Russo and Steele, Newport Beach, California, June 21-22, 2013
Report and photos by Rick Carey, Auction Editor
It takes chutzpah, or at least determination, to hold a collector car auction in southern California.
Consider the track record. There was Rick Cole in the early and mid-90’s.
Christie’s tried the Petersen Museum in 2000, followed by Barrett-Jackson with three sales at the awkward and cramped rooftop setting of the Petersen Museum parking structure. Barrett-Jackson then after a hiatus tried the Orange County Fairgrounds in Newport Beach before baling out after last year.
Dean Kruse, in the ebullience of the eBay days, tried a sale at California Speedway in Fontana in 2003. Spectrum tried Marina del Rey for several years.
Only Keith McCormick has created a successful series of sales and they are sited in Palm Springs, not in the Los Angeles area.
The short answer is that no one has found the formula for holding a series of successful collector car auctions in southern California.
It begs understanding. This is where major auto manufacturers site their advanced design centers. It’s where the automobile is a central element in the society. The metroplex known as “LA” is built around, for, and because of the automobile.
So why can’t collector car auctions establish themselves?
The short answer, once again, is that no one knows, and only experience will tell the tale.
Line up the impediments:
- Every day there are multiple collector car events, from survivor shows, tours and concours to the famed Cars and Coffee gatherings, that distract collectors and spectators;
- There are collector car dealers on every major street (and many minor ones) blowing smoke up the skirts of newcomers, making them feel important and informed and selling cars that are subject to statutory warranties of fitness that don’t apply to the auctions;
- In a diverse market that appreciates everything from grand classics through restomods to modern supercars it’s difficult for an auction to keep potential buyers’ attention through several hundred cars over two or three days.
In the face of history and in spite of the challenges Russo and Steele staked its claim on the beaches of southern California June 21-22, 2013, starting a 10-year deal with Newport Dunes.
Newport Dunes itself is an interesting environment. Located on Newport Bay, it is a publicly-owned recreational facility combining a beach, boat ramp, marina and RV park. It’s visible from the Pacific Coast Highway, across the street from the Newport Beach Country Club and the posh Fashion Island mall, next to a Hyatt Regency and, in the curious juxtaposition that southern California’s growth sometimes perpetuates, adjacent to a waterfront mobile home park on some of the most expensive real estate in America.
How did Russo and Steele do in their first year in Newport Beach? On the numbers not that well, but behind the numbers they racked up nearly $6 million in sales and brought generally full retail prices for the cars that sold and reasonable bids for most of the ones that didn’t. The inventory was generally sound and there were plenty of spectators and bidders.
Drew Alcazar has shown his determination in Scottsdale and Monterey, creating a unique and festive auction environment that draws its own mix of bidders and has established a number of record prices. Russo and Steele brought that same ambiance to Newport Beach, starting out with a festive Gala on Thursday evening and treating bidders and their guests to the best hospitality in the collector car auction world.
It’s Drew Alcazar’s view that in the car-savvy southern California environment it takes time to build awareness, visibility and confidence among customers and prospects that you have the commitment to remain on the scene and will continue to provide a differentiated, quality, product and environment.
That is certainly true and Russo and Steele is off to a good start in Newport Beach.