Eli Kogan lives the type of life about which many auto fanatics dream.

The twentysomething Arizona resident owns a members-only car club and a dozen special toys, including a big black Mercedes-AMG G 63 SUV, a Porsche 997 RS track-ready sports car, and a Lago Green 1956 Porsche 356, plus many high-powered and beloved Ducati motorcycles. He knows a prize when he sees it.

Kogan just spent $500,000 on a car he’d been coveting for years, a 1956 Porsche Speedster. It’s not an unusual purchase for him, but how he bought it is a first: online, sight unseen, and undriven. The medium for his indulgence was the San Francisco-based website called Bring a Trailer. (As in that old classifieds gem: “The car’s not running—so bring a trailer.”)

“The Speedster was a passion buy, an emotional buy,” Kogan says. “I’d hunted a Speedster forever. It was the color I wanted. It was the build I wanted. It checked every box. At the end, I got into a little bit of a bidding war to get it, but I couldn’t stop. At the end of the day, it was still a great purchase.”

He’s not the only one spending big bucks buying cars he’s never seen in person, let alone driven. Bruce Meyer, the Rodeo Drive real estate mogul and a prominent collector who was the founding chairman of the Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation in Los Angeles, recently used Bring a Trailer (or BAT) to find a 1935 Bugatti Type 57 in black, with rich golden sides that give it the poise of a monarch butterfly. It cost him almost $1 million.

“I had tried to buy it 20 years before that, but I missed it,” Meyer says. “I never would have known about it and found it again had I not known about Bring a Trailer.”

Kogan and Meyer are the type of big-money buyers the unassuming online auction company has attracted in the years since Randy Nonnenberg co-founded it in 2007. (Michael Strahan is another prominent fan; most notably he used it to buy a rare 1994 Porsche 928 GTS manual coupe.) The site has become so successful that the online used-car classifieds Hemmings has announced an upcoming version of its own, called Hemmings Auctions. 

Nonnenberg, a former mechanical engineer for BMW of North America, started BAT with a college buddy as an easier way to share links about cars they wanted rather than emailing them back and forth the way they had for years. After tag-teaming to find and buy a long-desired Corvette, they got to thinking.

“Whether I was in the market for a car or not, I was always looking at cars on EBay and Craigslist, and I’d help friends find cars, too, sending them links and stuff,” Nonnenberg says. “So the start of it was a very basic blog format. It was a very immature experiment to just start writing about cars.”

Turns out more people wanted help finding cool cars to buy than he expected. In its first year of offering cars to the public, 2014, BAT listed 450 cars for an average sale price of $21,000 and a sale rate of 72%. Last year it listed 7,718 auctions with an average sale price of $28,000 and the sale rate was 74%. In the first half of this year, BAT listed 5,131 cars for sale, vs. 3,224 for the first half of 2018, a 60% increase that came with a sale rate of 73%.

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