To celebrate Barrett-Jackson’s half-century in business, in this special series we take a look at some of our favorite moments from the past 50 years, as well as some little-known facts about the world’s largest collector’s car auctions.
when Howard Hughes’ 1953 Buick Roadmaster crossing the block at the Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach 2005 auction, the energy in the packed arena of the auction was palpable. Rumored to be the last car Howard Hughes ever drove, at the time of Hughes’s disappearance the Buick was placed in storage, where it would have lain hidden for nearly 20 years. “No human has seen this machine since 1958,” said Craig Jackson, president and CEO of Barrett-Jackson. A friendly suggestion led Brian, Craig Jackson’s brother, to Hughes ‘headquarters in Hollywood, California, 7000 Romaine Street, where he discovered a treasure trove of Hughes’ belongings, along with the Buick. The back wall was filled with cans of silent, sound and color versions of Hughes’ Hell’s Angels. There was also a mannequin wearing the jacket Hughes wore when flying the Spruce Goose. “It was like retracing the story of Howard Hughes,” said Craig Jackson.
At the Palm Beach auction was Nellie Jackson, the First Lady of Collector Cars and matriarch of the Jackson family, who eagerly awaited the sale of the Pastel Blue and Seafoam Green Roadmaster that she and her son Craig now owned. His excitement ignited the fire and a fierce bidding war broke out between three determined parties. Back and forth, back and forth – the offer went up and up, topping $ 500,000, topping $ 1 million and rocketing to a staggering $ 1.65 million. The sale set a new world auction record for the sale of a Buick, a record found to this day. “It was amazing to see how this whole thing unfolded,” Barrett-Jackson president Steve Davis recalled. “Everyone was holding their breath; everyone standing”.
Hughes was a Renaissance man of the 20th century, and the Buick certainly passed on some of its more idiosyncratic and quirky characteristics. At the direction of Hughes, the Roadmaster was substantially modified; all windows and vents (except the driver’s) are locked, sealed and non-functional. The vents and heaters have been removed and the firewall completely sealed. The Buick was equipped with a full 24-volt aircraft electrical system in combination with Buick’s factory 12-volt system, allowing Hughes to start the plane and power a trunk-mounted air conditioning unit that was independently operated by the motor and redesigned to let air flow through the dust trap and antibacterial filter. The trunk holds four 6-volt batteries to power the auxiliary systems and, due to the lack of space in the trunk, a Continental kit built by Hughes Aircraft. The Roadmaster served as Hughes’ mobile office when he was in Hollywood and was his favorite mode of transportation due to its understated appearance.
Hughes certainly made his mark on American culture; he was a real Tony Stark before Tony Stark was a thing. He was the captain of the Spruce Goose, an aviation pioneer, an Oscar-winning producer, a recluse and one of America’s most fascinating characters. The sale of Howard Hughes’ Buick Roadmaster remains an important piece of American automotive history and played a significant role in Barrett-Jackson’s legendary past.