Born into a family that emigrated from Scotland, Russ Jackson carried with him many admirable Scottish traits. He was known to be forthright and honest, practical, hard-working – and cost-conscious. “I always wanted to do something different with the auction, and he worried about what the costs were,” remembers his youngest son Craig, chuckling. “If he walked into the Scottsdale Auction today, I have no doubt that he’d say, ‘How much did you spend building this damn place?!’”
Born in Michigan, Russ grew up in Pontiac and attended General Motors Institute in Flint before becoming a salesman with local car dealerships and a member of the Pontiac Fire Department. After he married Nellie in 1940, Russ joined the Air Force as a member of the ground crew, working his way up the ranks to Chief Mechanic. He served at bases that included Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, as well as California, and always had Nellie by his side, who worked as an accountant wherever her husband went.
Like his wife, Russ was a born entrepreneur, and returned to Pontiac after World War II ended and established Russ’s Country Store just outside the city, which he successfully ran from 1946 to 1960. Russ had taken his family on regular vacations to Scottsdale, Arizona, since the mid-1950s, but now the time had come to make a permanent move, and the Jackson family set forth in a three-vehicle caravan to make the Valley of the Sun their permanent residence.
Once settled, Russ focused on the couple’s two new businesses. It didn’t take long before Russ secured a contract for the Jacksons’ all-new full-service Super Car Wash to keep Scottsdale’s police cars spotless, and also doing prep work and car washing for local auto dealerships at. At the couple’s second business, the Classic Carriage House, Russ pursued his real passion: buying, selling, rebuilding and refinishing classic cars.
That passion for classic cars is what led him in 1963 to cross paths with fellow enthusiast Tom Barrett. Having a particular fondness for old Cadillacs with big 12- or 16-cylinder engines, Russ spied an advertisement Tom had placed in the newspaper for a 1933 Cadillac V16 Town Car built for actress Joan Crawford. Although unable to find common ground on the value of Miss Crawford’s Cadillac, Russ and Tom soon combined their love of prewar cars to start the “Fiesta de los Autos Elegantes” car show in 1967, which evolved into the forming of the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company in 1971 and the company’s very first collector car auction.
Of the many tasks required to make the auctions run smoothly, Russ was a natural at running the shop and – along with his son Brian, and later his younger son Craig – working on restorations of potential auction vehicles. When it came time for the auction itself, Russ’ exemplary organizational skills made him the perfect person to take charge of the operations of the event – from the car displays, tents and staging to the logistics of running the cars across the auction block; a simple affair in the early days that evolved over the years into a multi-day monumental effort. Of course, Russ also was instrumental in convincing his many connections in the collector car community – many the result of his involvement in the Classic Car Club of America – to bring an impressive selection of vehicles to every auction.
The longest-serving Barrett-Jackson employee, Enrique Chavez (who joined the company in 1987), remembers spending quite a bit of time with Russ, and related how he never let the pressure get to him. “Russ was funny,” Enrique recalled. “He never took life very seriously; he lived for the moment. He taught me how to relax, no matter how challenging things got.”
Russ Jackson sadly struggled with and passed away from colon cancer in 1993, at the age of 78. He left the operation of The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions in the very capable hands of his two sons, who shared not only their father’s passion for all things automotive, but also his commitment to honesty and ethics – something Barrett-Jackson is known for to this day.