Top 10 biggest Bring a Trailer auction surprises of 2019

Auction website Bring a Trailer (BaT) has established itself as a popular place for spotting trends in the enthusiast market. The team at BaT pick the cars to appear on the site, but sometimes even they are surprised by the prices achieved.

This collection of ten cars and trucks proved to be even more successful than expected during 2019. 

More on Motoring Research:

2007 Volvo V70 R

Sale price: $25,570

Kicking things off is a quick, and very blue, Swedish wagon. The second-generation Volvo V70 comes from a time when products from Gothenburg were still led by practicality. Originally shown at the 2002 Paris Motor Show the V70 R promised turbocharged performance, combined with all-wheel drive, for useful performance.

At the heart of the V70 R is a 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbocharged engine, producing 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The particular car sold on BaT was fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission, whilst all V70 R models came with adjustable Ohlins suspension. Brembo brakes and R-branded 17-inch wheels completed the package.

Volvo only imported 3,400 examples of the V70 R to North America, making them relatively rare. Having covered 53,000 miles, and with just two owners, it meant this Sonic Blue example was desirable to BaT bidders. Perhaps the distinctive orange/brown leather interior was what helped seal the deal.

When sold previously on Bring a Trailer, V70 R models have typically reached a maximum of around $16,000. It makes this particular car something of a shock, although the low mileage and intriguing color combination may well have played a part in raising the bid ceiling.

1991 Honda CR-X Si

Sale price: $33,600

Nostalgia for the 1980s and early-1990s is in full effect at the moment, and the world of enthusiast cars is no different. It means examples of retro tuner vehicles like the Honda CR-X have become collectible, as buyers flock to the combination of low weight and high revs.

Launched in 1989, the second-generation CR-X brought updated looks and upgraded suspension to the party. It proved to be a popular purchase, with the Si version in particular attracting interest with its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. An output of 108 horsepower may sound low, but it only needed to shift a car weighing 2,170 lb.

Despite their popularity, CR-X Si models have typically failed to edge much beyond the $10,000 marker on Bring a Trailer. Yet, in August this year, bidding pushed this particular Honda above the $30,000 barrier.

Mileage for this car was low, with only 33,000 miles showing on the odometer. Being unmodified will have helped increase the value, along with having the desirable five-speed manual transmission. Sure, you could buy a new 2020 Honda Civic Si for less money than this CR-X, but it wouldn’t have the same retro charm.

1994 Toyota MR2 Turbo

Sale price: $38,250

Continuing the theme of import tuner classics is the second-generation Toyota MR2. Styled like a supercar in miniature, and with performance to back up the looks, it proved to be an attractive package throughout the 1990s.

The MR2 developed a reputation for challenging handling, due to the mid-engined layout and power being sent to the rear wheels. In particular the Turbo model, with 200 horsepower from its 2.0-liter engine, often gets unfairly labelled as suffering ‘dangerous’ snap-oversteer.

In reality drivers pushing too hard, and being unfamiliar with the dynamics of a mid-engined car, are likely to be the cause of the moral panic…

Such scare stories clearly did not stop the bidders when this MR2 Turbo appeared for auction in December 2019. Being a 1994 model, this car received updated suspension settings from the factory, as Toyota made the handling less likely to oversteer.

An attractive color combination of black paintwork and a tan leather furthers the junior supercar appearance on this car. As with many listed here, clocking up just 46,000 miles adds to the desirability. Still, a sale price of $38,250 added $15,000 to the previous high-seller MR2 on Bring a Trailer. 

1985 Mercedes-Benz 300TD Turbodiesel

Sale price: $44,525

Cars like the W123 wagon are what helped carve out the image of Mercedes-Benz models having bulletproof reliability. Solid construction, a cabin made from quality materials, and large trunk have made them the family station wagon which keeps on giving.

Diesel may be a dirty word now, but the five-cylinder turbodiesel unit fitted to the 300TD wagon offered a useful 123 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 mph in 14 seconds made for laid-back performance, but fuel economy of 24 mpg was the benefit.

Values of W123 Mercedes-Benz models have shown an overall upwards trend on Bring a Trailer, but no car had previously passed beyond the $35,000 limit. What may have sealed the new highest-seller tag for this car is proven low mileage, and a detailed service history.

Given these cars are capable of comfortably clocking up more than 250,000 miles, this example is barely run in. The winning bidder now has an almost unbreakable family wagon, and an arguably much cooler alternative to buying a new SUV.

1991 GMC Syclone

Sale price: $50,000

The GMC Syclone has a clear cult following from enthusiasts, with appearances in various video games bringing it to a new audience in recent years. It proves that performance pickup trucks like the Ford F-150 Raptor are nothing new, and that American buyers will always be interested in them.

Like the recent Raptor, the GMC Syclone used a turbocharged V6 engine, making 280 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. This output, combined with a standard all-wheel drive system, allowed it to accelerate from 0-60 mph in under 4.5 seconds. Contemporary road tests created tales of a pickup truck capable of beating supercars in a drag race.

Legendary stories of the GMC Syclone’s performance are matched by the limited production run. Originally planned to be built for several years, in fact just 2,995 examples were made for the 1991 model year. Such low numbers mean buyers have to be prepared to pay when Syclones appear for sale.

However, they are unlikely to find a Syclone that has covered less than the 4,000 miles shown on this example. Being owned by the same family from new also adds to the provenance, as does a VIN suggesting it could be the first Syclone sold to the public.

Such factors justify the $50,000 price tag, and explain why this truck achieved more than previous BaT record of $36,000 for a Syclone.

1983 Jeep Cherokee Laredo

Sale price: $51,360

With a lineage that stretches back to the original Jeep Wagoneer of 1963, the SJ series Cherokee was first introduced in 1974. Being a 1983 model makes this example the end of the line for SJ Cherokees, before the all-new XJ version debuted in 1984.

Essentially a two-door alternative to the full-size four-door Wagoneer, Jeep marketed the SJ Cherokee as the sporty alternative. Engine options included a range of V-8s, whilst option packages allowed buyers to create a luxurious SUV.

Despite the growing interest in retro SUVs, the sale price of this SJ Cherokee still proved to be a shock to Bring a Trailer regulars. Similar examples had sold for around $22,000, making the $51,360 paid for this SJ truly remarkable.

Being owned by the same family from new will have helped, as will the excellent condition the Cherokee was presented in. The winning bidder commented that the SJ will be off to spend a new life in New England, enjoying pampering and some occasional light usage.

1997 Acura Integra Type R

Sale price: $82,000

With a similar format to the earlier Honda CR-X, but with the bonus of extra power and performance, the popularity of the Acura Integra Type R is unsurprising. The Integra Type R routinely receives branding as one of the greatest front-wheel drive cars ever made, plus it has the aural delights of the VTEC engine.

The 195 horsepower from the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine was delivered at a frenzied 8,400 rpm, and controlled through a close-ratio five-speed manual transmission. A standard limited-slip differential was included, along with lightweight 15-inch alloy wheels.

Despite the technical abilities of the Integra Type R, what would lead someone to pay $82,000 for one? Representing one of the 320 units made for the US market in 1997 will play a part, but the headline-grabbing figure is likely to be the ultra-low mileage of just 6,000 miles.

Oh, and this Type R had been owned by the same person from new, who somehow managed to resist the urge to drive it. Routine maintenance had been carried out as required, arguably making this the most perfect example of an Integra Type R to go up for auction.

2020 will see Japanese-specification 1995 Honda Integra Type Rs become eligible for import to the United States. Time will tell as to the impact this has on the values of US-market Integras.

1994 Lancia Delta Integrale Evo 2

Sale price: $101,101

A demonstration of vehicles becoming eligible for import can be found with this Lancia Delta Integrale. Acknowledged as one of the most impressive rally cars of the early 1990s, road-going versions existed to homologate their competition brethren. Constant updates by Lancia created a wealth of versions, but the Evolution 2 model is regarded as the ultimate example.

Launched in 1993, the Evo 2 saw power from the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine increased to 215 horsepower. A standard all-wheel drive system made the Integrale devastatingly effective in all weather conditions, whilst the boxy fenders and adjustable rear-spoiler were for the benefit of competition versions.

Originally sold to a Japanese buyer, this Integrale Evo 2 is one of the 365 ‘Bianco Perlato’ special editions made in 1993. Painted in pearl white, these cars received high-backed Recaro sports seats finished in distinctive blue leather.

Values of all Integrales Evos have shown an upward trend, and being a limited edition version will certainly have helped this car on Bring a Trailer. Rarity in the United States, and the strong condition of this car, mean the $101,101 sale price is understandable, if still amazing.

1970 Datsun 240Z

Sale price: $124,260

Datsun 240Zs are a staple of Bring a Trailer auctions, with more than 225 having been listed on the website since the beginning of 2015. Impressive performance, classic sports car styling, and the expectations of dependability make them a popular collector machine.

Introduced for the 1970 model year, the 240Z was launched with a 2.4-liter six-cylinder engine sending 151 horsepower to the rear wheels. A four-speed manual transmission was standard, with the 240Z capable of a 125 mph top speed. 

What makes this 240Z special is the history behind it. As one of the earliest versions sold in the United States, it received a full rotisserie restoration in the early 1990s. Following that work, the car was used by Franklin Mint as the basis for a die-cast miniature model.

The car also appeared at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York, and received a Gold Medallion award at the National Z-Car Convention. However, the crowning glory came in 1998, when the car appeared at the ceremony for former Nissan Motor Corporation USA president Yutaka Katayama’s induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

These factors help explain a sale price of more than double the average price of a 240Z on Bring a Trailer.

1962 Austin Mini Beach Car

Sale price: $230,000

There seems something almost ironic about the fact the car with the smallest engine on this list achieved the highest sale price on an American auction website. Beneath the tiny hood of this special Austin Mini is an 850cc four-cylinder engine, producing just 34 horsepower.

Yet the main appeal is the fact this Mini has no side doors or windows, and features seats made from wicker! A total of 13 Beach Cars were built in left-hand drive, intended to serve as promotional models for the launch of the Austin Mini in the United States. The custom bodywork was created in-house, before the cars were shipped to appear in American dealerships.

Originally delivered to a dealership in Michigan, this Mini Beach Car was later acquired by the dealer principal. The car then remained in the ownership of that same family all the way from 1962, until the car appeared on Bring a Trailer.

Light restoration work was undertaken in the early 2000s, getting this Mini ready to hit the beach again. Supplied with the car was a number of images showing the car appearing at events, including the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance in Rochester, Michigan.

Whilst the sale price may seem extravagant for such a tiny car, the winning bidder knows they are unlikely to ever find themselves parked next to another one. It demonstrates that rarity, provenance, and good condition are likely to lead to big bids on Bring a Trailer.

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