The meteoric growth of online auctions has been one of the big stories—if not the story—of the collector car market over the past year. We’ve talked a lot about what cars sell well on these platforms and which don’t, but just as important might be to know who is there. The assumption (perhaps an ageist one) is that the people bidding on screens are younger than those who attend live auctions, and are into newer cars. But we at Insider don’t trust assumptions. Let’s look at some data.
One of the first things many people do after winning a car at auction is to get the thing insured at Hagerty. And, naturally, one of the pieces of information contained in an insurance policy is the age of the person who holds it. In fact, over the past four years, we’re able to match 23,000 auction transactions to insurance policies—a trove of information on auction buyers. What does it tell us?
First and foremost, we’re able to see that the typical auction buyer—no matter which auction house—is younger than someone who buys the same vehicle privately. In some cases, that average age difference is just one year younger, and in other cases, it is 9. That would mean if Hagerty’s policies data show the average age of a 1993 Mazda RX-7 owner is 45, the folks buying and selling 1993 Mazda RX-7s at this auction have an average age of 36.
Is that youth evidence of a so-called Bring a Trailer effect? Not quite. Online auction buyers, whether they are bidding on Bring a Trailer, Cars & Bids, or PCARMARKET, are on average 55 years old. That is, in fact, younger than the average buyer at an in-person auction, but by just 5 years.
Neither do we see much correlation between the ages of the buyers and the cars they’re buying and selling. The common assumption of the enthusiast car world is that online auction platforms are where younger collectors are scooping up newer classics, like that Subaru 22B that recently brought $317,55. The charts below say otherwise.
You’re thinking: “Wait, all I see is a shapeless cloud of points.” That’s exactly right. If people were only buying and selling the new cars of their youth, we’d see a diagonal band where the age of the enthusiast is consistently 16 years older than that of the vehicle. The blobs—which look pretty much the same for both live and online auctions—make clear that there’s no relationship between the age of the enthusiast and the age of the vehicle they’re buying. People in their 70s and 80s are buying everything from new cars to those built in the 1930s. Note that the empty band of vehicles around the 75 to 80-year vehicle age level corresponds to the early 1940s, when production stopped due to the war. There’s also a dense horizontal band around the 50-year vehicle age level, which corresponds to the late 1960s and early 1970s.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t real differences among the various auction houses and platforms. Muscle cars and older classics, for instance, don’t show up as often online. Yet we can state confidently, based on our data, that those differences don’t have much to do with the ages of the people buying on these platforms. The auction companies have a wide range of vehicles and a similarly wide range of enthusiasts.