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Rare cars, big money and lots of yelling? Sold!

ON the block, ladies and gentleman, a 1948 Chevrolet cabover dump truck, its burnished burgundy paint gleaming under the spotlights. It's big, but it's a thing of beauty: blunt-nosed and two-tone, with a tongue and groove oak-lined bed.

ON the block, ladies and gentleman, a 1948 Chevrolet cabover dump truck, its burnished burgundy paint gleaming under the spotlights.

It's big, but it's a thing of beauty: blunt-nosed and two-tone, with a tongue and groove oak-lined bed.

Despite the big Chev's imposing presence and immaculate workmanship, bidding seems to have petered out around the highthirtythousand mark, and the auctioneer's rapid-fire patter is slowing. "Thirtyfiveseven, thirtyfiveseven, thirtysix, thirty-six. Thirty. Six?"

Gavel flung out like the duelling wand of Harry Potter, the auctioneer hangs his last appeal out in the air above the murmuring crowd. No takers.

It looks like somebody's about to get a good deal as a second voice chimes in, smooth and liquid, outlining the appeal of this two-year, frame-off restoration with street-rod amenities like power disc brakes and the ubiquitous Chevy 350ci. California-sourced, rust-free body. Custom tweed interior.


A shout from a portly, white-haired gentleman in a navy blazer, arm out-thrust, his right hand clutching a bright yellow cloth. Down on the right, we've got thirty-six!

And that's all it takes. I'm up on the stage at the 41st annual Barrett-Jackson auction, watching this unusual truck gather steam as it roars towards fetching the highest selling price of any vehicle sold today.

Barrett-Jackson bills itself as operating "The World's Greatest Collector Car Auctions," and none is perhaps as big as its flagship event in Scottsdale, Ariz. The number of classic and rare cars on display exceeds that of any automotive museum I can think of: fully six football fields of acreage under the white tents.

$37,000 comes, and then we're back to jumping upwards in $2,000 increments. A bid from online gets us past the mid-40s, and one from the side gallery crests the $50,000 mark.

The auctioneer and his partner are working with perfect rhythm to match the ebb-and-flow of the bids coming in.

The auctioneer is demanding, querying, hectoring, who'll give-me-sixty; his blazer-wearing compatriots fanned out across the floor cajole and coax and wheedle and leap up with deafening bellows when they get a nod.

When the bids flag, even for a moment, that oiled-silk voice starts up again, chumming the waters with tasty tidbits. The rarity of the truck. The care taken in its restoration. The great value. The high price a similar vehicle fetched last year.

The main stage at Barrett-Jackson will see $92 million worth of rare, classic and collectible vehicles cross its platform. But it's not just a place where people come to buy, it's a full-on spectator sport.

As the bidding enters the low-70s mark, it's this third factor that becomes more and more a part of the rising action. People are applauding and cheering as if at a high-level tennis match as the auctioneer serves and returns, back and forth, still with three bidders remaining.

Mind you, Barrett-Jackson isn't just about the centre stage. There's a midway with "gourmet" hotdogs, clothes shopping, side auctions of signed celebrity guitars, and an enormous amount of automobile collectibles such as vintage fuel pumps or (if your garage is really huge) even a seven-foot-high Bob's Big Boy statue, the checkered-overall-wearing imp hoisting an enormous burger aloft.

Sure, people come here to bid and buy, but more than half are just here to experience the event. As the price climbs ever higher on the restored Chevy, people start flowing into the main tent. There's an electricity building in the air, an excitement that we might be witnessing something special.

There's a brief hiccup at 75, but then $78,000 is out there, and it looks like we might have a winner as the auctioneer slows again. There's nothing more for the colour-commentary to point out: everything down to the colour-matched lugnuts has been described in perfect detail. "Seventy-eight-niiiiiiiiine?"

This is Wednesday, so it's early days yet in the auction calendar, and the big toys are sitting out in the showcase tent. Each one of these cars is expected to - and, in the end, will - fetch six-figure sums. There's a 1948 Tucker Torpedo, an incredibly low-mileage gull-wing Mercedes-Benz 300SL, a jetage stretched-out '54 DeSoto Adventurer II, and a 1947 Bentley Mark IV, coach-built by Franay.

The Bentley is an exceptionally beautiful car, its curving flanks and enclosed mudguards giving it a whiff of Cruella de Vil.

Surrounding these crown jewels is row upon row of hot-rods and muscle-cars, Barrett-Jackson's more typical Americana. This year is Shelby's golden anniversary, so Shelby Mustangs and Cobras are everywhere.

"Eighty!" There's a gasp and cheer from the crowd and a sense that we're entering the final furlong. It's late in the evening and the cab-over Chevy is already out in front as the most expensive car sold today - a mark that won't be surpassed.

"Eighty-eighty-two?" Grins and applause from everyone on the stage as the final two bidders go back and forth. "Eightytwo-eighty-three?" In one-thousand-dollar increments we climb higher until. . . .

"Eighty-nine! Eighty-nine-ninety?" And for a while, it looks like we might see the Chevy crack the $90,000 mark. Finally, there's a shake of the head from one of the two remaining contestants, and as long as the auctioneer drags out the pause, nothing more to be done. Bang! Sold for $89,000, handshakes and back-slaps all around.

Already, the next car is rolling on stage, a 1964 Corvette in black with a white roof. Our auctioneer just has time to mop his brow, and then start all over again.

As for myself, I make my way off the stage and out of the central area to where the cars are being put to bed for the night. In the staging lanes, there's a bellow as a straight-piped Cobra briefly roars to life and makes conversation impossible. In the relative silence that follows, the comic chugging of an Amphicar also creeping up just proves you get all kinds here: the amphibious car has an "I brake for fish" bumper sticker.

Out in the grounds I find a few hidden treasures: a brace of two-cylinder Honda Z600s, a manual-transmission Datsun 500 wagon, a split-window VW Microbus with a colour-matched trailer and side-mount tandem bicycle. This last bore a rearmounted sign, "Warning: slow vehicle," as well you might expect.

There are four more days of cars to go under the hammer out here in the Arizona desert. Four more days of numbers-matching Camaros and resto-mod 'Cudas. Four more days celebrating the automobile as something more than just transportation.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at mcaleeronwheels@ Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.