As long-time collector car enthusiasts, one could assume that Steve Davis and Gary Bennett -- president and vice president, respectively, of the famous Barrett-Jackson auction house -- have bought, sold or seen almost every vehicle ever made.
That theory was put to test Oct. 3 when Davis and Bennett came across a car they'd both heard about -- a Czechoslovakian-built Tatra -- but had never seen roll across the auction platform. During judging for the Barrett-Jackson Cruise-In car show at Gaudin Ford, Davis and Bennett canvassed the 80-plus entries looking for what Bennett called, "unique, interesting, well-restored examples of America's passion for automobiles." The car show was organized by the Mustang & Classic Ford Club of Las Vegas to benefit Keep Memory Alive, which supports the Cleveland Clinic and the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
Leading up to this weekend's Barrett-Jackson collector car auction at Mandalay Bay, Davis and Bennett offered their expertise as judges and also helped preview the Prudhomme Edition Shelby Super Snake that is one of the highlight cars to be sold at the auction.
"We're looking for a nice sampling," Davis said when asked what he likes to see at local car shows. "There should be something for everybody, from 1930-era Fords to a contemporary Ferrari. This is a snapshot of the collector car marketplace."
Inspired by drag racing legend Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, this particular Super Snake actually started its quest as a 2007 GT500, according to Roger Sorel, Shelby's director of sales. "Bring us a GT500, $99,999, give us four to six months and we'll convert it to a Prudhomme edition Super Snake," Sorel said.
The Prudhomme concept car is the oldest of six completed to date, and has been traveling with the National Hot Rod Association this season. It will hit the auction block Saturday at 7 p.m.
"This car just screams NHRA and 60s'-era funny car," Sorel said, referring to the collaboration between Prudhomme and famed sports car driver and builder Carroll Shelby. The Prudhomme boasts a larger-than-life Kenne Bell supercharger; slick drag racing-style tires (smaller in front, bigger in back); 800-plus horsepower; 5.4-liter GT500 engine (early estimates clock 0-60 mph in less than 4 seconds, as well as sub-10 seconds on the 1/4-mile); hand-fabricated rear wing and aluminum intake; and Baer six-piston front calipers, among other upgrades. This car could win an open class at the drag strip and go to the supermarket on the same day because it's also street-legal in all 50 states.
In past years, judging has awarded three trophies, but this year, Davis and Bennett barely narrowed it down to four and the Tatra was named one of their favorites.
"We've never seen one before. It's very Tuckeresque," Bennett said, referring to the futuristic-looking, safety-conscious Tucker automobiles built by Preston Tucker from 1948-1949.
The 1966 Tatra is owned by brothers Danny and Jack Barnett, who purchased it for $2,400 from another local auction house. "I've always been intrigued by art deco cars," Danny Barnett said. "It was a dream come true to finally own one."
The Barnetts' Tatra was brought into the U.S. by a Czechoslovakian motorcycle dealer in Los Angeles. Over the years, the original rear-mounted, Tatra-built Hemi engine has been replaced by a similar 2.5-liter, air-cooled V-8 that produces about 145 horsepower. Danny Barnett estimates with the dual two-barrel carburetors, the Tatra averages about 12 mpg. According to the Barnetts, the first Tatra (named for an East Czechoslovakian mountain range) was produced in 1897. This particular model -- 2-603 -- was built between 1955 and 1965.
A trophy was also awarded to Dale Reibel and his 2002 Ford Lightning pickup. Davis and Bennett were impressed with its 472 horsepower 5.7-liter V-8, 57,000-mile odometer reading and pristine condition. Richard Crane's 1956 Chevy Bel Air was also a judges' favorite. With the help and guidance of good friend Dean Chapman, Crane finally owns his beloved car from high school. The 1953 Ford F100 pickup, owned by Jim Arnold, really caught the judges' eye. Gracing the pages of several enthusiast magazines and boasting many awards, the all-black, 454-cubic-inch big block was a crowd favorite.
It didn't win a trophy, but one of the oldest vehicles in the car show was a 1929 Ford station wagon, owned by Las Vegan Ken Roy. One of 4,900 built, Roy believes this example, which he inherited from his brother, Richard, is the only one in Nevada. Then, there was Doug Pitzen's 1963 Ford Falcon, which was originally purchased from Gaudin Ford in November 1964.
"This isn't just about the cars," Bennett said. "Every one has a story with people, too. That's Americana. That's our passion for automobiles."
The Barrett-Jackson Auction opened Wednesday and continues through Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, where collectors from around the world will bid on everything from iconic vintage cars to three vehicles being sold by action superstar Bruce Willis. Also highly anticipated is the No. 5 Lee Iacocca Silver 45th Anniversary Edition Ford Mustang, one of only 45 built with a specially equipped 550 horsepower engine. Gates open at 8 a.m. daily with the collector car auctions beginning at 11 a.m. For tickets or more information, go to www.barrett-jackson.com or call 480-421-6694.
Gaudin Ford is located at 2121 E. Sahara Ave. For more dealership information, call 731-2121 or go to www.gaudinford.com.