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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Laveen Car Lover Finds Success–and Shorter Hair–with Barrett-Jackson

If you go to YouTube and search for “Barrett Jackson,” you can find video clips—amateur and professional alike—that take long, lusting looks at the 2008 auction’s crown jewel, the shiny blue 2009 Chevy Corvette ZR1-Coupe.


Situated in the center of hundreds of people, protected by a velvet rope, the ZR1 was as popular as Brad Pitt on the red carpet. After emcee Jay Leno (a well-known car aficionado) gave it a proper introduction, bidding began at $100,000 and within seconds climbed to $600,000, $700,000…


Potential buyers were vying for the first ZR1 to hit the market—vehicle identification number 001 painted a one-of-a-kind blue. They also could be the first to start the ignition at the manufacturer, if they chose, and receive a signed, framed illustration of the car when it was still in design.


As the bidding progressed, Gary Bennett, who is Barrett-Jackson’s vice president of consignment and also a Laveen resident, stood on the stage next to Leno. He had a personal interest in the car’s selling price, and not only because he loves high-performance vehicles as if they were members of his family. Bennett also had promised to cut off his ponytail, which he had grown for 18 years, and donate it to Locks of Love if the car sold for $1 million or more.


In fact, it did, to car collector Dave Ressler. Leno took a pair of scissors and hacked off Bennett’s ponytail, which reached his mid-back.


“I’m still trying to fix that,” Bennett said of Leno’s styling. Haircuts aside, the former architect says he’s “blessed” to have a career involving his life passion.


“As a car guy I’m living a dream,” he said.


Born and raised in Tulsa, Okla., Bennett, 63, can’t remember a time when he wasn’t interested in automobiles. At age 12 he began studying to receive his scooter license—two years before he was legally allowed to take the exam. On his 14th birthday his parents gave him permission to buy one with money he’d saved from a paper route.


That was just the beginning of the life-long love affair. Since that time, Bennett said he’s owned “several hundred” vehicles.


While still an architectural student, Bennett married and started a family. In 1964 he bought a brand new Corvette. He remembers paying $56 in rent for his families’ apartment and $93 per month on the Corvette—and “that pretty much sums up my entire life,” he said. “That’s how important cars are to me.”


Bennett’s passion for cars has been fueled—pun intended—by his career success.


After college he became a founding partner in an architectural firm that today is one of the largest in the United States.—Tulsa, Okla.-based BSW International, with clients such as Wal-Mart and Texaco. In 1989 he sold his interest to pursue his automotive passion full-time.


“I basically retired and was just racing cars and having a good time,” he said. He became involved in automobile restoration, the aftermarket and design fields. He also won awards racing vintage NASCAR, Trans-Am and open-wheel racecars at racetracks throughout the United States.


The first Barrett-Jackson car auction was held in Scottsdale in 1971, the brainchild of Russ Jackson and Tom Barrett, who featured classic cars from their individual collections. Bennett was there, too, and has been involved as a buyer or seller at Barrett-Jackson ever since. He joined the company in 2002.


One trait that makes him successful is his customer service philosophy that the individual buying a $10,000 car should be treated at least as well as the individual purchasing one for a million dollars.


He has another personal code of ethics governing his relationship with autos: “I’ve never bought a car to make money,” he said. “That’s Gary Bennett’s philosophy.”


Bennett has an “encyclopedic knowledge” of autos, said Ritchie Fliegler, Barrett-Jackson’s vice president of marketing. “Gary is very personal, very people oriented, but also very intense and focused. His people skills are as good as it gets.”


And the haircut?


“I think it looks good,” said Fliegler said. “It makes him look younger.”


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