Standing in front of a teal 1958 Chevrolet Impala, with an auctioneer chirping in the background, Skip and Ruth Chaffin sipped cocktails Thursday at this year’s Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas Auction.
The Portland, Oregon, couple has purchased a few collector cars at auctions in the past but don’t plan on taking any vehicles home this weekend. They came for fun.
“Pre-COVID, we went to three or four car auctions a year with friends,” Skip Chaffin said. “It was always part of a vacation for us. It’s great to be back.”
Barrett-Jackson’s event at the Las Vegas Convention Center’s new West Hall Expansion kicked off Thursday morning with an “Automobilia” auction, which included neon signage and retro ephemera. A car auction followed, consisting of about 700 cars, according to Barrett-Jackson CEO Craig Jackson.
The 50-year-old car auction company has been holding events in Las Vegas for 13 years, Jackson said.
Las Vegas, Jackson said, is a natural fit for car auctions.
“People come here to have fun,” he said.
The auction this week is the first Barrett-Jackson has held in the city since 2019, with a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jackson said this year’s event is a sign of a return to normalcy.
“Our first auction was during the Great Recession and we did great,” he said. “Then we had the first big event two weeks after the shooting at Mandalay Bay, and we raised $1 million for front-line workers. I think that was sort of a healing exercise for Las Vegas. We feel the same way about this weekend’s event.”
A range of cars from 21st century Fords to mid-century Volkswagens made it to the convention center floor Thursday. Cars previously owned by Siegfried & Roy and Wayne Newton will be up for auction this weekend.
A 2015 Ford Shelby formerly owned by Raiders coach Jon Gruden sat behind red tape, waiting to be sold. A car used during the filming of 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious” and 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious” was on-site as well. Vegas iconography is also represented in the 1970 Maserati Ghibli formerly owned by Frank Sinatra.
On Thursday, every two to three minutes a car was sold, creeping across the stage, making room for the next vehicle to get bid on. The entries at the Barrett-Jackson auctions are offered at “no reserve,” or no minimum bid set. A car’s value is determined through market value, established live, during bidding.
Barrett-Jackson’s event marks the second large gathering at the new Las Vegas Convention Center facility, following World of Concrete last week. The event, broadcast on FYI and The History Channel, was the venue’s first televised event.
Jackson said the company expects about 1,500 car bidders and 45,000 total visitors this weekend.
One bidder, John Lyons of Connecticut, who attended his first Barrett-Jackson auction in January 2005, came to Las Vegas this time with five cars he’s looking to sell. He isn’t entirely sure if he’s buying anything.
Others, include Brian Wetzel, categorized themselves as “car enthusiasts,” rather than active traders. Wetzel, who has lived in Las Vegas since 1997 after moving from New Jersey, has been to Barrett-Jackson’s auction every year since it came to the city in 2008. On Thursday he said he has his eye on a late 1960s Chevrolet, but that he’s also not sure if he’s buying a car this weekend.
Cars are a passion for him, Wetzel said.
“My uncle got me into cars as a little kid,” he said. “He used to restore cars so I’d watch him do the bodywork and all the mechanicals. That’s kind of where it started. And then moving out here was great. In New Jersey, you gotta put your cars away for the winter. The weather out here is better for cars. It’s a year-round thing.”
Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas Auction runs through Saturday. Tickets start at $35, $20 for children, available at barrett-jackson.com.
Last year, Barrett-Jackson held a series of online auctions to placate collector car buyers and sellers as the coronavirus shut down in-person events nationwide.
“It wasn’t the same,” Jackson said. “We missed this atmosphere.”