Tom Barrett and his son driving the 1914 Isotta Fraschini Tipo KM4 Gunboat Speedster that sold at the 1990 Barrett-Jackson Auction for $1,026,000.


The badge that was placed on every car that Tom sold.

By all accounts, Tom Barrett was a larger-than-life character who possessed both the showmanship of P.T. Barnum and the smooth-talking sales skills of Don Draper. His love of cars took him to all corners of the globe in search of the world’s most fabulous vehicles, initially either for his own or another enthusiast’s collection – and later, of course, to showcase on the Barrett-Jackson auction block. Tom was referred to as both “Grandfather of the Collector Car Industry” and “The Greatest Name in Classic Cars” – but no matter the title, it is fair to say some of the rarest and most valuable cars in the world passed through his hands at one time or another.

Even as a young boy growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, Tom had a passion for the automobile; it is said he sold his first car for a profit when he was a mere 12 years old, was one of the youngest successful managers of a car lot in his hometown and was officially considered a car collector at the age of 19. His father, a federal judge in Chicago, did not approve of Tom’s fascination with horsepower, feeling it was not professional, and unsuccessfully tried to persuade his son to become a lawyer.

Tom Barrett and Russ Jackson

In 1960, Tom moved his family to Arizona, where he initially dabbled in real estate, using his enjoyment of classic cars in helping establish real estate business contacts with other collectors throughout the country. He soon realized his passion for collecting cars surpassed his interest in real estate, however, and threw his heart and soul into the collector car industry.

That fateful meeting with Russ Jackson in 1963 over a newspaper advertisement may not have resulted in a car sale for Tom, but it did forever change his future. When the two men embarked on their new venture to stage a benefit car show, which later evolved into the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company, Tom found the perfect avenue to blend his expert showmanship with his love for collector cars.

For an average of three weeks a month for many years, he traveled the globe to bring the world’s greatest automobiles to the Barrett-Jackson auction block. Tom’s love of the deal resulted in him even going behind the Iron Curtain to chase down many incredible cars, especially those that had been in Germany during World War II.

“He saved all those cars,” said Craig Jackson. “I remember him bringing them home and driving those huge-displacement Mercedes, Bugattis, one-off classics and even early Grand Prix racing cars down the street where he lived in Arizona.

Tom Barrett on the auction block in the 1980s

Those cars have become the crown jewels of some of the most famous and coveted private collections around the world.”

Tom also used his vast connections in the collector car world to bring buyers for those many cars to Barrett-Jackson. And when it was auction time, Tom took his charisma and unmistakable presence to the auction block, where he held court, clearly the “life of the party” and always ready with an easy smile or a heartfelt laugh.

Over the years, Tom Barrett contributed generously to the Classic Car Club of America, which in 1989 named a building at the Gilmore Car Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Thomas W. Barrett III Barn in his honor.

Tom’s enjoyment of all things automotive also developed into a passion for fast cars. He was a regular fixture at the Indianapolis 500 every year from 1949 through the mid 1990s, which eventually resulted in him having his own team in 1981 and becoming a sponsor of the renowned event. He also contributed generously to the Classic Car Club of America, which in 1989 named a building at the Gilmore Car Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Thomas W. Barrett III Barn in his honor.

After his longtime partner and friend Russ Jackson passed away in 1993, Tom retired, turning the operation of the auction over to Jackson’s sons, Brian and Craig. A heart attack took Tom’s life in 2004 at the age of 75, and the collector car world mourned a man who was known as honest, honorable and bigger than life. As his family remembered at the time of his death, Tom Barrett was equally comfortable chatting with “the common man” as he was being the honored guest of “presidents, kings, princes, sultans and maharajas.”

His legacy is in the heart of every car that crosses the Barrett-Jackson auction block.


Tom Barrett (left) at the Fiesta de los Autos Elegantes in the

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By: Barrett-Jackson
Title: A LASTING LEGACY: Tom Barrett, Showman and Collector Car Hunter Extraordinaire
Sourced From: www.barrett-jackson.com/Media/Home/Reader/a-lasting-legacy-tom-barrett-showman-and-collector-car-hunter-extraordinaire/
Published Date: Thu, 30 Dec 2021 21:43:02 +0000