks like it has spent a lot of time sitting flat. Someone who knows more about vintage tires may know what year this tire could have been made in.
This 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air blew me away. It is in such perfect condition, it’s practically unbelievable. I would have thought it was fully restored, except the underhood area and undercarriage belie its true nature. The seller states it has 17k miles and makes very specific claims to its originality, especially the paint. I believe him. It sold at Russo and Steele for $26,400. Very reasonable, I think. I’d bet it would have been easily twice that if it were a coupe.
This is what originality looks like. The seller didn’t say if anything besides the battery had been replaced, but I’d bet the plugs, wires and hoses have been. The tailpipe definitely has an aftermarket extension, and it looks like it may be coming out at the wrong location, so it probably had some exhaust work (can you blame it?).
Anybody know what this is? I’ve seen these before on ’50s era cars, but never was sure what it’s for.
This is another amazing Chevy, a 1964 Impala SS with a 327 and 4-speed. The seller claims it is all original except for the battery, having traveled only 1,482 miles in the last 54 years. This one is even harder to believe, because underhood it’s almost perfect. It sold at Barrett-Jackson for $66k.
If you’re thinking I’ve got a thing for tires, you’d be right. This was worth a flash photo on my rapidly dying battery. It boggles my mind that a 54-year-old tire could look this good, but I believe the seller.
Sadly, I did not get any more photos of this car inside the tent at B-J, so here are a few more from the website.
How about a 1954 Corvette? Chevy sold 3,650 examples in the first full year for the Corvette after a short 315 unit run for 1953. They were all powered by a 150 hp 235 cid straight six backed up by a 2-speed Powerglide automatic. Lots of room for performance growth! This car is pretty far from being in perfect condition, but there just aren’t very many ’53-’55 Corvettes in decent, unrestored condition out there. Hopefully the new owner won’t ruin it by restoration. It sold at Barrett-Jackson for $71.5k. Again, I added photos here from the B-J website.
They had rather pretty engines, I think, at least for a Chevy prior to 1955. The triple one-barrel sidedraft carbs set the engine off from the standard Chevrolet stovebolt it was based on, and they massaged it quite a bit with hotter camshaft and higher compression to gain 35 hp over the standard engine. Doesn’t sound like much, but it was almost a 33% increase in a much lighter, fiberglass-bodied car. It is to GM’s eternal credit (with a little help from the T-bird) that they stuck with the Corvette through its early low volume days to let it gradually mature into a viable American sports car.
The wisdom of that decision was clearly paying dividends eight years later. Right next to the ‘54 was a 1962 Corvette. Unlike the ‘54, this is in really fine shape. It has the top engine, a fuel injected 360 hp 327, and has won numerous awards for its amazing unrestored condition. It sold at Barrett-Jackson for $132k. Ready to cruise across America on Route 66 (except it would be irresponsible to put the wear and tear on this specimen of perfect preservation or put it at risk of getting wrecked)!
Again, I apologize for the grainy photo; here are a few more from the B-J website.
Here is a fiberglass-bodied GM two seater of a completely different character. It was also at Barrett-Jackson, but located about as far from the indoor glamour tents as they could put it. It’s a final year 1988 Pontiac Fiero GT, which came with a 2.8L V6 and 5-speed manual. I’m sure many of you know this car’s story and how it’s the classic case of GM significantly improving a car right before killing it. 1988 models had an all new suspension, new shifter linkage and a cool new Formula coupe option package. This very clean example sold for $4,620.
Also doing the 80s proud is this awesome 1985 Corvette with 987 miles. Low mileage C4s are a staple at these auctions; there were 9 at Barrett-Jackson. Even by those standards, though, this one is excellent. I mean, just look at it. Gazing at it is like standing in a Chevy showroom in 1985. It’s probably been at least 25 years since this car could be considered a chick magnet, but it sure attracts middle aged guys like flies. It was worth $16,500 to someone, who was probably sporting a mullet.
If you are like me, you’ll be fascinated to look at a perfect 33-year-old tire and wheel. Though only 12 when the ’84 Vettes came out, I still remember Chevy making a big deal about the tires. They were much wider and unidirectional. Goodyear Eagle VR50 “gatorbacks” were standard equipment.
Speaking of C4s, I snapped this picture because I kind of liked these 1988 35th Anniversary package Corvettes when new and a teacher at my high school drove one. I wouldn’t have included it here except that I noticed after the auction that it sold for $350,000. What!!?? It was a charity auction benefiting the American Heart Association. Hopefully that sale won’t affect the value guides.
I’ll finish up with a couple of trucks. This is a 1990 GMC Jimmy. No 1990 vintage tires on this one, but it has beautiful original paint and interior and the engine bay holding its 5.7-L V8 is immaculate. You’re not likely to ever see an unmodified second generation Jimmy/Blazer in nicer condition. It sold for $31,500.
Another vehicle seemingly time-transported from a GMC dealership in 1982 (or maybe the used lot in ‘83 or ’84) is this 1982 GMC C20 pickup. It has a 350 and 4-speed manual and even the bed looked unused. I don’t know who the people are who buy new vehicles and then hardly ever use them while parking them in perfectly preserving conditions, but God bless them. It sure makes for some extraordinary cars to behold now decades later.
I think it is a coincidence that all but one of the vehicles profiled here were made by GM. I am a GM lover, even though she can be a cruel mistress. Still, it just happened that many of the most compelling examples of originality in Scottsdale were made by the General. I doubt if it says anything about the relative durability of their products. Time permitting, I plan on writing up several more groups of cars over the next few weeks. As you can imagine, there was no shortage of interesting vehicles from all manufacturers.
The lead photo is a Barrett-Jackson publicity photo shot during the auction for the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt edition. B-J does a lot of these charity auctions. This one drew $300,000 and the winner gets the first production car when it’s made.
The other photo at the top is of probably my favorite model of full classic. I hope to feature it in a future post!
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