Bring a Trailer: Exclusive insight into the auto auction company

With the auction website now responsible for 250 sales each week, Bring a Trailer has quietly become a major player in the collector car market

Bring a Trailer has become one of the major destinations for car enthusiasts to find the next classic or cult machine to add to their garage.

We got the inside scoop on how this auction website has become so popular from co-founder and CEO, Randy Nonnenberg.

Along with getting the story on how it all began, we have also taken a look at the ten cars which have achieved the highest sale prices on Bring a Trailer.

More car auctions on Motoring Research:

It all started with a blog

The story of Bring a Trailer (BaT) began in 2007, when Nonnenberg started his own blog which highlighted cool cars for sale at the time. Subsequent years saw a large increase in the number of people registering for the Bring a Trailer daily email newsletter.

Nonnenberg then decided to add his own fixed-price listings for members of the Bring a Trailer community to sell cars. In 2010, the popularity of BaT site saw him “quit his day job” to enable him to work full time on developing its online presence.

The continued growth saw Bring a Trailer host some 7,718 auctions in 2018, with the company on track to see more than 12,000 vehicles listed in 2019.

Prepare for serious office envy

With such a large volume of sales taking place, Bring a Trailer now has an office in San Francisco. It is a workspace which clearly demonstrates the enthusiasm for cars held by those who work there.

Working in a trendy warehouse-style office is one thing, but getting to do it sat next to a classic Chrysler or Datsun would be dream life for many automotive fans.

Should the lure prove overwhelming, the continued success of BaT does mean that the firm is currently hiring at the time of writing…

Community engagement matters

One of the key features of Bring a Trailer is the sense of community built around its users. Between 2010 and 2012, the interest in each listed car rose significantly, with Nonnenberg noting that each new post was receiving “50-plus comments”.

Community members are able to ask questions to the seller about the car listed, allowing everyone to see the answers. Not only does this allow more informed bidding, but it can also result in enthusiasts gaining new knowledge.

Users often recount stories about when they have owned a car similar to the one listed, and frequently congratulate successful bidders on winning their new ride.

Crunching the numbers

Engaging with the regular users who bid and comment on auctions has been key to the growth of Bring a Trailer. Nonnenberg explains that it was the number of BaT Community members “asking to list their cars directly” with the website that created the current auction model.

The volume of requests meant that the original classified-style listings on BaT essentially became unworkable. Nonnenberg realized that if “sellers underpriced their car, there would be an unmanageable feeding frenzy, and if they overpriced it, there would be no action at all.”

This led to the development of the current auction system from scratch. Launched in 2014, the auction setup now sees more than 250 cars listed for auction each week.

A different kind of Monterey Car Week auction experience

Whilst many of the traditional auction houses host huge sales as part of Monterey Car Week, Bring a Trailer’s online platform allows the company to do things differently.

With sales continuing around the clock, for 2019 Bring a Trailer brought together staff and community members for a gathering at the Monterey Motorsports Event at Laguna Seca.

Some 80 BaT ‘alumni’ attended, bringing together a range of cars previously sold on the auction site. 

What’s in the secret sauce…

According to Nonnenberg, one of the most frequently asked questions about Bring a Trailer is what the team looks for when choosing which cars to allow to be listed. Searching the listings will find anything from classic Jaguars, through to retro BMWs, and even modern supercars.

Whilst there is no secret algorithm, choices are made based upon both quantitative and qualitative factors. Rarity, pricing, and specification play a part, but then so do considerations like “seller impression, photo quality, and the general desirability” of a particular car

Ultimately, Randy states that the website wants to encourage an eclectic mixture of cars, as they like everything from “inexpensive enthusiast” models, through to the “blue-chip Shelbys and Testarossas.”

Most popular cars on Bring a Trailer

Whilst Bring a Trailer does keep an open mind to the cars it lists, there are typical fan favorites which appear regularly. All Porsches, Ford Mustangs, Datsun 240Zs, and Alfa Romeo GTVs are said to “lead the pack” by overall volume of sales.

However, the level of views a car receives can often be linked to price, where the “high dollar” vehicles draw large crowds of interest watchers. The recently launched Premium ‘white glove’ service has no doubt pulled in more curious onlookers.

With this in mind, we took the opportunity to check out the ten cars which have sold for the highest amount on Bring a Trailer. Keep clicking to see the highest-rollers to date.

  1. 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing

Owned by Bring a Trailer, this rare 300SL Gullwing was auctioned to celebrate the launch of the new Premium sales feature.

The Graphite Gray paintwork was the color applied in the factory, and the car had just two previous owned before being added to the Bring a Trailer fleet in 2013. Restoration work was undertaken on the interior in 2016, along with a mechanical overhaul in 2019.

It meant the bid of $1,234,567 secured the lucky new owner a car which was in amazing condition, and ready for new adventures.

  1. 1987 Porsche 962 IMSA GTP

A true piece of Porsche motorsport history is a rare opportunity to own, so the $960,000 sale price for this 962 should perhaps not be a shock.

When new, it was raced in three endurance events during 1987, wearing the distinctive red and black Yokohama livery. The 962 then went into private ownership, which included restoration and overhaul work.

More recently, this Porsche has taken part in various historic motorsport events, something the lucky bidder who won the car in August 2019 is likely to continue with.

  1. 1952 Ferrari 212 Inter Coupe

Many classic cars have interesting stories, but this rare Ferrari has a history worthy of its own movie feature. After first having been shown at the 1952 Paris Auto Show, this car was bought personally by Juan Peron – the then President of Argentina – in 1953.

Later being owned by notable Ferrari collectors, this unique 212 Inter won prizes at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and at the Palm Beach Cavallino Classic.

Sold in July 2019 for $950,000, this represented a slight fall from when the car was sold the year before at auction.

  1. 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RS

With Porsches representing 40 percent of the best-selling top ten, it is clear that anything from Stuttgart is likely to attract plenty of attention on Bring a Trailer.

However, a 911 Carrera RS is likely to be in demand wherever it is sold, so the $600,000 paid for this example should not come as a surprise.

This Touring version underwent restoration in 2014 and 2015, leaving the new owner able to enjoy the delights of its 210 horsepower 2.7-liter flat-six engine.

  1. 1967 Toyota 2000GT

Many cars travel the globe to be with collectors, but this Toyota 2000GT had an intriguing backstory. It was one of only 251 examples of the sports car even made, and one of three delivered to Mozambique when new.

It then travelled to Costa Rica, where it underwent a thorough restoration, before heading to England under the ownership of Lord Laidlaw. The car finally arrived for sale in Houston, Texas during 2016.

The auction attracted a winning bid of $560,000, prompting debate from the Bring a Trailer community about this representing an incredible bargain for the buyer.

  1. 1956 Porsche Emory Outlaw Speedster

Emory Motorsports are responsible for some of the wildest creations using the Porsche 356 as a base. This particular Outlaw Speedster was actually owned by the Bring a Trailer team, and placed for auction in July 2019.

Although the exterior was only subtly modified, beneath the bodywork was a new 2.4-liter flat-four engine, built by specialist firm Polo. An output of 185 horsepower was matched with upgraded brakes and suspension to cope.

Selling for $500,000, Bring a Trailer even waived the $85 documentation fee for the new owner.

  1. 1974 Lancia HF Stratos Stradale

Built to allow Lancia to enter the wedge-shaped Stratos in the World Rally Championship, this car represents one of the 492 homologation examples constructed.

After spending some four decades in Italy, this Stratos then made its way to the United States. It even won a class award at the Concorso Italiano event as part of Monterey Car Week 2017.

Sold in December 2017, the Stratos achieved a winning bid of $475,000. 

  1. 1958 Lancia Aurelia B24S Convertible

Another Lancia, albeit somewhat more graceful than the fire-breathing Stratos.

Designed by Pininfarina, the Aurelia was noted to be one of the first production cars in the world to use a V-6 engine. Originally registered in Italy, this Aurelia travelled much of Europe before arriving in the USA.

A BaT sale price of $410,000 in 2016 recognized the exceptional condition this car was reported to be in.

  1. 1972 Ferrari Dino 246 GT

Unquestionably one of the prettiest Pininfarina designs of all time, this Dino 246 GT was one of the first cars to be sold as part of the Bring a Trailer Premium service.

Originally sold by a dealership in Pennsylvania, this Dino received exterior restoration work during the 1990s, along with benefitting from an interior reupholstered in beige Connolly leather.

When new, this car sold for $11,300 – considerably less than the $400,000 it achieved on Bring a Trailer in June 2017.

  1. 1997 Porsche 911 993 Turbo S

Intended as a final celebrating of the air-cooled 993 generation of the Porsche 911, the Turbo S was packed with extra features. It also gained more power, with an output of 424 horsepower from the 3.6-liter flat-six engine.

Despite all that performance on offer, this Turbo S led a pampered life, having covered just 9,220 miles before being sold on Bring a Trailer.

The winning bid of $395,000 captured this 911, leaving it destined for a life within a special Southern California collection of Porsches. 

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