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Auction Coverage Overflow: Russo and Steele’s 2018 Scottsdale sale

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1976 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am; image by the author.

When covering auctions for our print publications, a simple rule of thumb–that we do our best to adhere to–is to review a few extra vehicular lots. It’s good practice, since one never knows if a lot is going to be withdrawn at the last minute, or–worse–we forgot to snag a photo of the car we just examined, only to discover that error when we return to the office. Which means that by the time our more detailed coverage is readied for print, we end up with a few on the proverbial cutting-room floor. It doesn’t mean they are any less interesting, we simply ran out of space, so we’ll present a few of them here.

Regular readers of our Hemmings Muscle Machines magazine will have noticed we’ve begun to provide in-depth coverage from the multitude of auctions that are held within weeks of the New Year in and around Scottsdale, Arizona. Our coverage continues in the June issue of HMM with over a dozen highlighted lots from the 18th annual Russo and Steele sale, which occurred at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick facility on January 17-21. Based in Scottsdale, Russo and Steele’s catalog featured just over 800 vehicular lots of which 408 found new owners for a total take of just over $15.4 million (due to Russo’s post-sale program for unsold lots, helping bring bidders and consignors to a happy agreement, the total does not include any sales that were either finalized, or are still pending, as of January 21). One lot we were unable to bring to life in print was the car pictured above: a 1976 Firebird Trans Am. According to the placard: V-8; four-speed automatic; Round headlight design and optional Shaker hood; factory air conditioning; Recent exterior restoration including new graphics; slick top roof.

Pontiac assembled 46,704 of these puppies during the model year, an overwhelming number of which, 39,176, contained the 185-hp 400 (the remaining 7,528 Trans Ams featured the optional 455). And if you were looking for a further production breakout, of those fitted with the 400 engine, 33,752 were backed by the automatic. Numbers aside, and despite the “recent exterior restoration” claim, we quickly spotted several small nicks in the paint on the right fender, road rash on the wheels, a small blister and a lifting decal on a C-pillar, and minor wear to some parts of the interior, the most notable being the steering wheel hub. That’s not to say it’s wasn’t a pony anyone wouldn’t be proud to own and show. Overall, we gave it a condition grade of 2- that, effectively, putted it in line with value trends of roughly $45,000. Yeah, if you’ve not been paying attention, Seventies Trans Ams have been up in value of late. Initially, however, this example crossed the block without a bid high enough to break through the consignor-set reserve. Russo’s post-sale program, though, was able to bring the consignor and a bidder to terms, and the title traded hands for $24,000 (as of this writing, the Russo and Steele website has not been updated to reflect the sale, thus we’re unable to provide a link to the listing.)

1968 Buick GS 400 convertible; image by the author.

High-powered pony cars are plenty nice, but a fair number of collectors have a preference for big-block equipped intermediates, such as the Buick GS 400 (above). Details provided by the consignor were scant:

Factory Console car w/ Staple Shifter; Rare GS Model; Brand New top; Rebuilt 350 V8; Automatic Transmission

With so little to go on, we took a look at the VIN, the first portion of which read “446678K.” The significant numbers are the second through fifth digits, which confirms that the Buick was, indeed, a convertible GS 400 (just 2,454 were made). Which begged an important question: Was the engine under the hood really a rebuilt 350, or was that a displacement error? Frankly, we don’t think too many bidders even got to that point, considering the manner in which the gentleman’s rocket from Flint was presented. We can sum it up in a few simple words: Lots of wear inside and out. One could even spot the cracks in the body filler below the paint, not forgetting to mention the damaged grille surround, sun-baked emblems and other maladies due to years of cruising enjoyment. Suffice it to say we gave it a condition rating of 3-, which translated to an average value of roughly $24,000. Offered at no reserve, it sold for $7,425 (including buyer’s premium).

Be sure to check out the aforementioned June 2018 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines. Another 24 featured lots covering an array of domestic and imported collector cars will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Hemmings Motor News