Bring a Trailer inches ever closer to in-person auction territory
It wasn’t too long ago that Bring a Trailer sales records would stand for months, if not years, on end. Even as the site grew in popularity, most of the action was for more affordable cars. The times, as they say, are a-changin’. Bring a Trailer still sells plenty of four and five-figure classics (although even here they might be fetching a premium), but seven-figure sales on the platform, once newsworthy, have become a regular occurrence. In 2022, the records just keep falling. For three consecutive months, three cars—all German—have shattered previous sales highs.
January saw a new high of $2.005M with a 250-mile 2005 Porsche Carrera GT. That stood for less than thirty days: a 1930 Mercedes-Benz 770K Four-Door Cabriolet bumped the record to $2,560,555 on February 7. Last week, while many eyes were set on Amelia’s auctions, BaT bested itself yet again, this time with a 1927 Mercedes-Benz 680 S Sport/4 going for an astronomical $2.805 million.
We’re used to the moonshot headlines; what’s more interesting, though, is the longer-term trend visualized in the chart below. As we’ve noted before, one record is just one sale, but the pace of records can tell you something about the market. What we can see by looking back at how long records have historically stood on Bring a Trailer, we get a picture of how online auctions slowly but surely became a legitimate venue for the sale of truly expensive collector cars.
Lingering around the $500,000 mark for years, BaT hit it big in June, 2019 with a 1956 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing that hammered for $1,234,567 (because of course internet bidders have a sense of humor). That record stood for two years and three months, but the Gullwing sale—along with the pandemic-induced closure of in-person auctions—opened the floodgates to high-dollar cars. Since then, 84 additional cars have sold through BaT for more than $550,000. Now, even as in-person auctions have returned to pre-pandemic form, Bring a Trailer remains a force in the top echelon of the market. The two most recent records would've cracked the top ten at Amelia this past weekend.
Clearly, Bring a Trailer is now a gathering spot for buyers and sellers of blue chip cars. Indeed, the seller of the two most recent chart-topping Benzes was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation—the embodiment of the collector car establishment in this country. Once limited to highfalutin' in-person events, it's now certain we can expect to see high-dollar cars online with increasing frequency.
The fact BaT's last two records were both set by prewar cars is likewise no small feat. We've written about renewed interest in prewar cars; despite the sound logic of post-Boomer generations warming to the unique experience prewar cars provide, this Gen-X author remained skeptical. However, seeing them head online and find real success lends credence to the generational shift in enthusiasm others at Hagerty have been talking about.
There might not be a jocular auctioneer online, or rows and rows of spectacular machines through which to stroll. But one thing is now for sure: buyers with deep pockets exist online, and now there are sellers that know it.