Not many people know that there is an auction house specialised in Classic cars and supercars that invoices more than the three historic leaders of this market – RM Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Gooding. And when I say more, I mean more than the three big auction houses combined, with a turnover somewhere in the region of $853 million. Its name is Bring a Trailer, and you’ll find it in America, owned by the powerful publishing group, Hearst. Created about ten years ago to focus on online auctions, it was successful long before traditional auction houses were forced into the same arena by the Pandemic. And it was the Pandemic that confirmed Bring a Trailer’s absolute dominance of the format.
How does it work? For want of a better word, like a war machine: every week, BaT offers somewhere in the region of 650/700 cars at a time, and on every occasion, they’re different as each lot has its own deadline. Among the many clever things they’ve introduced, they have devised a serious and fair technique to avoid frustrating last-second challenges before the time expires. Each offer made inside the expiry phase of the fixed terms guarantees an extra two minutes of time for anyone who wants to raise the bid. This means that bidding wars can erupt after the allotted time has expired.
As always, let’s try to understand how it works by choosing a few select lots.
The first thing to know is that earlier this year, BaT sold their first car above $2 million. Since then, six have already changed hands. The current record is held by a LaFerrari Aperta sold for $5,360,000 (€5,276,465) in early May, while a Porsche 918, sold on 22nd June for $2,025,000 (€1,993,440), set the new record for this particular model. A couple of years ago, numbers at these levels were unimaginable at online auctions.
Of course, they don’t sell everything: two modern hypercars, a 2021 Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport stopped at $4.4 million (€4.3m) and a 2020 McLaren Speedtail ran out of gas at $2.35 million (€2.3m) and their sellers withdrew them.
What Bring a Trailer is famous for, however, is the “mid-price” youngtimers it offers (between $/€50,000 and $/€250,000) and often the ones sold online have outclassed its more famous competitors. Take for example the Acura Integra Type R Vtec, produced in the late 90s. The current record was set by Bring a Trailer, with a 2000 car sold for $112,112 (€110,365) in January this year. But looking at the sales list, this year’s top 10 sales were all from BaT. At the tenth I stopped, so the list probably goes on even further.
The same is true for the Dodge Viper GTS with eight of the 10 most expensive ones sold through their online platform. The record here is $160,000 (€157,505), far above the $122,080 (€126,005) of the competition with the auctioneer in the hall.
Higher prices for online BaT purchases can also be found for the Porsche 944 Turbo: Bring a Trailer’s current record is $135,944 (€133,825) and you have to go down to fourth place to find a sale at a traditional auction ($78,400 from RM), not to mention last week’s “new UK record” at £35,840 (about $42,000)”. We should avoid generalising though, and carefully analyse each car separately based on its merits, but the differences are there and can be seen by all.
The same goes for the Nissan Skyline GT-R, the famous R34 (or Godzilla). The last one changed hands in January 2021, and at the time went for over $315,000 (€310,275). Now, despite the rise in prices, the competition has not gone beyond $175,000. We will keep an eye on these models.
But this is not the rule: cars produced between the late 40s and mid-60s – which for traditional auction houses represent the main segment – are less present at BaT. In the first 20 days of July, as many as 4 cars in this category of a certain level were offered, and all four went unsold. These were a 1949 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Pininfarina Cabriolet, a 1959 Ferrari 250GT Tour de France “recreation”, a 1952 Aston Martin DB2 and a 1962 Maserati 3500 Spider that did not reach their respective reserve prices.
But all this could change.
The 1967 Toyota 2000 GT, Japan’s highest-rated model, sold by BaT for $560,000 in December 2016. Decidedly little since the prices of the model were around the $700,000-$750,000 mark at traditional auctions, equivalent to some 20-25% less. The last one sold by BaT, at the end of June this year, went for $1,150,000 (€1,132,075), perfectly in line with the quotations of those up for sale at the Monterey auctions next month.
It’s interesting to observe also because the commission percentages between the two types of auctions are significantly different and, in this field, online companies have the advantage of not having to sustain strong organisational and car handling costs. On the other hand, being able to view the car and its documentation, considering such an important purchase, is certainly more reassuring.