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The beginning of Arizona's Barrett-Jackson auction shows no letup in buyer interest, with thousands pursuing the collector cars of their dreams

Investors often look to January to take the stock market's temperature. If the first day of Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction is a similar bellwether for the collector car market, then 2006 looks to pick up where 2005 left off. Sale prices continue to be strong as the number of registered bidders climbs.

This year, 5,000 bidders are chasing 1,100 cars, vs. 4,000 bidders and 800 cars last year.

HEMI-POWERED BIDDING.

The 2006 version of the Scottsdale (Ariz.), institution started a day earlier, on a Tuesday, Jan. 17, rather than on a Wednesday or Thursday as in years past. Clearly, the pretense of this event being a long weekend is gone. Even so, more than 20,000 people passed through the gate on the first day. That's more than many respectable collector car auctions pull in an entire weekend.

In addition to the extra day, significant site improvements greeted attendees. The auction tent, which was massive before, could now house the USS Nimitz. Access, parking, and the grounds themselves are also gussied up. Craig Jackson's brief flirtation with Glendale, Ariz., has seemingly paid off. After the 2005 event, Jackson explored the possibility of moving the event to a location south of Scottsdale -- its current location -- to Glendale.

Barrett-Jackson's reputation for solid results also seems safe after the first day. Among the notable sales were a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX Hemi "re-creation," which sold for $118,800. That's a shocking price considering that this car started life as a run-of-the-mill Belvedere that a restorer turned into a "clone" of a more desirable Hemi-powered model.

MANY NEWBIES.

Barrett-Jackson discloses when a car has had a similar restoration job, but whether a private seller of the same car a few years down the road will be as candid is an open question.

The average buyer at Barrett-Jackson, however, seems less concerned with issues such as originality and authenticity as "scratching an itch." They see it, they want it now. Many of these buyers are attending their first auction and purchasing their first collector car. And the figures bear this out: Lance Young, the head of sales for FedEx Custom Critical Passport Auto Transport, a collector car shipper on site, estimates that 60% of his customers are first-timers.


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