Gavin Magor contributed to this report.

Some might take it as a sign of depressed times that the car fetching the top price at the "no-reserve" Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach Collector Car Auction this month was a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. But maybe the $500,000 that changed hands signals that times aren't as bad.

Even with nameplates like Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Aston Martin available, American cars dominated the big-bucks side of the three-day event in Florida. Of the dozen cars receiving the highest bids, six were Chevys, including two Corvettes. Three were Fords ( F), joined by a California-assembled Ford-powered Shelby. An Oldsmobile 442 and an Indiana-built, V-12-powered 1934 Auburn 1250 Salon, once owned by actor James Cagney, rounded out the U.S. domination of the 12 highest-priced cars to cross the auction block.

This 1969 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS received a top bid of $500,000 at the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Palm Beach, Florida.

Although the location name is associated with the mega-rich, the Palm Beach auction attracted buyers and sellers representing a cross section of car lovers from blue collar to white shoes, including big names like auto-world icons Carroll Shelby and Rick Hendrick. This delighted Barrett-Jackson Chairman Craig Jackson, who told TheStreet.com that his job is to sell quality cars that are saleable, and this requires a diversity of vehicles and bidders.

The auction was fully consigned, with more 100 vehicles turned away. A total of 487 vehicles changed owners for a total consideration of slightly more than $20 million. Although high-rollers bid 29 cars to more than $100,000 each, including 10% buyer premiums, a total of 202 went for less than $25,000 apiece. Half the vehicles fetched less than the median price of $30,800.

The inventory was enriched by 115 "legacy" vehicles offered by ailing General Motors ( GM), many of which were prototypes and specialty cars such as pace cars for major auto races. Many of these were snapped up by collectors for museum or dealership display.

Jackson said the overall attendance was 14% higher than in 2008. The 1,000 authorized bidders had higher lines of credit than those at last year's Palm Beach auction.

Bidders filled the South Florida Expo Center for the 2009 Barrett-Jackson car auction.

The hands-on auction-house chief and car collector said that, despite the bad economy, only about half a dozen cars were considered "cheap."

Jackson said Oldsmobile 442 "muscle cars" from the 1960s and '70s, along with "resto-mods" (older cars close to their original appearances but fitted with late-model chassis components, drive trains and conveniences), are "must haves." Uber-wealthy investors with Ferraris and Bugattis, along with a group of NFL players who attended the Palm Beach auction, have taken an interest in these "affordable" cars.

The only foreign-built offerings to draw six-figure bids included a 1958 Jaguar XK150 S Roadster and three beautifully restored Austin-Healeys, completed specifically for the auction. They prompted spirited bidding wars, much to the delight of the non-buying crowd. Those who question the investment value of cars should consider that the immediate profit margin on at least one of these vehicles was in excess of $60,000.

The high prices were a disappointment for bargain-hunter Bob Morris from Virginia, who only recently became a collector but has already purchased 20 vehicles, including a Kaiser Darrin, an Austin-Healey 100 and a Jaguar XK-150 S.

Morris said too many bidders get carried away with emotion, but his strategy is based on knowing what he's prepared to pay and sticking to it. He looks for investment-grade vehicles he can drive and isn't afraid to put some miles on his purchases before restoring them to "concours" condition. Following his own guidelines, Morris bought a bargain-priced restoration Triumph TR-4A for $37,000 when the bidding stalled.

Typical of many car enthusiasts of somewhat more ordinary means who are loyal to Barrett-Jackson auctions is Cheryl Muhr of the Denver suburb of Littleton. Along with her husband, John, she has been regularly attending the firm's giant Scottsdale, Arizona, auctions, the world's largest, since 2002.

At the couple's first Palm Beach auction, Cheryl stayed close to the couple's fiberglass-bodied Corvette-powered 1933 Ford roadster, answering technical questions from prospective bidders. In the best tradition of a car salesperson, she assured prospects that it was only because of the high grass on which it was parked that it looked as if the car's nose would scrape the pavement on bumps.

The Muhrs acquired their hot rod three years ago at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction for $47,000 and late last year decided to replace it with a "muscle car" of more recent vintage where they could join groups with similar vehicles on "power trips."

Prospective bidders told the Muhrs that their roadster would likely fetch between $38,000 and $70,000. But the actual bidding stalled in the mid-$30s before a couple of competing buyers gradually lifted it into the low-$40s. The action slowed again until the auctioneer cajoled them to the mid-$40s, at which point his rapid-fire monolog couldn't coax them any higher.

Asked how they felt about giving up her roadster for $45,000, Cheryl Murh said because she sold it through Barrett-Jackson, she was confident it would find a home with a true car lover. The Muhr's main interest at that point was in planning a strategy to buy a muscle car --probably at a Barrett-Jackson auction.

Made in America: Best sellers at Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach Classic Car Auction
YEAR
MAKE
MODEL
DESCRIPTION
PRICE
1969
CHEVROLET
CAMARO RS/SS
CUSTOM "PROJECT AMERICAN HEROES"
500,000
1934
AUBURN
1250 SALON
CABRIOLET
253,000
2006
CHEVROLET
MONTE CARLO
NASCAR "JIMMIE JOHNSON #48"
200,000
2004
FORD
MUSTANG GT
CONVERTIBLE CONCEPT
175,000
2004
FORD
MUSTANG GT
COUPE CONCEPT
175,000
1970
OLDSMOBILE
442 W30
CONVERTIBLE
173,250
2010
FORD
SHELBY GT500
COUPE
150,000
1970
CHEVROLET
CHEVELLE SS 454
LS5 CONVERTIBLE
148,500
1959
CHEVROLET
CORVETTE
CUSTOM CONVERTIBLE
148,500
1962
CHEVROLET
CORVETTE
FI CONVERTIBLE
143,000
1967
SHELBY
GT500
FASTBACK
143,000
1957
CHEVROLET
BEL AIR
CUSTOM 2 DOOR HARDTOP
132,000
Note: Prices includes 10% buyers premiums, except when proceeds go to charities.
Source: Barrett-Jackson

Vehicles from diverse price ranges sold at Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach auction
PRICE RANGE
NO. OF CARS SOLD
GROSS SALES AMOUNT ($)
$100,000 and above
29
4,262,150
$75,000-$99,999
32
2,732,950
$50,000-$74,999
67
4,091,450
$25,000-$49,999
157
5,758,500
Less than $25,000
202
3,189,780
Grand Total
487
20,034,830
HIGHEST PRICED:
1969 Chevrolet
Camaro RS/SS
500,000
AVERAGE PRICE
41,130
MEDIAN PRICE
30,800
LOWEST PRICED:
1959 Cushman
Scooter
4,400
Note: Prices includes 10% buyers premiums, except when proceeds go to charities.
Source: Barrett-Jackson

Top-selling makes of cars at Barrett-Jackson classic car auction
MAKE
NUMBER SOLD
GROSS SALES AMOUNT ($)
AVERAGE PER CAR ($)
CHEVROLET
173
7,637,095
44,145
FORD
77
3,795,875
49,297
PONTIAC
43
1,244,100
28,933
OLDSMOBILE
22
761,145
34,598
DODGE
15
746,375
49,758
AUSTIN-HEALEY
6
551,650
91,942
BUICK
12
443,850
36,988
PLYMOUTH
7
353,100
50,443
CADILLAC
13
348,150
26,781
SHELBY
3
341,000
113,667
JAGUAR
7
338,800
48,400
MERCEDES-BENZ
16
286,495
17,906
PORSCHE
8
277,750
34,719
AUBURN
1
253,000
253,000
FERRARI
3
216,700
72,233
Note: Prices includes 10% buyers premiums, except when proceeds go to charities.
Source: Barrett-Jackson
Richard Widows is a senior financial analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, Widows was senior product manager for quantitative analytics at Thomson Financial. After receiving an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University in California, his career included development of investment information systems at data firms, including the Lipper division of Reuters. His international experience includes assignments in the U.K. and East Asia.