Muscle Car Mania
Russo and Steele Sports and Muscle in Scottsdale
By Lindsay DeChacco
It’s a hobby that’s alive and kicking, generating
no less than record sales at record prices. But,
just what is the impetus that drives the collector
There are those elite few who will register for the
event well ahead of time, study up on the cars and
head into the bidders circle prepared to put up some
serious money to finally lay claim to that elusive
fantasy car that haunted their dreams as teenagers.
But for the grand majority, a car auction is like
a day of window-shopping on Rodeo Drive. The appeal
here might be best described as a form of Oscar-night
syndrome, which can be explained like this: Most
of us aren’t actors, we’re not personally invested
in the outcome of the night and we can’t afford to
emulate the lifestyle of a movie star.
Yet, we enjoy watching the Hollywood glitterati shuffle
down the red carpet in stiletto heels because — well
— they’re bright and shiny and it’s always interesting
to note how the double-stick tape holds up.
Throw in a little nostalgia, and we’ve summed up
the burgeoning popularity of collector car shows,
minus the double stick tape of course. Thus, classic
car auctions have become a thriving business model.
The Russo and Steele Collector Car Auction has steadily
grown since its inaugural Scottsdale event in 2001.
In 2006, sales topped $22 million, nearly double
that of the previous year. Russo and Steele’s Sports
and Muscle in Scottsdale stretched into a five-day
extravaganza in 2007 and plans are underway for a
repeat performance in 2008.
So what exactly is being put up on the block at one
of these exclusive events? Is nostalgia alone enough
to reel in the big bucks in the big tent? That is
to ask: if I hang onto my already ten-year-old Toyota
Celica for another forty years, will I see it evolve
from old and beat-up to vintage and classic?
After studying up on the superstars of past and present
classic car auctions, the answer seems to be a resounding
no. For one thing, Asian economy doesn’t exactly
fit into the American muscle/European opulence collector-car
Russo and Steele does us a favor by embedding clues
to the classics right into its name. Diverging from
the eponymous name trend, founders Andrew and Josephine
Alcazar combine Russo, which is derived from Russo
Rubino, the dark shade of red found on vintage Ferraris,
with Steele, referring to the “Detroit iron” of American
muscle cars, to effectively encapsulate their events.
It seems that Americans don’t want their nostalgia
gummed up with concerns of practicality or economy.
Classic car collectors share Tim Allen’s mantra of
“more power,” and words like “Hemi” and “Shelby”
pepper the vernacular of the auction world.
So how can you identify a future classic? Well, if
the horsepower is excessive, fuel economy doubtful
or the price tag exorbitant, it may have a shot at
future auction-block glory. If you’re lucky enough
to set some sort of land-speed record, you won’t
even have to wait to see your investment appreciate.
This year Russo and Steele will put up the 1999 Ferrari
550 Maranello. This particular not-exactly-vintage
Ferrari broke the world record by almost an hour
when it completed the Cannonball Run — the infamous
East to West coast land race — in 32 hours and 51
As for the European luxury brands, if it costs a
small fortune today, it might be worth a larger one
fifty years from now.
For example, the 1937 Rolls Royce Phantom III, another
of Russo and Steele’s upcoming offerings, had to
be as swank as they came during its heyday. A writer
once described a scene in Dr. Zhivago, where
Julie Christy arrives in a sleigh draped in white
fur, as the epitome of luxury. This deco-era limousine,
whose interior is swathed in royal purple velvet,
gives Christy’s bearskin sleigh a run for its money.
Besides vintage muscle and luxury, I managed to glean
a few more qualities that can set a car apart. It
seems to me the real honeys of the collector car
world are defined in terms of rarity, a rich history
or a little Hollywood magic. Sometimes they even
possess a combination of these traits.
For instance, in 2007 the 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 “Super
Snake” sold for $5.5 million, partly because it was
one of only two of these cars ever made. The other
car was built for comic Bill Cosby, who quickly decided
it was too dangerous.
Though Cosby only drove it once, he did reference
the vehicle in a 1968 comedy routine where he related
telling the Shelby America representative to give
the car to George Wallace, who was the segregationist
governor of Alabama at the time. Interestingly,
the subsequent owner — who was not Wallace — was
in fact killed when he crashed the car into the Pacific.
Something like a Cosby connection certainly doesn’t
hurt a car’s charisma. A good back-story can add
a great deal to a classic car’s appeal. Buyers aren’t
just bidding on iron and steel; a car’s lore is a
real part of the package.
Russo and Steele’s Rolls Royce Phantom III becomes
even more alluring when teamed with its history of
being spirited from post-WWII Germany beneath the
noses of former Nazi bigwigs, only to end up the
stuff of urban myths, discovered in a rural American
Even if a car hasn’t logged enough decades to generate
an epic history, movies have no equal when it comes
to creating instant classics. A James Bond Aston
Martin is always a hot commodity in collector car
At their July event in Monterey, Russo and Steele
featured the Batmobile from Warner Brother’s 1992
film Batman Returns. Let’s face it, 15 years doesn’t
usually qualify something a classic so — unless you
think it’s high time Hannah Montana was up for a
lifetime achievement award — you have to give Hollywood
kudos for its ability to produce real cache, real
Russo and Steele will bring together another 500
of the crème de la crème of classic cars in their
event this month. In the days leading up to the
auction, collectors can attend previews, galas and
General admission affords access to the outside tents
and the vendor pavilion on auction and preview days,
but entry into the main event is reserved for registered
bidders and their guests.
The show is staged with the auction block on the
ground floor, surrounded by elevated theater seating
that zeros in on the action. Access to the area is
limited to maintain an intimate and exclusive format
— a boutique auction.
Bidders can register online or at the event. Either
way, in order to participate they must fill out an
application, pay the $175 fee (guests are an additional
$50 to $75), and provide a bank letter of guarantee,
or at the very least, two credit cards with — let’s
face it — a pretty hefty credit limit.
For the rest of us, however, sometimes just standing
in the vicinity of the classics is enough to render
up a sepia-toned memory or two.
And if that’s not enough, the event is in Scottsdale
— there’s sure to be a little double stick tape in
If you go
Russo and Steele’s Sports and Muscle in Scottsdale
General Admission: $20; $15 for AAA members with
a valid membership card.
“Motown Muscle” Charity Preview
January 16, 6:30 p.m. (registered bidders only)
Gates open at 10 a.m.