This piece will appear in the Spring 2018 issue of The Ultimate Classic, the publication of the BMW Classic Car Club of America.
I have ridden the Bring a Trailer roller coaster, an apt metaphor as I came out of the experience exhilarated and a little queasy.
The decision to sell my ‘73 Bavaria was reached over the course of several months following our eventful return trip from the SoCal Vintage meet, chronicled in the last issue. As I started to research the market for E3s, I struggled to figure out where mine fit in. For years, of course, the E3 has been the screaming bargain of vintage BMWs, and this mindset still prevails among many owners. I don’t blame them; affordability was a key factor for me when I bought mine, too. But if you look at the market, you’ll find that the Bavarias still left in the sub-$4,000 market are rusty, worn, and needy. Then there are the very fine survivors, the low-mileage, never-driven-in-rain, perfectly preserved cars, which have steadily crept over $10,000 in the last few years, leaving a great big gap in the middle—which is exactly where I felt my very good driver-quality car belonged.
Not wanting to be the lone craigslist voice in that weird wilderness and look like I had no idea what my car was worth, I decided to give the auction world a try. As someone who hasn’t sold a car this way before, eBay was a bit daunting—not to mention increasingly infested with scammers—so Bring a Trailer was my first stop.
Now, BaT is not the free-for-all that eBay is; they don’t accept every car submitted for consideration, and they work hand-in-hand with you to prepare your listing and maximize your chances of a sale. The submission process involves providing a fair bit of detail about the car upfront—much of it focused on maintenance history, modifications, originality, and what needs the car may have—and as many photos as you can.
I wasn’t convinced that they would accept my car, especially as I had a reserve price in mind that I felt was fair but perhaps slightly ambitious. Nevertheless, the morning after I completed my questionnaire, I received an acceptance email, and was asked only to provide some additional photos and pay the $99 listing fee (buyers pay 5% of their final bid to the site as well). I had expected some back-and-forth to negotiate a lower reserve, but there was none; just as buyers have come to expect a “BaT tax” in the form of higher than private party prices, I guess the company anticipates it, too.
Within a day of submitting the remaining photos, I had a written listing to proofread. I suggested a couple of minor revisions, which were turned around within an hour or so, at which point I approved the description. I expected it then to go into a queue for future publication, but in fact my auction went live almost immediately. Perhaps a bit sooner than I was ready for—but, we were off!
A BaT auction runs seven days and, let me tell you, it is agonizing. I suppose if you have a real high-ticket item, bidding might start right away and remain lively throughout, but I felt a rising panic that my car was just sitting there getting no action. There were a good number of comments on the post, all of which were positive about my car and about E3s in general, but few of which indicated any interest in actually buying the car. By the final morning of the auction there were just three bids and the reserve still hadn’t been met.
My auction ended at 1:20 p.m. Around 10 that morning that the bidding jumped by about $200 to finally crest my reserve, if barely…and there it stayed until 1:17. Then a new bidder jumped in, adding $150. A moment later, another new bidder raised it by another $100, and things really took off. BaT has an “anti-sniping” feature: if a bid is placed with less than two minutes on the clock, it will reset the time back to two minutes to allow other bidders to stay in. I had two primary bidders going back and forth, pushing the time back, with one or two others occasionally jumping in. The time kept going, going, going…it was 1:40, 20 minutes after my initial close time, before one of the two bidders finally yielded.
The final tally, almost 50% above my reserve, stood at nearly double what I had paid for the car four years ago—although I have steadily improved it over that time, to be fair—and was the highest sale price for an E3 in BaT’s history. Was I excited and pleased? You bet! Did I feel more than a little guilty at the part I was potentially playing in making Bavarias less affordable for future buyers? Well, yes, that too.
If your conscience can handle it, though, Bring A Trailer may be the best way right now to get your collector car in front of a receptive audience and maximize your selling price!
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