Steering Toward Success: Talking cars with Barrett-Jackson’s Steve Davis

Steering Toward Success: Talking cars with Barrett-Jackson’s Steve Davis

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

As a child in Visalia, California, Steve Davis grew up collecting Hot Wheels and dreaming about the day he could drive.

Model cars and automotive magazines secured his obsession with vehicles.

Fast forward to 2022, Davis hasn’t strayed much further. He’s the president of Barrett-Jackson, the World’s Greatest Car Collector Auction, which drives into WestWorld Saturday, January 22, to Sunday, January 30.

“I love what the car represents,” Davis says. “It’s more than just a utilitarian device that gets you from point A to point B.

“As a kid, the freedom a car represents is one thing, but I always looked at it as more of a passion. That passion that drove me as a kid was really the foundation for what would become my career.”

Celebrating its 50th year, Barrett-Jackson will feature rare hypercars and customs, as well as a diverse docket that includes a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing that is one of only 855 built in 1955 and one of only 1,400 built from 1954-57.

Selling with No Reserve, this highly desirable Gullwing is powered by the original matching-numbers M198 inline-6 engine paired with a 4-speed manual transmission.

“The most exciting thing about the auction in January is the fact that we will be celebrating our much-anticipated 50th anniversary,” Davis says.

“What we’ve created here transcends buying and selling automobiles. We’ve created an environment that is unique, and you can only feel it at Barrett-Jackson. Bringing so many incredible people together around so many incredible vehicles and the culture they represent. We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary, but we’re also celebrating the fact that our community is strong and resilient. Our community within this car culture is a giving, caring and passionate group of people, and we’re coming together to celebrate this hobby we all love and that’s something that Barrett-Jackson epitomizes.”

‘Bitten’ by the bug

Davis remembers the first time he was “bitten” by the car bug. He was riding his bicycle as a kid when he came across a car lot. There were three unforgettable cars: a ’63 Corvette, an E-type Jaguar and a Mustang fastback.

“And I remember stopping and looking at those cars, putting my head up to the windows, squinting my eyes to see what they looked like on the inside,” Davis says.

“It was just so incredibly amazing to me. Looking at the dashes, I remember on the Mustang, it had the Rally Pack — the gauges that hung on each side of the steering column. It just looked so cool. But that diversity between the Corvette, the Jaguar and the Mustang, it just stuck with me, and something happened in that moment.”

This “a-ha” moment piqued Davis’ interest and desire. He needed to possess one of those.

“As I kid, I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to have a car like that, to be able to go wherever I wanted to go, and to do it in style,” Davis says.

“So, that triggered wanting to research more about the cars, and the more I read about it all, the more interesting it became.”

Davis was working in the finance industry when he purchased a 1956 Ford Thunderbird. He parked it in his driveway and neighbors and visitors gawked at it.

“We would talk about the car,” Davis says. “I found myself having so much enjoyment talking about a car. Everybody I spoke with about the car said, ‘Do you want to sell it?’

“I hadn’t really thought about it, but at some point—after that happened on so many occasions—I decided I’d sell it. And suddenly, this lightbulb went off: This was really cool. I love cars. I love talking to people, and financially speaking, coming from the finance world, I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is something I really ought to think about.’”

This led to the formation of his business, Valley Oak Auto in Visalia. While buying and selling cars, he learned about Barrett-Jackson and, when he attended his first Scottsdale auction, he was impressed.

“Before I knew it, I was bringing a car or two and then that led to a truckload or two,” he says.

As a consignor, at one point, he brought more than 40 cars to one auction. His experiences as one of the top consigners provided a strong background and foundation for his future with the auction company.

Reflecting on his career

More than 26 years ago, Davis joined Craig Jackson’s team and he has watched the auctions evolve into an “event.” The Scottsdale Airpark-based company’s charitable endeavors are important to Davis, too.

“(There are) moments that we’ve shared with various charities, not only the millions and millions of dollars, but the amazing awareness of the cause from each of these organizations,” he says. “Participating in that and helping grow it to what it is now encompasses some of my proudest moments.”

For Barrett-Jackson’s charity platform, Davis asks supporters to “bid from their heart and not from their wallet.”

“And what I thought about at one point was, ‘You know, I’m that guy out there saying this, now I need to do something that reflects my passion and belief for what we do,’” he recalls.

“I had a 1964 Ford Fairlane. I had never really built a car for myself before. Of the thousands of cars I had touched over the years, I had never really purpose built a car for myself to keep, but the Fairlane was that car. I loved that car, I cherished it and what it represented.”

Wanting to support those in need, he offered his Fairlane for a veterans charity. He took the car on a yearlong tour of the auctions after it was finished. The moment he sold it, however, had to have a significance to him.

“It had to be something that was a part of me, so it had to be the Fairlane,” Davis says.

“I decided to sell it at the Las Vegas auction in 2011. We arranged to have a Marine Color Guard, we distributed small American flags to everyone in the audience. It was just one of those defining moments. It was beautiful. Bidding started, the smoke cleared, and this car brought $700,000. It was incredible, a real ‘wow’ moment.”

A bidding war broke out between Davis’ friends — Ron Pratte and Sam Pack. He says it was exciting to see the dollar amount and awareness rise.

“About an hour afterward, Ron called me and said, ‘Steve that was amazing. I’m going to give you the car back, sell it again in Scottsdale,’” Davis recalls.

“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, could we catch lightning in a bottle twice?’ Fast forward to January, same thing again, but this time it brings $1 million. So that Fairlane raised $1.7 million for charity. Those kinds of moments are defining moments, not just on your career, but life moments.”

The 50th anniversary Barrett-Jackson auction features “incredible cars,” Davis says. That includes a 1967 Ford Mustang Eleanor Tribute Edition, consigned by retired San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.

“I love the Eleanor because it’s such a recognizable car in pop culture and in car culture,” Davis says.

“This particular tribute edition is spectacular — from the fit, the finish, the powertrain, everything — it’s an exceptional vehicle. In a nutshell, it’s a world-class car, owned by a world-class athlete selling it at a world-class event. It really checks all the boxes when it comes to what Barrett-Jackson is all about.”


Barrett-Jackson the World’s

Greatest Car Collector Auctions

WHEN: Various times Saturday, January 22, to Sunday, January 30

WHERE: WestWorld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale

COST: Tickets start at $23, with discounts for seniors, military and students

INFO: 480.421.6694,

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