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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Classic American cars are on display this past Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was the last day of the 36th Annual Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction.

It's the country's biggest and some say wildest event of its kind, as NPR's Ted Robbins found out.

TED ROBBINS: A quarter of a million spectators attended the six-day auction. This, being the West, it seemed each of them drove a car to get here. But the massive modern cars in the parking lot candle to candle to the gleaming chrome and steel inside the auction. Inside a closed tent large as an airport terminal, auctioneers work the bidders as the cars roll onto a brightly lit stage. Every car has its virtue.

Unidentified Man: Here comes a '69 Corvair two-door hardtop. It's been in a climate-controlled environment since it was new. The original window sticker is on display on the window.

ROBBINS: In five minutes, the Chevy Covair sold for $24,000 - peanuts compared 1966 Shelby Cobra that sold for $5.5 million. That was a new record for an American car. Who buys these cars? Well, people like Stan Douglas, who came here from Denver.

STAN DOUGLAS: Reliving my childhood. I have about a dozen cars.

ROBBINS: Where do you keep them?

DOUGLAS: I have a 3,000-square foot garage kind of detached from my home. It's nice.

ROBBINS: At the moment, Stan Douglas is outside the tent, walking along the lines of cars on deck - Ferraris, Porsches, Volvos. But he is lusting after a cherry red '63 Chevy Impala, big fins and all.

DOUGLAS: It's a beautiful car.

ROBBINS: Every bidder here seems to be stuck on a certain make or year. So I decide to walk under the open tents where vehicles sit before and after their moment on stage and look for the cars I grew up with. There's a 1930 Model A Ford pickup, a 1948 Packard woody station wagon, a 1957 Messer Schmidt, about half the size of a MINI Cooper. Who knew? And then - this isn't an old classic. It's a brand new Lexus SUV.

Where did you get this car?

FRANCES MURPHY: Well, I won it in the sweepstakes.

ROBBINS: Frances Murphy and her husband, Steve, won the Lexus last August after she entered a contest on Paul McCartney's AdoptAMinefield Web site, the charity for fighting landmines. It's painted to look like McCartney's bass guitar. And for the vegetarian former Beatle, it has an all-vegan interior, which means no leather.

The Murphys shipped it here from their home in Seattle to sell because of anxiety.

MURPHY: It's too nice for - like I've said before, for common folk like us to keep this car - we're just, you know, we worry about it constantly. If there's ever a nick or a ding in the paint job. It's just, you know, it's almost too much responsibility.

STEVE MURPHY: Now, here's something you don't see everyday.

NORRIS: Oh my. I love it. Love it.

ROBBINS: Yup, a line for the men's restroom and no line for the women's restroom.

Unidentified Woman: It's a miracle.

ROBBINS: The event is just a guy thing. Back at the line of cars about to be auctioned, I found the first model I ever owned, a '66 Chevy Impala. It was old when I got it, and I drove it until it was ready for the junkyard. Unlike the elderly man, Dan Johns bought this one from Indiana.

DAN JOHNS: He loved that car from day one when he bought it. I mean, he literally made his wife quit driving it in 1970 and put it in the garage. He said after 1970, he only drove the car to the park over the weekends. And I said yeah, right.

ROBBINS: Johns bought it for $16,000 and sold it to Barrett-Jackson for $22,000. What about that cherry red '63 Impala Stan Douglas wanted?

DOUGLAS: I bid $25,000. It sold for $27,000 or $28,000.

ROBBINS: He insists it's not about the money though, it's about value. The car didn't have the original engine. Now, Stan Douglas has his eye on a '57 Chevy Bel Air with 30,000 original miles.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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