June 22, 2024

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

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Record Sales and a New Car World

This 300SL made $1.43m on BaT in 2021. Image: Bring a Trailer

Last week, Mecum announced its $578m in sales from auctions in 2021. In terms of land auctions, that’s a record — a new high water mark that reflects both a seizing of the moment by Mecum as well as overall health in the collector car market. Mecum’s numbers were impressive everywhere they went in calendar year 2021 thanks to a number of factors, not the least of which were visibility and presentation, and that momentum continues on as we roll into 2022. Kissimmee looks like it’s going to be be another record-breaker — we’ll have more about that in Linkage #006.

And then there’s Bring a Trailer, which no longer plays second fiddle to anyone. According to this piece on Bloomberg, the company sold $829m in collector cars in 2021. That’s a new record for any auction house from anywhere, and as is the case with Mecum, further evidence of the power of specialty cars among buyers and sellers today. But Bring a Trailer is unique. It’s a community, and the genius of the model is in the social aspect of the experience. A self-regulating group of like-minded commenters power BaT’s success, and they’ve made it into the destination it has become over the past eight years. 

At BaT, with infrastructure already in place and functional for at-a-distance gratification — and a certain degree of anonymity, as Linkage contributor Stephen Serio points out in that Bloomberg story — big numbers were basically going to be a given. We now know just how big.  

Over the next few months, news outlets and specialty publications are going to remark on the start of the new year, and the high water marks hit at land auctions and online auctions from Kissimmee to Scottsdale, Paris and Amelia. Million-dollar sales will grab headlines, as they always do, and they’ll be featured as if they’re the biggest story of the year. 

Rarified air is vital in the old car market — this GT350R Prototype will likely set a record at Mecum Kissimmee next week.

They’re important, yes — but they’re only part of the story. 

Yes, it takes market confidence to pay $5m for something with as much history as it has eyeball under the dynamic lights of a ballroom — but the market is a numbers game, and if we’re talking about overall health, sub-$100k sales — the bread and butter of companies such as Mecum and BaT in record-breaking 2021 — are arguably a better indicator of overall confidence. 

In short, the story here has been — and will continue to be — in more attainable cars selling for better numbers than they did before at auctions both online and on-site. The key with those cars is volume, and the volume has been cranked up. 

As Bloomberg points out, BaT’s average price per car for its $829m in 2021 was just $46k. I think that’s the most important bit of news here. They saw 83% growth in listings, placed in front of a 700k-member buying pool.

Bang on the average — this ’82 FJ60 brought $49k on BaT in the first week of 2022

Yes, this all matters for the market, but the impact of greater volume has a wider impact than just dollars in pockets. With more buying and selling comes more exposure for collector cars of all stripes, and here at Linkage, we believe that experience is a prime driver of value. Collector cars can be enjoyed with or without a group of like-minded people — but hands on a wheel, the smell of old leather or vinyl and the bark of a vintage engine is where the rubber truly meets the road for most of us, group or not. The numbers out of 2021 — from everywhere, not just Mecum and BaT — point to more people getting in on the action, and as car nuts know, once you start, you’re hooked.

More participation and more experiences will leave lasting ripples through the hobby, well past the COVID era and into a future that will be balancing the very fundamentals of transportation, nostalgia, culture and aesthetic. What that all means will shake out as we go forward — but numbers such as those out of BaT, Mecum and elsewhere in 2021 suggest — to me anyway — that the old car world is as dynamic as ever, and it’s going to continue to be.