Digital auctions on the rise

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online auctions
Whether it's renting an arena or large tent, transporting staff, or printing glossy catalogs, there are huge up-front costs involved with staging a live collector car auction. As potential customers become comfortable with buying (and selling) online, auction houses can save expenses while providing buying and selling opportunities through online-only auctions | Larry Edsall photo

Perhaps since the first newspaper starting putting its classified advertisements on the worldwide web, and certainly since eBay Motors was established, collector cars have been available for purchase by clicking a few keys.

And collector car auctions have accepted online bidding for a while now. But a new phenomenon really began to blossom in 2019 — the online only collector car auction.

Like eBay Motors, Bring a Trailer has offered such a method of commerce. But it was just about a year ago that British auction company H&H Classics began a series of online-only sales starting in 2019. And then just a few months ago, in April 2019, RM Sotheby parent Sotheby’s staged an online auction of the Berluti Collection, a 14-lot offering that included a Triumph motorcycle and a 1973 Porsche 911 Targa S customized with Berluti’s leather surfaces.

Soon, the RM Sotheby’s imprint was put on an online-only auction of a one-off Rolls-Royce Phantom. Another single-lot sale followed, and the early results were so encouraging that, as the year comes to a close, RM Sotheby’s had an online-only sale with a 7-vehicle docket.

Look for online-only sales to proliferate in 2020 and beyond. However, don’t expect the traditional cars-across-the-block auctions to go away. In addition to being a place to buy and sell, they have become social and networking events, even bucket-list events for car enthusiasts of all ages and digital dexterity.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the Web and becoming the author of more than 15 books. In addition to being Editorial Director at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times, writes a weekly automotive feature for The Detroit News and is an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hopefully what happened to Blockbuster video and video stores across America will not happen to live, in-person auctions. There is something magical that one looks forward to when RM, Bonhams, Gooding, etc., conduct their Monterey and other auctions. These auctions are good for the collector car market, much more so than the online liquidators. Unfortunately companies like Barret Jackson, here they auction of thousands of cars at once, are ruining the market.

  2. Ok I am old school, but I would never purchase a vehicle online without inspecting it personally. I have travelled halfway across the country to do this (and sometimes returned home without the car). Money and time well spent. I also do not like the idea of not being able to drive the vehicle before purchasing it from an auction. But at least you get to look at it up close and at least hear it run. I have known more than one person that was dissapointed with cars they purchased off eBay without inspecting it first. Do what you want to, but remember…. buyer beware!

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