Randy Nonnenberg, Bring a trailer, bring-a-trailer, BaT, online auction, car auction, online car auction

5 Minutes With Randy Nonnenberg

Bring a Trailer founder Randy Nonnenberg developed an automotive passion early in life, the result of time spent with his father. “My dad always subscribed to Road and Track and he and I spent a lot of time together in the garage,” Randy says. “He has loved cars since he was a boy in Pennsylvania. Part of moving to California for him in the ’60s was the draw of the amazing car lifestyle and culture.”

Randy grew up around that California car culture, with frequent father-and-son trips to nearby Laguna Seca and Sears Point for races, plus some time spent living in Germany near the Mercedes and Porsche headquarters. “All these early sights, sounds, and good times with my dad that continue to this day are what fueled my car passion,” Randy says.

Randy has leveraged his passion to develop Bring a Trailer, a successful automotive auction and classifieds website that has grown into a full-fledged car-centric community. We caught up with Randy to talk about cars, auction strategies, and the importance of feedback.

Goodguys Gazette: How did Bring a Trailer (BaT) get started?

Randy Nonnenberg, Bring a trailer, bring-a-trailer, BaT, online auction, car auction, online car auctionRandy Nonnenberg: I loved scanning classifieds for cool cars. It was like treasure hunting. As everything came online around 2000, it was very scattered. It was hard to find the good stuff. I developed a habit for searching all over the web for cool cars and deals. That uncovered some interesting cars that I forwarded to friends. Eventually a tech-savvy friend and I decided we should document the best things I was finding. That started with a simple blog where I posted my favorite find each day. That was the beginning, in 2007.

GG: How did you want to set BaT apart from other auction sites?

Nonnenberg: There was so much I wanted to improve about online listings and auctions. Sellers have incredible bias when selling, so without any oversight even honest ones can leave out important facts or avoid negative details. Putting the expert eyes of an audience on listings was the best way to get to the truth about a car. The comments section lets buyers pose questions, size up the seller, and read concerns from other commenters. This is what you wish you had when looking at a car in person.

GG: What are some important business lessons you’ve learned?

Nonnenberg: That building community and trust takes a long time. You have to be patient and willing to take that long road. Stay away from anybody trying to make a quick buck in car sales or auctions; it leads them to bad decision making. The other lesson was the importance of hiring like-minded enthusiasts to scale the company. It has been amazing how aligned we’ve been able to stay over the last decade.

GG: Is it still possible to find an affordable classic car?

Nonnenberg: Absolutely! One thing that set BaT apart in the early days was how we embraced fun, cheap cars instead of just expensive builds and supercars. I loved Datsun 510s, Ford pickups, and Honda ATCs. That’s the stuff I grew up on. We still make a point of featuring many affordable cars. Wagons and pickups are cheaper alternatives to two-doors of the ’50s and ’60s, so there are affordable opportunities there. Many cars modified in the ’80s and ’90s are now dated and can be bought reasonably and brought to a more classic aesthetic over time. Restoration and bodywork are expensive, so I advise bargain hunters to get into a driver-quality car that runs and has all the pieces already.

Randy Nonnenberg, Bring a trailer, bring-a-trailer, BaT, online auction, car auction, online car auctionGG: What vehicles are in your current collection?

Nonnenberg: My tastes are very broad. I have a ’56 Chrysler 300B, a ’63 Falcon Sprint track car, and a 1985 Renault R5 Turbo among some others. I love trucks, too, and have a V8-powered ’75 FJ40 and a GMC Sierra Grande. I love how they are all so different.

GG: Any bucket-list vehicles you hope to find someday?

Nonnenberg: As a kid I had a poster of the blue #27 Shelby GT350 race car that Camee Edelbrock vintage raced back in the ’90s. I’d love to own that car. Maybe some of the other cars Vic raced, too, like the #614 Corvette that raced at Riverside. Those are special cars, and I don’t see them out in the wild anymore.

GG: What’s your go-to car for taking out on a weekend drive? How about a track day?

Nonnenberg: That ’56 Chrysler 300B is my favorite to drive almost anywhere. It is so elegant and stately, and I can pile my whole family inside. You feel like you’ve ‘made it’ when you’re out in that thing, and it makes people smile. For a track day, I’d use the Datsun 240Z that we have at the BaT office. It has a stroked 2.7L engine and triple Webers and it screams.

GG: Any favorite road trip songs?

Nonnenberg: It depends on the car and the moment. I log a lot of miles across western states, and I love vintage country tunes for those. But a night blast on Mulholland or PCH requires something more up-tempo. My favorite band is The Mother Hips. They get it going.

GG: What trends do you see coming down the road in the old car hobby?

Nonnenberg: Everybody I know who has cars has some trouble, or has to wait a long time, to get them repaired and restored. The good shops have long lines of customers. We need to make sure we support people who work on our cars or they will go away to other work. Supporting the initiatives of Goodguys and SEMA and non-profits like the Piston Foundation is really important.

Randy Nonnenberg, Bring a trailer, bring-a-trailer, BaT, online auction, car auction, online car auction

GG: How many old cars is too many?

Nonnenberg: This is different for everyone, and I’m glad we live in a free country where we can own what we want. Too many for me is when I can’t take care of them properly. Storing cars is fine if you do it right, but when I feel like mine are neglected it’s time to let them go.

Editor, Goodguys Gazette

Damon Lee began snapping photos at car shows when he was 10, tagging along with his father to events throughout the Midwest. He has combined his passion for cars and knack for writing and imagery into a 20-year career in the automotive aftermarket, writing for titles like Super Chevy and Rod & Custom and, more recently, working for respected industry leaders Speedway Motors and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.