At last, Barrett-Jackson gets to celebrate 50th anniversary

Editor’s note: Barrett-Jackson finally gets to celebrate its 50th anniversary collector car auction this month, delayed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Interviews with Craig Jackson resulted in this history of the company.

A Pierce-Arrow draws interest at the 1969 Fiesta de los Autos Elegantes show

Russ and Nellie Jackson met while working in a department store in Michigan, but she was fired when they started dating — a violation of store employee rules. He convinced her to go to business school and she did, graduating to a job in cost-accounting at Fisher Body. 

But again, she was fired — this time because they got married and Fisher banned its female employees from being married. 

There was a solution, however. The Jacksons started their own businesses in Pontiac, Michigan: Russ’ Country Store next door to Nellie’s women’s and children’s wear.

Nellie suffered from arthritis, and the couple frequently took winter vacations to the soothing climate of Scottsdale, Arizona. Doctors suggested she’d be more comfortable living full time in the desert, so they packed up their sons — 14-year-old Brian and 1-year-old Craig – and drove west in the 1934 Cadillac V12 Opera coupe Russ that had saved from a junkyard, and a brand-new 1960 Cadillac. 

Note that Russ  drove to Arizona in a classic car. He had wanted to be an automotive engineer, and had spent three years studying at the General Motors Institute until, as Nellie put it, “calculus got him.” Although he couldn’t create new cars, Russ loved old ones that he collected and restored.

A month after the Jacksons’ arrival in Scottsdale, Tom and Bonnie Barrett and their children arrived in town from Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. Barrett had taken car collecting to a new level and during his lifetime, he would buy and sell thousands of them.

Not long after arriving in Scottsdale, Barrett advertised for sale a 1933 Cadillac V16 Town Car. Russ Jackson took a look. He didn’t buy, but the Barretts and the Jacksons bonded over old cars and their new hometown. 

In the fall of 1967, the Jacksons and the Barretts hosted a parade and car show to raise funds to buy books for the Scottsdale library that was under construction. Their Fiesta de los Auto Elegantes became an annual fund raiser, first for the library and then for Scottsdale’s new art center.