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Classic cars: Big auctions get rolling
In Scottsdale, the last two weeks in January are given over to car nuts.
January 24, 2004: 11:44 AM EST
By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The daily high in Scottsdale, Ariz. this time of year is about 68 degrees. That might be reason enough to book flights there, given the weather in much of the nation right now.

Another big draw is a bumper crop of classic cars up for bid in collector car auctions there. Among the vehicles being offered for sale are loads of classic American muscle cars, a Batmobile and, maybe, Michael Jackon's limousine. (More on those cars and others later.)

Auto auction companies Barrett-Jackson, Kruse International, RM Auctions and relative newcomer Russo & Steele all have auctions in or near Scottsdale during the last two weeks in January.

Barrett-Jackson and Kruse can quibble about which company was first -- the close relationship between principals of the companies at the time makes it difficult to clearly discern -- but this event has been going on annually for over 30 years now.

Gremlins are getting hot
Collector cars: $9,999 and under

The intense competition among the auction firms, and all those cars in one place, make for a lot of interest. But not everyone agrees on the importance.

"To some people it's a big deal, to others it's not," said Richard Lentinello, editor-in-chief of the car collector magazine, Hemmings Motor News.

Big deal or not, though, a collectible car auction is always fun.

"You don't even have to bid on the cars. You can just pay your admission and walk around and look at the cars," he said.

Barrett-Jackson is expecting 200,000 attendees at their auction alone, which will likely be the most-attended by far. At last year's Barrett-Jackson auction, $28.5 million was bid on collectible cars.

Bidding starts at Barrett-Jackson's auction today -- it was open for previews yesterday -- and ends Sunday, January 25. RM Auctions is holding a one-day event in nearby Phoenix on Friday, Jan. 23. Russo and Steele, a five-year-old company founded by a former Barrett-Jackson executive, is holding its collector car auction on Jan. 23 and 24. RM Auctions is holding a one-day auction in nearby Phoenix on Jan. 23. Finally, Kruse International will have its "Scottsdale" event at the nearby Phoenix International Raceway Jan. 28 through Feb. 1.

Some of the key cars to watch this year:

Lucy's trainer -- A 1955 Pontiac Star Chief convertible used in several episodes of the show "I Love Lucy" will be auctioned by Barrett-Jackson.

Michael Jackson's Bentley  
Michael Jackson's Bentley

In the show, the car belonged to Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz), who used it to give driving lessons to his wife, Lucy (Lucille Ball, for those of you only recently emerging from a lifetime spent in a very deep cave).

The car later performed on-camera in an episode that saw the Ricardos and their neighbors, the Mertzes -- extra points if you know who played them -- drive cross-country to California.

Batmobile -- This car was used in the movie "Batman Returns." It comes from the personal collection of Dean Kruse, founder of Kruse International, the "grand-daddy" of collector car auction companies. Not just anybody can buy it, though. Warner Bros., which controls the rights to all things Batman, has to approve all bidders.

Hemis, Hemis, Hemis -- Chrysler's Hemi engine, so-called because of its hemispherical combustion chambers, powered a number of muscle cars that are now sought-after collectibles.

Pontiac Star Chief  
Pontiac Star Chief used in "I Love Lucy"

Barrett-Jackson is bragging this year that they have brought together the largest group of Hemis ever offered for sale at one event. In all, 12 Hemi-powered cars are consigned for auction. They include at least two 1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Coupes, a 1967 Plymouth Hemi Satellite convertible and a 1972 Plymouth Superbird.

Tucker -- Preston Tucker's company produced only 51 cars before closing down after a damaging SEC investigation.

Tucker was eventually acquitted on all charges, but the company didn't survive. Still, those cars were, by most accounts, major achievements of automotive design and engineering. RM Auctions will be selling one of those few Tuckers.

1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda  
1970 Plymouth Hemi Cuda

"We are confident that this is most certainly the best restored Tucker in existence," reads the car's catalog description.

SSRs -- Kruse International is selling four special-edition versions of Chevrolet's new retro-styled SSR pick-up.

1948 Tucker  
1948 Tucker to be auctioned

One, the Street Art Southwest Region model, is being sold along with artwork by artists from that region of the country. The paintings, which incorporate the truck's vehicle identification number (VIN), show the SSR in southwestern settings.

Another SSR, the Team Chevy edition, was driven by celebrities including the U.S. soccer, figure skating and ski teams.

Note: The Mertzes were played by Vivian Vance and William Frawley.  Top of page

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