Russo and Steele- 5 Days, 500 Cars: Jan. 17–21

Cruising for a vintage Ferrari and a ‘60s Corvette? A classic Aston Martin and a thundering Mopar Hemi? The elegant French lines of a half-century-old Jaguar and a mean, muscular Shelby Cobra?

Looking for European class and American muscle in one place? But you don’t have the discretionary time to dial in all of the Web sites, auctions, ads and collections — or walk around events attracting many times the number of gawkers than hawkers?

Then drive up to Russo and Steele, a collector car auction designed as a targeted alternative to the others. Formed in Scottsdale in 2001 by Drew Alcazar and his wife, Josephine, Russo and Steele specializes in three market segments: post-World War II distinguished European marques; American muscle cars; and hotrods and customs.

Each August in Monterey, Calif., the couple also holds another Russo and Steele Collector Automobile Auction, simultaneously with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Just seven years in, the two auctions create more than $35 million in annual gross sales — making Russo and Steele one of the three leading collector car auctions in the country.

This year’s seventh Scottsdale event, the company’s first five-day schedule, takes place Jan. 17–21, just south of the Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road at 18601 N. Scottsdale Road. Don’t worry: You won’t pass it. Look for the big tent — big as in 140,000 square feet — and lots of glittering machinery and salivating aficionados. Last year, the event attracted 20,000 buyers and sellers, and this year the company expects about 500 cars to be auctioned.

“We thought this was a broad enough spectrum,” says Drew, who serves as chief executive officer for the company. For vehicles other than their targeted segments, they direct everyone else to the other venues. “We don’t do motorcycles, for example, or stodgy pre-World War II cars, or boats or trailers,” he notes. “Fun, fast, sexy: Our buyers’ passion is the performance and panache of great cars.”

Because the couple started with a definite vision of their market, and the targeted boutique nature of their auctions, they didn’t name the company after themselves. As a result, “Russo” recalls Russo Rubino, the dark color red on vintage Ferraris and the “Steele” is for the “Detroit Iron” of American Muscle. “One is Old World tradition at its best, and the other has woven itself into the fabric of American culture, from ‘Dukes of Hazard’ to ‘Nash Bridges,’” he explains.

The four-day auction begins the night of Jan. 17 with a Charity Preview Gala, which benefits the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Emily Center. Gates open on the following morning Jan. 18, and each succeeding day, at 10 a.m., with the vehicle auction beginning at 5 p.m. Throughout the day, the vehicles are available for preview until the auctioning begins. One of the classics everyone will be looking at is Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom’s 1967 427/435 Corvette roadster, which should gavel down Saturday evening. For Friday and Saturday, Jan 19 and 20, the auction continues from 12-11 p.m. All three days include a memorabilia auction. The event concludes with a Sunday Champagne Brunch Jan. 21, with a final select auction, 1–5 p.m.

Early on, Drew fell in love with cars — growing up with lots of horsepower on a Colorado guest ranch. “It was an epiphany,” he recalls. “I was driving with my buddy in his station wagon and I saw this incredible car in someone’s driveway.” Turned out it was a 1967 Mustang Shelby Cobra, albeit in primer: the essence, nevertheless, of brute American horsepower.

He started collector car clubs. He participated in the “High School Days” drag-racing series at Bandimere Speedway just outside of Denver. At Colorado State University in Fort Collins, he restored a two-time Grand National-winning ’69 Mustang Mach 1.

Moving to Los Angeles, he founded Concours Restorations, specializing in ground-up restorations of classic American muscle cars and European exotics. Until closing in the mid ‘90s, he maintained the standards for competition in the prestigious Concours d’Elegance and Marquee-sanctioned exhibitions. Meticulous without limit, he won awards for his restored Shelbys and Cobras and was featured in major auto publications.

He moved to Phoenix and became general manager for Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. in 1996, where he helped build the car auction into an international mega-event. Leaving the event to begin his own was a natural progression, not a break. Although the two events take place simultaneously, Drew sees no intense competition. “A little competition, perhaps, but more: I see synergy, I see augmentation, I see us different and more targeted — with the singular objective of providing the highest level of customer service in the hobby.”

Although there is much to do at Russo and Steele to entertain and electrify, this is a true car collectors’ auction: It is not an event as much as it is an opportunity to unite serious buyers and motivated sellers. “Here, you don’t have to see items that don’t interest you,” Drew says. “You get to see what you want to see and bid on what you want to buy.”

This is an auction, not an event, a boutique environment for enthusiasts, not an entertainment gala. “Russo and Steele isn’t everything for everybody but an event for uncompromising enthusiasts,” he says. “Our aim is to keep our attendees, buyers and sellers, focused on their goals and their passion.”

As a result, Drew, Josephine and the Russo and Steele team avoid sensory overload. Drew: “When you’ve come here to buy or sell a classic sports car or muscle car, do you really want to trip over a baby carriage or see a chromed custom cycle?”

Accordingly, Russo and Steele limit the number and kinds of cars to ensure the integrity of the event. Just as importantly, attendees inside the “big tent” must be credentialed: They are pre-qualified bidders, consignors or their guests.

Once credentialed, participants are catered to with full food buffets, hosted bar and waitresses serving cocktails. This year, in fact, Russo and Steele becomes the first major collector car auction in the world to provide complimentary shipping for winning bidders. “We’re also continuing our tradition — unique to the industry — of insuring all purchases for 14 days from the fall of the gavel,” Drew says. “It’s an automotive Shangri-La.”

All the while, the public enjoys the cars outside in the staging areas, where they can admire the cars prior to their being placed on the block. “We are exclusive, yes, but by no means exclusionary,” Drew explains. “For $15, the general public gets to take part in the high-energy environment of a world-class auction.”

The layout is a car collector’s paradise, too, with a 360-degree “Auction in the Round.” This style provides both that wonderful sense of urgency and energy while allowing for great interaction between the block and the buyers, who are right on the floor with the cars. “There are no cars on stages, no separation,” Drew says. “With a ground level auction ‘arena’ and elevated platform seating 360 degrees around the stage, we’ve created a virtual ‘boxing ring’ or ‘coliseum’ effect. The buyers are the epicenter of the action!”

He adds: “Car collecting is a sickness — I’ve had it since I was a kid. There’s no cure: It doesn’t go away as you get older or change, generation to generation. We’re giving connoisseurs, baby boomers and a new generation of car aficionados the opportunity to ride down memory lane in the car they, or their parents, drove or admired as teens — a car, a lifestyle, they’ve dreamed about that’s now a reality.”

Schedule of Events

Thursday, January 18th

Grand Opening Evening Sale

• Gates open for preview at 10:00 A.M.

• Auction of Vehicles 5:00 P.M. – 10:00 P.M.

Friday and Saturday, January 19th – 20th

• Gates open for preview at 10:00 A.M.

• Memorabilia Auction Begins at 1:00 P.M.

• Auction of Vehicles to follow until 11:00 P.M.

Sunday, January 21st

• Gates open for preview at 10:00 A.M.

• Champagne Brunch begins at 11:00 A.M.

• Select Auction of Vehicles to follow NOON – 5:00 P.M.