Silvio Calabi: Even on Sunday, bring a trailer
What do a 1971 Corvette, a 35-year-old Toyota fire truck, a ’52 Bentley Mark VI and an ‘03 Porsche Boxster have in common, besides the obvious? They were all on BringaTrailer.com recently. Seven mornings a week, an email arrives with photos, links and details for 35 or so interesting vehicles that are up for private sale there. Having blown the first half-hour of my day on BaT for months now, and succumbed to one sale myself (more on that in a future column), I thought it was time to infect other people with this affliction too. Even readers not among the truly sick & twisted, automotively speaking, enjoy BaT. I mean, a WWII Canadian Army 4X4 named Mary? Wouldn’t that make anyone’s needle flicker?
Randy Nonnenberg founded BringaTrailer.com in 2007 as a digital magazine for car collectors, presenting “the good stuff, the best, most interesting vehicles out there that people wouldn’t necessarily find for themselves.” When he was a kid in California, Randy — who is now 37 and a former BMW engineer — became addicted to classified car ads. As a grownup, he began to aggregate them for himself and his friends. Randy now has about 60,000 such friends, but that was last week and the number grows steadily. Car fiend Jay Leno is one of them; he found his ’63 Ford Falcon Sprint V-8 on BaT and bubbled over about it on YouTube.
“I had no idea this would turn into a business,” Randy told me. (Mark Zuckerberg didn’t imagine that his college dating forum would turn into Facebook, either.) At first, the cash flow came from paid classifieds. From there it was a natural step to the Web auctions, which began in 2014. BaT created an online car-auction mechanism that not only feels simple and easy to use, but also can’t readily be gamed. Unlike eBay, where bids are often timed to the final second of a sale, on BaT that kind of bid resets the clock by three more minutes. Everyone gets a fair shot.
BaT charges sellers $250 for a listing and buyers a commission of 5 percent of their price, and the staff works to vet both groups. (Subscribing to the daily email is free.) If a bogus participant turns up, he is blacklisted. Consignors also have to provide considerable detail on their cars, which BaT presents in a standard format. “A $100,000 exotic gets the same level of attention from us as a $7,000 Saab,” Randy said, “and we watch every sale to make sure it goes well.” Something else that makes these auctions stand out is the number and quality of the images of each car, and BaT has photographers on tap around the country. Randy also has a knowledgeable team in the office — picked, he said, from among eager readers, “high-quality candidates who know their stuff, who want to work for BaT.”
So far the site has sold about 1,100 cars. Many more have been submitted, Randy said, but turned down — “we look for quality and history, and also reasonable reserve prices.” A devout following has led to exponential growth, which begs the question: Will the “user experience” continue to be so positive? Randy again: “The organic collector community was there before we fed any sales into it, so it is pretty much self-policing through expert, committed users. They are our defense against scammers, flamers and other bad actors.” Readers’ comments on each car speak to this.
A recent seller told me: “I’ve bid on a car or two but never won. This was my first time selling on BaT. The comments were constructive or complimentary, for the most part, and the results were great. I’ve learned quite a bit following BaT too, about issues with various cars, things to look for, etc. I think most of the folks who participate on BaT are car enthusiasts at some level, and that’s a great thing.” Indeed.
Last week I monitored several sales simultaneously: a BMW M6 (2009, 75K miles, at $21,500 with 23 minutes to go), a 1994 BMW 850CSi with 35K miles (at $41,000 with 67 minutes to go) and a modified ’87 Porsche 911 at $25,000 with just six minutes to go . . . It was like the finale of a close football game. Oops, someone just nabbed a ‘94 Acura NSX for $50,000! And if these cars wouldn’t ring your bell, how about the 1967 Shelby GT500 (already at $75,000 with days to go), the ’59 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer Super D-500 convertible, the ’08 Honda S2000 or the 1973 Volvo 1800ES wagon? Every morning, it’s like coffee with car friends from all over.
— Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.