Today, our boss, Hearst Autos CEO Matt Sanchez, revealed that Bring a Trailer, the car auction site almost every R&T staff member and reader has been clicking on obsessively for a decade, has joined the Hearst Autos family.
You know Bring a Trailer, too. Founded by Randy Nonnenberg and Gentry Underwood in 2007, it grew organically from an obscure blog into a fascinating cornerstone joining the business of buying and selling cars shopping with the world’s single most discerning community of car fanatics. In the words of Matt Sanchez, “What Randy and Gentry have developed is truly special, and what they deliver to their audience is so much more than transactional.”
Randy, Gentry, and BaT’s 25 other dedicated curators and editors built something revolutionary for the enthusiast world, transforming the way we shop for and sell cars of a certain caliber. There are many BaT imitators, but none that can move 300 a week in the middle of a global pandemic. The site has a community of more than 415,000 users and more than 175,000 registered bidders.
To welcome Bring a Trailer in the Hearst Autos universe and kick off what will be a series of exciting collaborations, R&T hopped on the phone with Nonnenberg as he finished dinner in his home in the Bay Area.
So let’s start with the obvious question: What affordable car today will be the hottest on BaT in 25 years?
The truth is, nobody ever asks me that. Of course, you can’t really predict the answer. Personally, I’m still going to be interested in hot rods and the cars of the 1960s. Really, it comes down to how old you are now. The people we have to think about are the 11 year olds, the kids who don’t even have their driver’s licenses yet, are going to be nostalgic for stuff that’s coming out now. Nostalgia for what are now modern cars is something you can’t predict, but it ends up coming around. Like, I wouldn’t have been able to predict the current love for the old Civic Si or the 1990 Integra Type Rs that are going around—these 90s and 2000s cars. We thought they were cool, but nobody thought they were going to be things anyone would spend big money on.
Honestly, in 25 years, I’m thinking Shelby Cobra. That will always be cool
I wonder how much of a force EVs are going to have as collector cars.
Those are out there, man. So much of that is going to be electric—or a reaction to electric. The EV is still on the bubble, and it keeps getting pushed back. Then there’s going to be a lot more machine-controlled and autonomous stuff. There could be a pushback against that, to analog. Or they could be even more sought after. Electric conversions of vintage cars are making strides right now. That’s some cool, interesting stuff.
The other day I saw a JDM 94 Celica GT-Four slip through for $11,250.
Sometimes prices are crazy high, sometimes they’re crazy low. Sometimes things slip through. That was a sweet Celica. I think the fact that it was in Canada affected the price, but sometimes there are intangibles. You have to read between the lines, accept a little mystery.
Where do you see the overall collector market going in the nearer term?
You really have to frame that in terms of COVID. Life is weird in 2020, right? This virus has had a meaningful impact on people, on their finances, and how they live their lives. Some companies are booming, some are way down. Everyone spent the first couple weeks kind of watching things play out, and it’s really amazing to see how much activity at BaT increased during this lockdown period.
What’s your overall view of the enthusiast market right now? What surprises you?
Automotive enthusiasm is at an all-time high. The truck scene is enormous right, which is a cool surprise. People are rabid for Wranglers and the new Bronco, the new Land Rover. That’s so exciting to see . The Porsche Taycan is out and everyone says the Spec 1 is so unbelievably fast it’s, like, absurd. So there’s great stuff for the truck crowd, for the speed freaks, for the people who geek out on tech there are electronic systems and control systems that are really, really cool. I think the clean power trajectory is just inherently cool. It hasn’t even been explored. There’s so much action going on right now.
Unsurprisingly, you have a fascinating personal collection: a Delta Integrale, a GTV, Renault 5 Turbo. I know you get this a lot, but what’s your favorite daily?
I certainly don’t consider myself a collector. I have a lot of fun with it. But I have a Land Cruiser FJ40 that I built in my dad’s garage. I spent my first paycheck on that thing. And many paychecks after it. I like to spend time with other people. I go to a lot of rallies with my dad in a 1956 Chrysler 300B that I was lucky enough to get a couple years ago. But I like a mix: Japanese, Italian, American. I follow the nostalgia that grew in me from when I was flipping through Road & Track as a kid, you know? I still have the old issue with the first road test of the R5 Turbo. I’m super fortunate to have gotten my hands on that car. I’m a lucky guy.
The Bring a Trailer community is massive and smart and organically grown. What lessons have you learned being part of the team the community has grown around?
We weren’t originally a marketplace. We were a blog that talked about what people saw for sale. I think that still resonates. The biggest thing for our community is for people to feel welcome, but also—and this is super important—to share the knowledge that they have. If there’s a bunch of smart people sitting around in their heads, not talking, not discussing, not sharing, then I don’t see any value in that. If we get people to share in a positive way, we have something. And that’s what we’ve strived for.
It’s not a free-for-all, where people can just assassinate each other all over the internet. That’s what happens when you just leave it alone. But we’ve worked really hard for years before there were auctions—we grew a community for seven years before there were any auctions. We tried to foster a discussion around cool cars and cool car topics. That effort has paid off. Eventually the community demanded they be able to list their cars on BaT. The community was there. And it’s a huge part of the transactional model. It makes all the difference for the buyers and sellers.
I know you’ve been really protective of that community over the past 13 or so years. At Hearst, that’s not going to change.
That’s right. That was the plan going into it and that’s our intention now. This is a team effort, a community effort. And we’re going keep to that mission.
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