Any events that intersect with important moments in history always bring change: before the Pandemic, online auctions could be divided into two categories: on the one hand general-purpose sites such as eBay where buyers could find anything they wanted, including cars. On the other, sites dedicated to small communities of enthusiasts that also facilitated trades between members.
Then there was the pandemic. Those small communities became huge, and sites specializing in collector car auctions sprang up like mushrooms after the rain.
The first one that comes to mind is Bring a Trailer, an auction house that not only managed to produce frankly staggering results but, paradoxically, despite the almost complete lack of lockdowns across the world, is continuing to produce record after record: in 2021, it “took home” over $800 million in sales, but in September 2022, it stunned everyone by announcing it had exceeded one billion dollars in sales since the beginning of the year. And that’s all it took to wipe out the competition. Smart move by Hearst, who bought the platform in 2020!
But Bring a Trailer is not alone: to illustrate the results of online auctions during the last few months of the year, I have selected 8 cars, four from Bring a Trailer, and four from its competitors who should by no means be underestimated.
Let’s start with a “recent” Lamborghini Murcielago. We are not talking about just any Murcielago, but a 2010 LP670-4 SuperVeloce with only 20,000 km on the clock from new. White with a black interior, it has spent its entire life in Canada. The best examples of this model have risen to prices that even just a few months ago would have seemed unimaginable. The latest and current record is held by an example with 2,300 km to its credit, sold in April for $501,000 (€466,500). Considering the additional mileage, even if it had changed hands for the same amount, it would have caused a sensation, but who could have imagined a price of $865,000 (€809,875)? Online!
Lower but no less fantastic, was the price paid for a 1970 Datsun 240Z. This Japanese car in Safari Gold was in better condition than when it left the factory, having been pampered with a restoration (which lasted 9 years and was completed in July 2022) carried out by the very best hands on the market and since then it has been jealously preserved in one of the most prestigious Datsun Z collections in the United States. Prices are continuing to rise slowly and this first series proves it. The ticket price to get your hands on this particular one was $165,000 (€154,485). A new record, but worth every penny.
All records? No, something went wrong alone the way. Let’s take a look at the Ferrari 458 Speciale A. The price of this car has risen at an impressive rate. To understand just how far it has come, in May 2020, an example with 13,000 miles on the clock changed hands for $476,000, but in September last year, another one (with just 3,000 miles to its credit) was sold for $850,000! The market seems to have cooled down slightly: on 30th December, a 458 Speciale that was practically the twin sister of the $850,000 one, but with just 1,200miles on the clock, went home with its new owner for $776,000 (€726,545).
The same story applies to the coupé version: from $500,000-$600,000, we witnessed one or two going unsold, and then the last one that went for $434,458 at the end of November Are buyers afraid of the dreaded black swans? 2023 will surely let us know…
Another conversation entirely regards the million-dollar cars at online auctions: of the thirteen cars for sale that received bids of over this threshold between November and today, only five were sold, of which three came without reserve. These results are understandable if we’re talking about a 1979 Ferrari 512 BB LM (which received a maximum bid of $2.2 million, correct in my opinion) or a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 Mk III (unsold at $1,160,000). Joining them in the indecorous “unsold” club were several past heroes of the platform: two McLaren Sennas, a Speedtail, a Porsche 918 Weissach and a Bugatti Veyron. But none of this is set in stone: on 18th November, they sold a 2021 Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport for $3,800,000, the second most expensive lot in Bring a Trailer’s short history.
The competition, however, has not been idle.
Take PCARMARKET. The name derives from PCA – Porsche Club of America – which, during the lockdown, decided to give its members the opportunity to exchange more than just advice online when it opened the possibility to trade cars. And not just Porsche, even though the brand from Zuffenhausen dominates the sales on the platform. Let’s take a closer look: the latest trend for historic cars is unquestionably resto-mods: one of these, a 1989 Porsche 911/964 Carrera 4, named “Dartmouth Commission” by the California-based Singer Vehicle Design who built it, was auctioned online by its owner on PCARMARKET. With a conversion price of around $850,000-$900,000 and about a 12-month waiting list, the owner had only used it for 100 miles. Not a lot at all but he probably enjoyed every one of them: PCARMARKET sold it for $1.3 million. If you want to “skip the line” you have to pay a little more… This success is even more true in light of the fact that Bring a Trailer sold another Singer for $1.2 million in late October. For PCARMARKET, beating BaT was by no means a small satisfaction.
Turning our attention to the numbers, online auctions traditionally attract lower-priced cars, at times quite interesting and curious models but more often than not, you can still take home something really interesting on a limited budget. The English auction house Collecting Cars, for example, offered a 1972 Mercedes-Benz 250 which once belonged to Alexander Onassis, son of the famous shipping magnate. If a normal sedan does not go far beyond $10,000, this particular example was bought in Greece for $54,530 (€51,055). It is difficult to hypothesize the motivation of those who drove the price up to that figure (and it was not alone…)
Among my favourite sites is unquestionably The Market by Bonhams. Originally just “The Market”, the suffix was added when the platform was purchased by the giant of “traditional” auctions at the end of 2021. This explanation is useful to understanding Bonhams’ strategy: at the physical auction of Bonhams in September, the 1956 Austin-Healey 100M Roadster, red with a black lower band, had an optimistic estimate of $100,000-$120,000 but went unsold at $78,000. After the first failure, instead of reproposing it again at another physical auction, with the risk of someone recognizing it, they offered it on its online channel. Estimated at $80,000-£100,000, it was sold for $66,830 (€62,570). Hardly a great result for the seller, but I must admit that by buying The Market, Bonhams may have found plenty of space in the second market. However this comes at a risk were there to be repeated cases of considerable reductions – from an estimated $100,000-$120,000 to just $66,830 – that end up sending out a signal to the market that there’s a substantial price range for the cars on offer which, once sales commissions are taken into consideration, could have negative repercussions on traditional auctions.
Finally, there is Car & Classic. The oldest of all of them, launched in the mid-2000s as a portal for car advertisements. After gaining considerable experience over two decades of activity, they threw themselves into the world of online auctions a couple of years ago and have racked up a string of successes along the way. If websites had a personality, Car & Classic would drive a 1959 Bentley S1 Continental Park Ward. Let’s take this model as an example: one of only 16 examples built, it was restored by P&A Wood – among the very best in the game – in 2017 and since then, the owner had covered only a few hundred miles. The British company H&H sold an identical example for $218,000 during its October sale, while Car & Classic, despite this type of car not being among the most popular at online auctions, managed to sell theirs for a not inconsiderable $249,095 (€233,220).