I hate to say it, but I’ve been looking at vintage cars on eBay Motors for close to 20 years now. In the very early days, it made sense and there was a lot of cool stuff to be had. But for a lot of reasons, it’s hardly worth looking at now. Bring A Trailer, which has been an aggregator of classic cars for sale for a while now, has launched its own auction tool, and it’s turned into the greatest thing to happen to vintage cars since the dawn of the internet. We talked with Randy Nonnenberg — the guy behind Bring A Trailer — to find out how it’s been going.
Bring A Trailer instituted auctions because of the success of its BaT Exclusives. Most of the content on Bring A Trailer is aggregated ads from a multitude of sources that BaT’s writers find interesting, and think readers will find interesting, too. But as a means of bringing in some cash, Bring A Trailer started BaT Exclusives, which were proprietary classifieds that sellers would pay to have featured.
It worked well. Probably too well. Within 24 hours of publication, sellers would have 40 to 50 interested parties breaking down their door to make arrangements to see the car. It was a clumsy, unproductive situation for both the seller and the buyer.
Bring A Trailer Auctions make the whole thing a lot easier. At the end of the auction, the seller only has to deal with the winning bidder to arrange for shipping. The buyers duke it out amongst themselves.
Where eBay Fell Apart
Do a Google search for “eBay sucks” and you’ll get 13 million reasons why. In its earliest days, eBay was a great solution for putting your wares up online and selling them to the people willing to pay the most for them. But because it reaches the widest possible audience, it also reaches segments of the population you wouldn’t do business with if you had a gun to your head.
For vintage car sellers — or anyone with big ticket items, for that matter — it’s even worse. Mouthbreathers and dimwits can bid on your item despite the fact that they have no money. Chislers can show up at your home having bid on your item, only to consider that binding transaction just the starting point for negotiation.
Where Bring A Trailer Gets it Right
Bring A Trailer gets tons of traffic, but it’s a blip on eBay’s radar. It’s a small community of like-minded people who all serve to keep each other honest.
Anything that shows up on Bring a Trailer is of interest to that small community. If you post up an all-original 1967 Camaro Coupe with a six-cylinder and a three-speed on the column, you’re not fighting for shelf space with a guy’s 1967 Camaro that looks like it crashed into the accessories aisle at the local Pep Boys. The cars are vetted to begin with. Bring A Trailer has no interest in cars that don’t meet the very subjective qualifications that make cars cool to that audience.
For the seller, the bidders and the community at large, the most interesting thing about these auctions is that you get to see who’s bidding. Comments and bids are commingled at the bottom of the page. It’s like being at a live auction. The community is small enough that you begin to recognize the people bidding, and you get to see exactly what they’ve bid.
Unlike most physical auctions, bidders can contact the sellers directly to ask questions about the cars. Better yet, a potential bidder can post a question to the community at large, a group of people who are about as knowledgeable as vintage car enthusiasts get.
The most frustrating thing about eBay Motors is the fixed end time. Dozens of third party providers allow bidders to swoop in a the last possible nanosecond to outbid you. It’s a completely unfair method of selling an item. Bring A Trailer avoids the sniping situation by closing the auction not at a fixed time, but three minutes after a the last bidder makes his final offer. Instead of sniping a deal at the last second, the clock resets, always allowing you another three minutes to counter-offer, much like the “Going once, going twice, final warning” of a live auction.
Bidders Have Skin in the Game
Aside from eBay’s horrible bidder reputation system, there is little recourse against bogus bidders. If you want to bid on an item on eBay Motors, you bid on it whether you have money or not. There are countless stories of sellers contacting winning bidders after the auction closes and never hearing from them.
Bring A Trailer makes bidders cough up a bit of cash before the auction starts. To register as a bidder, Bring A Trailer puts a hold on the bidder’s credit card in the amount of the bidder’s fee. It’s enough to weed out the bogus bidders who are in it just to mess around when they’ve had too many beers on a Saturday night.
Randy Nonnenberg says that so far, it’s going great. “Everyone seems to love the anti-sniping functionality and the open communication from sellers in the comment stream. We wanted transparency to be the goal, which seems to be lacking in other auction formats. The engagement of the community in the open commenting has really made it great.”
The format essentially forces engagement, and makes sellers and buyers communicate with each other. “Sellers need to be engaged and buyers have increased confidence and assistance. We have had many BaT Auction Success Stories as a result,” Randy says.
There are six really interesting auctions going on right now, including all the cars pictured in this post. Keep an eye on these sales. They’re as fun to watch as they are to bid on.