The Barrett Jackson Effect

You’re in a new neighborhood and you decide to look around. Out of the corner of your eye you see a flash of chrome, it’s a classic car. You decide to investigate since it’s something you’d considering buying yourself. As you approach the car, you notice that it’s been sitting for quite a long time: the tags are expired, the tires are flat and mother nature is clearly taking its toll on the body. You go to the house it’s parked by and knock, hoping the owner would consider selling the car. Lucky for you, he/she is considering getting rid of the car. The car appears to be worth no more than a couple thousand dollars because of its condition and you’re prepared to give the owner an offer.

But then you get hit with this: “Well, I saw the other night on the Barrett Jackson auction, one of these here cars sold for $80,000. All this one needs is a little paint and tuning and you’d be making a lot of money!”

We’ve all been in this situation before, seeing a classic car falling to pieces because the owner thinks his rotting turd is worth 10 times more than it actually is. They don’t take into account that these cars sell for the prices they do because someone has invested thousands to get it where it needs to be. From there, putting the car in a massive auction with plenty of booze for the sellers gives a great opportunity to unload the car for a price well above actual market value. Even then, the profit margin is extremely low because of all the time and money put into the car. There are so many factors that go into actually restoring a car that most people don’t consider. Replacing nuts and bolts adds up quickly, sand paper doesn’t grow on trees, and there’s no endless fountain of free WD-40. Brakes? Yeah, those cost money too!


An award winning paint job is by no means cheap. Materials costs alone will often run higher than the original purchase price of the car. The hourly rate for shop time here in the Bay Area is around $80-100 an hour which adds up extremely quickly. Sure, one can cut corners during the paint and body process but it will always come back and haunt you in the end. The days of the $300 paint job are over (Good riddance!). Unless the body is absolutely immaculate and you were given most of the materials for free, there’s no way that one can expect to paint a car for that price and still have a presentable product in the end.

This “Barrett Jackson/Mecum/insert auction company” mentality is one of the biggest threats to classic cars. Out of pure selfishness, owners will let their cars sit and rot simply because they don’t want someone to make money off of them. We get it, it’s their car and they can do what they want. However, from the standpoint of the average classic car enthusiast, we take this quite personally. Sadly, there are people out there trying to rip off unsuspecting owners just to make a dime. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are owners that are so adamant about selling their cars and not getting ripped off that they become ignorant of what they have. Because of this, we get cars that become so far gone that it’s nearly impossible to save them.

There is however,  a silver lining to all these reality shows. They’ve been steadily making the public more aware of what these cars are and how important they are to our history. As a result, people are more reluctant to send them off to pick and pull or let them sit and go to waste. These cars become more than just an object: they represent memories, a different time, and an entire lifestyle. Once in a while though, you’ll get lucky and find the car of your dreams.

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