The Insanity of BAT Finally Broke Me

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
the insanity of bat finally broke me

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 1999 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 1999 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.

Correction: I initially identified the GT-R as a 1995. It’s a 1999. This post has been corrected and I regret the error.

[Image: Sensay/]

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2 of 72 comments
  • JimC31 JimC31 on Jun 23, 2021

    I've never bid on anything that expensive, but it seems like people treat auctions like gambling. It's entertainment, they're not doing research and looking for a good deal, it's just about the fun of winning, and if they actually profit, well that's cool. So the prices of ANYTHING at auction tend to quickly become absurd.

  • Imagefont Imagefont on Jun 24, 2021

    Well you made me look. Now I want the ‘69 white Alpha Spider with the long boat tail - beautiful car. I replaced a head gasket on that engine years ago on a friends car. That thing if pure fun to drive, it’s the reason i bought a Miata. You had to torque the head bolts twice, a second time after 1000 miles, they were long studs that went all the way through the cylinders into the bottom end. Ran like a top when I was done with it, a pleasure to work on. If I hadn’t just bought myself a mini-ranch I might just have to over-bid.

  • BklynPete So let's get this straight: Ford hyped up the Bronco for 3 years, yet couldn't launch it to match the crazy initial demand. They released it with numerous QC issues, made hay for its greedy dealers, and burned customers in the process. After all that, they lose money on warranties. The vehicles turn out to be a worse ownership experience than the Jeep Wrangler, which hasn't been a paragon of reliability for 50 years. The same was true of the Aviator, Explorer, several F-150 variants, and other recent product launches. The Maverick is the only thing they got right. Yet this company that's been at it for 120 years. Just Brilliant. Jim Farley's non-PR speak: "You don't get to call me an idiot. I get to call myself an idiot first."Farley truly seems hapless, like the characters his late cousin played. Bill Ford is a nice guy but more than a bit slow on the uptake too. They have not had anything resembling a quality CEO since Alan Mulally turned the keys over to Mark Fields - the mulleted glamor boy who got canned after 3 years when the PowerShi(f)t transaxles exploded. He more recently helped run Hertz into the ground with bad QC and a faulty database that had them arresting customers. Ford is starting to resemble Chrysler in the mid-Seventies Sales Bank era. Well, at least VW has cash and envies Ford's distribution reach and potential profitability.
  • Mike Beranek This guy called and wants his business model back.
  • SCE to AUX The solid state battery is vaporware.As for software-limited pack capacity: Batteries are obviously the most expensive component of an EV, so on the rare occasion that pack capacity is dramatically limited (as in your 6-year-old example), it's because economies of scale briefly made sense at the time.Mfrs are not in the habit of overbuilding pack capacity just for fun, and then charging the customer less.Since then, pack capacities have been slightly increased via software because the mfr decides they can sacrifice a little bit of the normal safety/wear margin in the interest of range. We're talking single-digit percentages, not the 60/75 kWh jump in your example.Every pack has maybe 10% margin built into it, so eating into that today (via range increases) means it's not available to make up for battery degradation tomorrow. My 4-year-old EV still has its original range(s) and 100% SOH, but that's surely because it is slowly consuming the margin built into the pack.@Matt Posky: Not everything is a conspiracy to get your credit card account, and the lengthy editorial about this has nothing to do with solid state batteries.
  • JLGOLDEN In order for this total newcomer to grab and hold attention in the US market, the products MUST be an exceptional value. Not many people will pay name-brand money for the pretty mystery. I can appreciate the ambition of selling $50K+ crossovers, but I think they will go farther with their $30K-$40K offerings.
  • Dukeisduke They're where Tesla was when it started - a complete unknown. I haven't heard anything about a dealer network. How are they going to sell these? Direct like Tesla? Franchises picked up by existing new car dealers?