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Valenti Classics
Posted Oct 08 2008

Barrett-Jackson Takes High-Roller Act to Las Vegas

The Barrett-Jackson collector-car auction opened today in Las Vegas. Though it feels like a homecoming, the sale is, in fact, the company’s first trip to Vegas. And in many ways, the venue at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino seems like a better fit for the glitz of Barrett-Jackson than relatively low-key Scottsdale, Ariz.

Bailouts, the consumer-credit freeze, a looming recession and the stock market collapse would seem to make this a profoundly bad time for something as frivolous as a collector car auction. Perhaps not.

RM Auctions of Blenheim, Canada, held an auction on Oct.10, the day the stock market swung wildly, and recorded a very respectable $6.9 million in sales on 84 lots. The high sale was nearly $1.7 million for a 1933 Duesenberg Phaeton.

Steve Valenti, a classic-car dealer in Wisconsin, said he believed that some collectors are adopting a wait-and-see attitude before diving in, while a few panicky collectors are selling. That has created buying opportunities for savvy dealers with the ability to sit on inventory, Mr. Valenti said.

Ultimately, Mr. Valenti said, the collector-car market will emerge even stronger. “In times of uncertainty, people tend to invest in tangibles such as art and other collectibles,” he said. That was certainly the case in 1987 when cash pulled from the stock market fueled a dizzy four-year increase in collector car prices that ended in an enormous speculator-fueled implosion in 1991.

Mr. Valenti said the main difference is that today’s market is dominated by collectors, and it’s a smarter and more mature market than it was 20 years ago.

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