Heavy winds and matching rain destroyed tents and devastated one of the main auction venues in the annual collector car auction extravaganza in Scottsdale, Ariz., Thursday night.
Three tents were ripped from the ground at the Russo & Steele event, leaving several hundred collector cars exposed to the elements and the wreckage during some of the worst weather in the Scottsdale area in recent years.
Remains of one of the tents wound up strewn across nearby Highway 101, forcing highway crews to temporarily shut down one of the city’s main arteries.
No injuries were reported and most of the audience had already been evacuated by the time the tents collapsed.
No car owners or spectators were being allowed onto the venue grounds today as police and insurance adjusters combed through the scene and assessed the damage.. One car owner reported that he had been told he and other car owners would not be allowed on the property until 8 p.m. Saturday.
According Old Cars Weekly Auction Editor Ron Kowalke, who was at the site, the winds picked up at 6:15 p.m., and the large white tents began pulsing and the lights inside began swinging above bidders. After about 100 cars had crossed the block, an unknown person ran into the tent and contacted Russo & Steele President Drew Alcazar, who immediately ordered everyone inside the main tent to evacuate as a Chevrolet was mid-bid on the block.
“The evacuation was very orderly,” reported Kowalke by phone, “which probably helped get everyone out of the tent safely.
“Once we got out, everybody went out into the rain. People were trying to get to their cars when suddenly the southern-most tent where they keep most of the cars lifted into the air. When the tent went up, all of the poles supporting it came down on the cars. To make matters worse, the remnants of the shredded tent began slapping on the cars.
“The part of the tent still there, the wind would get underneath it and lift it, then drop it back onto the cars.”
Meanwhile, owners could do nothing but watch the weather abuse their fresh restorations and high-dollar machines as police and fire safety personnel kept the crowds and owners away due to safety concerns.
“A Road Runner convertible owner tried to get the police officers to allow him to his car since it was beneath a pole hanging above, and they almost let him until they decided it would be a safety concern, and then they would have to let everybody else in,” Kowalke said.
“On some of the convertibles, where the owners left the tops down, there is nothing covering them anymore and they are filling with water. None of the owners could retrieve their cars or raise the tops to keep the rain out.”
The main tent, where bidding is conducted, remained in position as of Friday morning. To block the continuing winds, several Reliable Transport semi trucks and trailers lined up bumper to bumper to form a barrier to prevent further wind damage from the southern end of the auction compound.
Kowalke noted that the high winds also put Barrett-Jackson on alert, and it evacuated one of the tents at its venue where cars are staged before they cross the block, and one of the non-essential tents did blow away. Due to the rain, Barrett-Jackson had also been forced to closed part of its lots due to flooding.
“I think they are going to declare a state of emergency,” Kowalke said. “There are a lot of flooded streets and they are getting several feet of snow in the mountains and they are not prepared to deal with that here.”
One of the marquee cars on the Russo & Steele schedule was a Tucker convertible that had drawn much publicity and scrutiny in the past year. According to car owner Justin Cole of Benchmark Classics, "the Tucker convertible was under one of the tents that was destroyed by high winds… Fortunately, it only sustained minor damage to the left front fender."
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