A last hurrah before Pratte collection heads to auction

The Blastolene, Pontiac Bonneville Special and Futurliner at Ron Pratte’s showplace | Bob Golfen
The Blastolene, Pontiac Bonneville Special and Futurliner at Ron Pratte’s showplace | Bob Golfen

What might be considered the greatest living man cave in modern history comes to an end starting today as the crew from Barrett-Jackson begins disassembly of the vast collection of classic cars and automobilia compiled by Chandler, Arizona, millionaire Ron Pratte.

For legions of Barrett-Jackson fans, Pratte is the familiar presence in the front row who so often wins the bidding for the best and most expensive cars at auction, then brings them to his gigantic warehouse in Chandler for display in a huge, elaborate and spotlessly clean private museum.

Members of the media got one last look – and for most of them, a first look – at Pratte’s staggering assemblage of automotive history and sheer beauty Tuesday when he and Barrett-Jackson opened the warehouse for a nearly unprecedented tour.

Ron Pratte's car and automobilia collection | Barrett-Jackson
Ron Pratte’s car and automobilia collection | Barrett-Jackson

Notoriously publicity shy, Pratte was not present for the open house, though Barrett-Jackson’s top brass, including chief executive Craig Jackson, were on hand for guided tours of the mammoth collection.

Without a smudge or a speck of dust in sight, the warehouse revealed the glistening fruits of Pratte’s vision – scores of mostly American muscle cars, early brass-era cars, ’50s classics, hot rods and custom cars, some of them famous examples; dozens of unusual toy pedal cars; around 100 valuable glass globes from vintage fuel pumps perfectly lined up on the rafters. And neon, lots of neon, brightly advertising everything from car tires to burger joints.

In January, every piece of the collection of about 140 mostly pristine cars, trucks, motorcycles and vintage airplanes, plus around 1,500 superb pieces of automobilia, will be carted off to WestWorld to be auctioned off during Barrett-Jackson’s 44th annual Scottsdale collector-car auction.

The added volume of the Ron Pratte collection required Barrett-Jackson to tack on more auction days to the Scottsdale event, which will run from Saturday, January 10, through Monday, January 19, making it the longest B-J auction ever – nine days of auctioneering with six of them televised under Barrett-Jackson’s new partnership with cable TV’s Velocity channel.

Brass cars and vintage airplanes are part of the scene | Bob Golfen
Brass cars and vintage airplanes are part of the scene | Bob Golfen

“It’s a little bittersweet, you know,” Jackson said Tuesday. “We helped him build this collection, the majority of it. Tomorrow morning, we start taking down the neon and crating it. The tents are already going up at WestWorld. We’re engaged.”

For the bidders at January’s auction, Jackson added, “This is a great opportunity. Nothing like this has ever happened before.”

Plus, he noted, it gives some bidders another shot at great automobiles that Pratte had won because of his financial ability to keep upping the bids until he got what he was pursuing.

“One thing I’ve gotten from a lot of guys who had to bid against Ron and lost, that they now get the chance to come get the car they wanted,” Jackson said. “I’ve also heard from a lot of guys who said, ‘Hopefully there’s not another Pratte in the audience’.’’

Among the rare, historic, custom and one-of-a-kind automobiles that are coming out of the Pratte collection will be Carroll Shelby’s personal 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake, which Pratte bought at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in 2007 for a record $5.5 million, and the unique and magnificent 2007 Blastolene roadster, a handmade creation inspired by the great French coachbuilt cars of the 1930s.

The supercharged Shelby Cobra Super Snake | Bob Golfen
The supercharged Shelby Cobra 427 Super Snake | Bob Golfen

Also, a 1953 Buick sedan once owned by Howard Hughes that was custom fitted with his own eccentric touches; and the iconic Chezoom coupe built by renowned customizer Boyd Coddington as homage to the 1957 Chevy.

And, of course, there is the 1950 Futurliner, probably the most famous of Pratte’s acquisitions. The gleaming plus-sized display bus, used by General Motors in its Parade of Progress touring exhibits that presented a vision of future transportation, was purchased by Pratte at Barrett-Jackson’s 2006 Scottsdale auction for $4.2 million. Media people Tuesday were allowed to climb the bus’s steep stairs and sit in the lofty wheelhouse.

Along with the Futurliner, Pratte bought one of the concept cars that were a part of the GM Motorama exhibits, the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special, purchased at the same auction for $3 million. The Bonneville Special also will cross the block at Scottsdale in January.

The Futurliner proceeds will be donated | Bob Golfen
Proceeds from the Futurliner sale will be donated | Bob Golfen

As well as being a top bidder at auction, Pratte is known as a generous philanthropist who has donated more than a million dollars in Barrett-Jackson’s signature charity auction sales. Exemplifying that is his donation of all proceeds from the Futurliner sale to the Armed Forces Foundation, which helps veterans and their families.

With the media busily photographing and note taking behind him, Barrett-Jackson vice president Gary Bennett paused for a wistful look at the broad car collection that he had helped create, and he also called the moment “bittersweet.”

“I came today for one reason: it’s my last time,” Bennett said. “When he (Pratte) was assembling this collection, he was building something so special and so unique. I have personally never seen a group of cars that is so special and eclectic, high-quality and nice as they could be in one place.

“Then you throw in the salt and pepper of the automobilia, and we’re surrounded with 1,500 pieces of some of the finest automobilia in the world,” he added.

“And I’m just here now with almost tears in my eyes thinking I hate to see it end, I really do. But I’ve been part of this and I’m so proud of that. It just gives you goose bumps.”

9 thoughts on “A last hurrah before Pratte collection heads to auction”

  1. NO QUESTION ABOUT IT THESE ARE SOME OF THE FINEST CARS IN THE WORLD. I HAVE WATCH HIM BUY A LOT OF CARS AND THEY ARE ALL NUMBER 1 CARS

  2. The B-J guys helped “build” his collection? Really?!? They made a small fortune off of him once, and now they’re set to do it again. They’re lucky he’s even talking to them, knowing how much he paid for some of that stuff. “walking around with a tear in his eye”…what schmaltz…or is it tears of anticipation on the commissions? That Mr. Pratte is selling his collection is one thing; it’s his business and he’s rich enough to get bored. But we lose sight of what really is going on here, B-J isn’t doing the hobby any favours here, they’re making money off of it and distorting the market selling all of these one-offs. Sure, the cars are all unique and in fantastic condition, but these guys waxing maudlin about how they helped build him build a collection? What service to society…put them up for Nobel prizes… Give me a break!

  3. That whole B-J outfit . I agree distorting the market . Do you think they will get 5.5 million for Carroll Shelby’s personal Cobra ? I hate when they hold up bidding saying this car is way under value price . But that it is how its played, the bidder wants the best deal he can get , then Jackson cries to the crowd we need more bidding . They built him nothing. It wasn’t their money who bought the cars . Hell he could have gone to any of the other auctions and got any car he wanted . I wonder if they are giving him a break on the 10% fee they charge. I like MECHAM , now there is a man that does a great job for the buyer and sellers . He gets his hand dirty and works the with the seller and will drops fees in order to get the car sold . Jackson never worked a day in his life. As they say the SILVER SPOON

  4. Sitting here in good old England, I have to say I agree with most of what Marc and Jim say. There is nothing philanthropic about auction houses on this side of the Atlantic either. Having said that, I would love to spend a few days at this incredible automobile extravaganza. So, if anyone feels philanthropic towards a retired Brit journalist, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I might even be prepared to do some writing/photography! richardbull46@gmail.com

  5. I too agree with most said above. B-J in a rather perverse way has helped kill the aoto. hobby at least for the average guy who built the Hobby and it’s cars. I think what bothers me most is not B-J making the money but the guy’s paying it. At least we live in a country that allows it.

  6. I started playing the mega and power just before Elkhart lost the S. Ray Miller treasures. Still time for a big jackpot – and this collection will land right between Studebaker and Auburn-Cord, right here in NW Indiana. Happy to give Barrett-Jackson a cut, the 1:64s I’ve got don’t make much of a museum. I’d love to keep his legacy alive, and growing.

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