Like most automotive journalists — and car enthusiasts in general — I have three ways of goofing off online that involve the cars. One is reading sites like this one. Two is building and pricing cars from mild to wild — from affordable to only if I win the lotto — on manufacturer’s consumer configurators. The third is browsing the auction site Bring a Trailer (BAT) to see what’s for sale that day. Someday, the just-right Fox-body Mustang will be available and within my budget. Someday.
As anyone who spends any time on BAT or competing sites like Cars and Bids can tell you, the mix of vehicles is incredible, and far more varied than what you might see at Mecum or Barrett Jackson. Those auctions tend to feature muscle cars and antiques, while BAT offers more opportunities to find a diamond in the rough. You might be able to find something special at a deal.
Of course, if you spend enough time on BAT you’ll notice that some, if not most, of the sale prices are a tad, how shall we say … fucking insane?
To wit: This auction closing today on this over $250K 1995 Nissan GT-R V-Spec. That price is higher than the average housing price in some parts of this country.
Yes, the car is rare. Yes, auctions tend to drive up prices because of a simple principle — buyers who really, really want something will pay whatever it takes to own it, even if that means overpaying. I get all that, which is why we don’t cover BAT often — this stuff is obvious and has been covered before.
But when you start seeing quarter-million-dollar prices for a GT-R or perhaps the first $250K Toyota Supra (so far, no Supra has cleared $150K on BAT, though the Fast and Furious Supra just fetched over half a million at a different auction), you start wondering when the price climbs will end. Especially during a pandemic that really hurt a lot of people financially. Yes, there are obviously buyers with means still out there. Yet, the craziness makes one’s eyes pop.
To be clear, this isn’t one of those rants against the rich. If people have the means to pay $250K+ for a 26-year-old car, especially one that has an unimpeachable reputation for performance, they can spend it however they want, as long as it’s legal. I also understand there’s not much BAT can do to stop certain bidders from raising the price of more affordable iron to the point that the average Joe/Jane is taken out of play.
Yes, it’s annoying when that latter scenario takes place in an auction involving a car that shouldn’t be too expensive. It’s one thing to see a super-high bid on a rare GT-R, but another to watch a run-of-the-mill Fox body or Camaro go from “hmmm I could swing that” to “never mind” in a short period of time.
That said, I know BAT isn’t going to change anytime soon. This means we really are likely to start seeing rare ’90s supercars going for a quarter-mil or more a lot more often.
The GT-R is just the tip of an iceberg of insanity, or just good old markets at work, depending on your point of view. Of course, those two viewpoints aren’t mutually exclusive — one can understand and appreciate the marketplace of an auction while also believing the market isn’t rational.
That is, if the market is irrational — some will say that given the rarity of some of these old cars, and their desirability, the price paid absolutely makes sense.
I think that’s why my brain is a bit broken here — the combination of seeing cars auction for prices 5X what they cost new (not adjusted for inflation) and the knowledge that this is how auction sites are going to run from now on. It makes logical sense that a rare and desirable collectible car would fetch a lot of money — arguably more than it’s worth — at an auction, especially understanding how auctions work and how they’re different from a dealer or private seller listing the car at a set price on a site like Autotrader.
Yet it also boggles my mind that anyone will pay that much for a 1995 GT-R, no matter how rare it is (especially in Midnight Purple paint), or well-maintained, or how much GT-Rs are beloved.
There’s a disconnect between the part of my brain that says “rarity+demand+auction=$$$$ and that makes obvious sense” and the other part that both can’t imagine parting with that much money for that car at this time and also is dismayed that other auctions for cars I might actually be able to afford could be so heavily influenced by a few well-heeled bidders that the cars become out of reach for most of the market.
Again, it’s one thing if a car is rare and desirable, and another if irrational bidding drives up prices on mundane metal.
It’s a hard truth, but unless something changes in the collectible/enthusiast used-car marketplace, the six-figure Supra is here to stay.