This is a story about a car – a classic car, one that every collector would love to have. Yet owners keep getting rid of it.
Originally a gift, this 35th Anniversary Edition Corvette was auctioned off in January. The buyer immediately put it up for sale again at the same event.
The special Corvette was auctioned once more in April. That buyer plans for it to be auctioned yet again in September. Unless it sells this summer. Regardless, that will make five owners this year – or more, if the cycle continues.
Before explaining why that car’s title keeps changing hands, there’s something else to know: This story spawned a copycat.
A Kentucky couple was watching the January auction on television, their interest piqued by the fact they owned the exact same kind of car. Days later, they flew to Arizona, walked into the auction company’s headquarters and handed over the keys. That car will be auctioned Saturday in Connecticut; you can watch it on Velocity.
So, why are collectors paying well into six figures for a sleek, white sports car they refuse to keep?
It’s not profit.
The auctions are all part of Driven Hearts, a campaign supporting my organization, the American Heart Association. It was launched by Carolyn Jackson, Vice President of Brand Strategy for the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company, as part of her yearlong tenure as chair of the 2018 Heart Ball in Phoenix.
Each year, the Phoenix chair extends fundraising beyond the gala. For Carolyn, it was only natural to reach into the world of car collectors; even the name “Driven Hearts” is a perfect fit. And while it’s common for prized vehicles to be auctioned for charities, this chain reaction is unprecedented.
Selling the Corvette has generated $530,000 with (at least) two more sales to go. Yet the real power of this story is the generous people involved.
THE ORIGINAL OWNER
Dave Ressler was definitely an original.
The son of a man who spent 25 years selling cars at Chase Chevrolet in Mandan, North Dakota, Dave joined the dealership in 1980 as a salesman and finance manager. He bought the place seven years later.
Other dealerships followed, as a did a collection of classic cars. Corvettes, mostly. He owned the world’s oldest Corvette (VIN number 003) and the first 2009 ZR1.
Dave became a regular at Barrett-Jackson auctions; he was the guy wearing flashy jackets that matched the color of the car he was buying. His showmanship was rooted in a joy of life, a feeling he loved spreading.
“When he entered an arena, everyone knew that he was on the scene,” Carolyn said. “He always made a statement.”
Dave became close friends of auction co-founder Nellie Jackson and her son Craig, Carolyn’s husband. When the auction house was celebrating its 35th anniversary, Dave gave the Jacksons his 35th Anniversary Edition Corvette.
This past November, Dave died of heart disease. He was 61. Carolyn started Driven Hearts a month later.
Looking to honor his memory, she thought about what kind of grand gesture Dave might make. That’s how she came up with auctioning off his old car.
There was a catch, though: The gift had come with the promise that Nellie and Craig never sell it. So Craig and Carolyn asked Dave’s family for permission, explaining that all proceeds would support the AHA.
“It was a very emotional phone call,” Carolyn said.
AUCTION NO. 1
Dave’s widow Gerri and her family were in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the January auction. Everyone was ecstatic when it sold for $200,000.
The buyer was Michelle Mauzy. She and her husband Greg, CEO of MGM Oil and Gas, were regulars at Barrett-Jackson auctions until Greg – like Dave – died far too young in 2015, also of heart-related issues. He was 58.
Greg loved charity cars. Whenever a car was attached to a story that made him tear up, he’d outbid everyone, wave his big hands and say, “Sell it again!”
Upon winning this auction, Michelle stood up and emotionally shouted, “Sell it again!”
Craig had to walk off the stage to compose himself. Months later, Carolyn still gets choked up talking about it.
Asked on television why she gave the car back, Michelle said it was all about spreading awareness. She didn’t want others to experience a loss like she and Gerri had.
“She wanted to make a difference,” Carolyn said. “She most certainly has. She helped us launch the program.”
AUCTION NO. 2 – AND A POSTSCRIPT
Also vying for the car during the first auction was Joe Riley, CEO of National Auto Mart.
Offered another chance to buy the car, he gladly did, with a winning bid of $100,000. Then, of course, he gave it back.
In about six minutes, Carolyn’s campaign had rung up $300,000 – and still had the Corvette to sell again.
Her head spinning as she left the stage, Carolyn was stopped by a man who asked her to clarify where the money was going. He gave her another $50,000.
AUCTION NO. 3
The Corvette was auctioned again in Palm Beach, Florida, in April. Also that weekend, John and Jeanette Staluppi sold the 145 cars from their museum for nearly $14 million.
You can tell where this is headed.
The Staluppis outbid everyone for the Corvette, spending $180,000 and telling Carolyn to sell it again.
It may be auctioned in September in Las Vegas. Or maybe not. Talks are underway for a sale before then. The proceeds would go to the campaign and the car would head to the new owner’s garage. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Carolyn insists.
“Keeping it would not be rude at all!” she said. “What’s happened so far with this car is highly unusual.”
But maybe not the most unusual part of this story.
A week after the initial auction, Craig and Carolyn were in their offices when a large man they’d never met let himself in through a door that was usually locked and began wandering the halls. He spoke to Craig, then Craig brought the man to Carolyn’s desk.
“Tell my wife what you just told me,” Craig said to Darrell Pullen.
Darrell and his wife Charmaigne were so moved by what Michelle Mauzy and Joe Riley did that they wanted to get involved, too.
The Corvette being auctioned was No. 1989 of 2,050. The Pullens owned No. 1983.
“I want to give it to you to sell for the American Heart Association,” Darrell said. “I’m too old and too fat to drive it.”
That car is lot No. 3003 on the docket for this weekend’s event. The Pullens will be there, of course. They were on hand at the Palm Beach Auction as well, where their Corvette was unveiled and staged next to its twin at the auction site.
THE FINISH LINE
Driven Hearts caters to more than millionaires. For instance:
- Carolyn created a vanity license plate in Arizona. It costs $25, with $17 going to the AHA.
- Every car at the Scottsdale auction had a collectable plate with “EST 71” (designating the year Barrett-Jackson was founded), as well as “#DrivenHearts.” People wanted to buy them, so Barrett-Jackson had more made, selling them for $10 each, with proceeds going to the AHA. They made another that read “DRIVEN” for Palm Beach; another that reads “F.A.S.T.” will be available in Connecticut.
While the word FAST is a perfect tie-in for the car community, the acronym is a key part of the AHA’s stroke awareness. If you see someone with (F)ace drooping, (A)rm weakness or (S)peech difficulty, it’s (T)ime to call 911. Signage at auctions further spreads this message. Announcers discuss it on the television broadcasts.
Carolyn notes that TV cameras capture that and all the Driven Hearts signage, with social media adding to the exposure. Craig Jackson’s head-turning Bugatti Veyron, which has been wrapped in a red and silver livery featuring “#DrivenHearts,” is displayed at each auction site, resulting in much attention on social media as fans pose for selfies.
More than benefitting the bottom line, it’s about fighting the No. 1 killer of Americans.
“We went into this hoping to raise much-needed funds and tremendous awareness,” Carolyn said. “This has exceeded expectations on so many levels.”