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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”