Like a carpenter inspecting another's work, Steve Dawson peered under the hood of a glossy red 1969 Mach 1 Ford Mustang on Friday, meticulously inspecting every bolt, fastener and hose with a critical eye.
Dawson said he doesn't even particularly care for Mustangs. But the car enthusiast from San Diego, who owns four restored classics of his own, appreciates good work when he sees it.
"This is probably the best put-together car here," he concluded. "I've done it and know how hard it is. Taking things apart and putting them back together is one thing, but so they look perfect, beautiful?"
All that work has a price, and at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction at the Orange County Fairgrounds this weekend, it could be a high one.
The renowned event added Costa Mesa as its fourth stop in a national tour just three years ago, and if sales at the last two events here have been any indication, there are plenty of interested parties in Orange County.
The most expensive car auctioned off last year was a 1963 Volkswagen 23 Window Bus for $217,800. In 2010 it was a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 convertible, which sold for $253,000.
More than 400 cars will go on the auction block this year, event officials said.
"We try to find destination locations," said Patrick Van Den Bossche, Barrett-Jackson's chief operating officer. "They have to have the right synergy, like beaches, business. We don't like to just drop in like an operation. We like to be part of the community."
Inside one of the event's indoor showrooms, the Romos family from Montclair were surveying a pair of Cadillacs, one a 1961 convertible and the other a 1959 Coupe de Ville.
"You're never going to see something like that driving down the street today," said Amoreena Romo, referring to the convertible. "Today's cars are so different. Back then they had more style."
Friday was Amoreena Romos' first Barrett-Jackson auction. Her father, Ralph, 63, was showing her around. He'd been to the one in Las Vegas before and was at the show Friday looking for a Cadillac for his friend.
"I was raised in these cars; my dad had a '61 Cadillac," Ralph Romo said. "It's the way they make them, the chrome."
Costa Mesa city officials estimate the event generates millions for the city through hotels, restaurants, entertainment and shopping. The event also raked in $325,000 last year for the O.C. Fair & Event Center through revenue and renting the property for the weekend.
If You Go
What: Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction
When: Through Sunday
Where: O.C. Fair and Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa