January 27, 2006 Collecting rare automobiles has long been one of the more rewarding forms of investment as it has the added bonus of owning and driving a fine automobile while your asset appreciates. As the successful baby boomer generation begins to retire and cash in decades of endeavour, this appreciation of fine automobilia and the wonderful camaraderie which surrounds the collector scene is driving prices ever higher … and with it, a new star has emerged among automotive collectables - the concept car.

Concept vehicles are vehicles with an instant and easily verifiable history – in the same way that cars owned by celebrities fetch a higher price, the concept car is usually created as a one-off, by a team of experts as a showcase of future technology (the first car with … electric windows, fuel injection, ad infinitum) and hence it has its own celebrity status, having been the focal point of massive media promotion at a major public event.

Last week's Barrett-Jackson Auction was a prime example – it attracted record attendance, broke numerous world records, had total sales of more than US$100 million and saw US $4,320,000 paid for a General Motors Futureliner concept bus, US$3,024,000 for a 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special concept car and US$648,000 for Shelby Cobra GT500 Concept car just nine months old.

"Sales of collector vehicles rose this year by about the same as our total sales just two years ago," said Craig Jackson, president of the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction. "Americans love the auction because instead of watching others play on the field at a sporting event, they can actually be part of the action. Car collecting is becoming a great American pastime."

Six vehicles reached or exceeded the million dollar mark, including bidder's fees. Those vehicles include a pristine 1970 HEMI 'Cuda convertible, selling for US$2,160,000, the oldest existing Corvette at US$1,080,000, a 1952 Chrysler D'Elegance for US$1,188,000, and a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS at US$1,242,000.

In addition, an unrivaled selection of HEMI-powered automobiles, street rods, muscle cars, classic and European sports cars were sold on the auction block as celebrities such as Carroll Shelby, Edsel Ford, Sammy Hagar, Bob Seger, Michael Anthony, Alice Cooper, Billy Gibbons, Bill Goldberg, Ian Ziering, Louis Gonzalez, Randy Johnson and Chip Foose watched.

The auction was a lifestyle event, featuring fashion shows and a pavilion where patrons were pampered with spa treatments, shopped for high-end jewelry and clothing and had access to some of Arizona's most prestigious resort communities. Two evening galas were held during the week; one for bidders and VIPs and one benefiting Childhelp USA, the auction's charitable beneficiary. Early estimates indicate that over US$2 million was raised for the charity.

Throughout the auction, crowds watched bidders battle for an unparalleled selection of collectible cars. "Top quality vehicles fetched top prices in nearly all categories," noted Jackson. "For instance, the Futurliner earned the highest sale price of any American car at a Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. event and the highest sale price of a GM vehicle of this size. From Amphicars to Shelbys, we shattered a host of world record prices that reflect the value of these important pieces of history."

"Concept cars have been hot commodities at our automotive lifestyle events," said Craig Jackson, president and CEO of the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company. "The record setting sale of the Harley Earl-designed Oldsmobile F-88 convertible last year was the first indication that concept cars have become among the most desired vehicles in the world."

The 1950 General Motors Futureliner Parade of Progress Tour Bus, designed by Harley Earl, sold for a world-record US$4,320,000, including bidder's fees, to a private collector.

With thousands of excited fans filling the nine-story auction tent with booming cheers, two bidders remained neck and neck through the final gavel of the Futurliner bus. After a miscommunication during the bidding process, the high bidder deferred the sale to his opponent, who had purchased the Bonneville Special mere minutes before.

"This is the way we believe that Harley Earl would have wanted the sale of these masterpieces to come to a close," added Jackson. "It was a deafening, adrenaline-pumping experience that anyone would enjoy experiencing again in a heartbeat. We promised excitement for our 35th anniversary celebration, and can truthfully say that we delivered on that promise."

"American concept cars from this romantic era are always among the most gorgeous vehicles at our events," added Mr. Jackson. "Such history making machines are heavily desired, with many individuals and museums vying to add them to their holdings."

The Futureliner

The red and white Futurliner, one of only nine that remain of the concept, features a six-cylinder engine mated to a 4-speed transmission.

One of 12 built by GM, the FutureLiner is a self-contained display and transport vehicle created by the GM design staff under the legendary Harley Earl's direction. Earl designed what is arguably the World's first concept car in 1939, and his influence on automotive design is still felt today.

The Futureliner history is told in enormous detail with many period photos here with additional images and information here.

The particular story of this vehicle is told fully here – from being found in a completely dilapidated state in the Chicago area in the early 1990s, through the full restoration process to its current glory.

In short, it was created to take part in the "Parade of Progress" touring exhibit created by "Boss" Kettering that complemented the GM "Motoramas" from 1940 through 1956.

One of only three survivors restored in their original "Parade of Progress" configuration (the others are in long term ownership by NATMUS and Peter Pan Bus Lines), this Futurliner is fully functional and has toured Canada in corporate promotions.

It's features included an opening side, lighting, retractable stage, distinctive center "cupola" cockpit driving position and dual wheel front axle. Recently returned to its original "Parade of Progress" configuration and colors.

Powered by a 400ci GM truck engine and fully equipped including an onboard motor-generator and updated air conditioning for the driver's compartment. It is a symbol of the American auto industry at the height of its power and influence.

1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Motorama Concept Car

Another one-of-a-kind car designed by Harley Earl and sold at the auction was the 1954 Pontiac Bonneville Special Motorama Concept Car which sold to a private collector in Arizona for US$3,024,000, including bidder's fees. The striking emerald green beauty is one of only two Bonneville Specials created for the Motorama auto shows. Featuring a 268 c.i.d. 8-cylinder engine, this was the first GM vehicle to carry the Bonneville name.

"Harley Earl created some of the most stunning vehicles ever during his tenure at General Motors," noted Jackson. "The Bonneville Special is considered to be one of his greatest masterpieces. It would be the crown jewel of any collection."

1952 Chrysler d'Elegance 2-door coupe

Another highlight of the auction was the maroon one-off 1952 Chrysler d'Elegance 2-door coupe. Styled by Virgil Exner, it firmly entrenched his career at Chrysler and heavily influenced the company's 50s era "letter" car series. The d'Elegance influenced over 50 years of automotive design, including the current Chrysler smash hit, the 300C. Chrysler upgraded the car in 1954 with a larger 354 c.i.d Hemi, torque flight transmission, drum brakes and 12-volt electrical system.

Shelby Cobra GT500 Concept

The prototype is representative of the first 2007 Shelby GT500 available to the public. The rights to that first car sold for US$648,000, including bidder's fees, which benefited the Carroll Shelby Children's Foundation. The full story of the car can be found here.

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