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The Ron Pratte Collection includes this 1950 GM Futureliner Parade of Progress tour bus.


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Saturday, Jan. 10 marks the start of the 44th Annual Barrett-Jackson Collector Vehicle Auction in Scottsdale, Ariz. This year's auction runs a full eight days to accommodate a huge line-up of vehicles and includes the much-awaited offering of some 140 vehicles from the Ron Pratte Collection.

Pratte, a longtime collector from Arizona, has amassed an iconic collection of vehicles over the years. While there are muscle cars, including a stunning array of Shelby and Boss Mustangs, his collection included custom-builds ranging from Boyd Coddington's Chezoom to Blastolene's B-702 custom roadster and George Barris's Beverly Hillbillies truck, to name a few. Everything from hotrods to historical vehicles, such as the 1953 Buick Roadmaster, certified as the last car millionaire Howard Hughes drove, to the 1950 General Motors Futureliner bus used in their "Parade of Progress" promotional tours.

There's the famed Carroll Shelby Super Snake Cobra. An 800-horsepower twin-supercharged roadster that is the last of the breed. Custom show cars abound, including the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special. These vehicles and more are expected to bring in bids of several million dollars each, making this Barrett-Jackson auction one of the richest in history.

To keep things in some perspective, Barrett-Jackson will continue to have many desirable collectible vehicles for auction, with prices that can be as low as a few thousand dollars. Just don't expect t hose to appear on television during prime time. This year, television coverage of Barrett-Jackson will be via the Discovery Channel. Chris Jacobs of Overhaulin' fame will host the week, backed by Ray Evernham and old Speed Channel favourites such as Rick Debrul, Mike Joy, Steve Magnante and Christy Lee as on-the-block commentators.

This year, look for prices to be splayed because of the current state of the economy. Don't get me wrong, top-flight cars will go for top-flight prices to buyers who have pockets deeper than any recession, but we may see a shift away from buyers purchasing cloned cars or kit vehicles at higher prices. The market should see some rightsizing in what buyers are willing to pay for built cars as opposed to those that come with the documentation and provenance, that ensure value based on production numbers and originality. That's not saying we won't see some surprises.

As always, look for the surge in prices for any of the Shelby or Boss cars from Ford, and original Hemi-powered vehicles may start to see an increase in interest and values. An abundant volume of the always-desirable Corvette are expected to show throughout the week and prices will be dictated by condition and authenticity.

Also look to the postwar classics coming to the block, to bring in substantial bids, as Barrett-Jackson has always had a good selection of vehicles from the pre-war period that bear historical or movie-star origins.

There are also the fun cars, such as the 1956 BMW Isetta convertible. The three-wheeler can only be eclipsed by the 1959 Fiat Jolly, with its wicker seats and cloth top. From previous auctions, we see it's a proven fact: Odd cars sell and often sell for big dollars.

But through it all, what makes the Barrett-Jackson auction special? Well, considering there are many auction houses and several auctions staged each January in the Phoenix area, it's because Barrett-Jackson has not only the television coverage, but the stuff to keep you watching. High-end vehicles cross the block for days on end, and the real nail-biter is they go without reserve. What hits the block goes for whatever the market will bear, at that moment, at that auction. For buyers, it's the hope bidders don't see what you see in a vehicle and you get a great car at a good price. For sellers, it's a prayer there are at least two people in the audience who have to have that vehicle and are prepared to bid for the moon.

Locally, Manitoba has always looked at the auction as a mid-winter break. House parties thrive, and in the past, the auction has even played centre stage, when local car buffs Pat Kaniuga and Free Press Autos editor Willy Williamson raised considerable funds for local charities.

This year, Kaniuga has teamed up with comedian Big Daddy Tazz, and the pair has arranged through CAA Travel a Barrett-Jackson package that includes airfare, accommodations and shuttle service to and from the auction. At last check, the plane was full, but you can still take in all the auction highlights by checking your local TV listings.

Remember, our local cruising season is just around that last big curve heading into spring, and this is one supercharged, nail-biting diversion that will help take a few bumps out of the road.