We’ve all been there, toiling and complaining about selling a used car. The ad-writing, back and forth negotiation, the paperwork; after all of that, finding the right one to buy was just as difficult. Lucky for petrolheads these days, we have Randy Nonnenberg and his mecca for all things mechanical: Bring a Trailer.
Since 2007, Bring a Trailer has been the premium location for anyone who has ever looked for the car of their dreams. And what started off as a humble blog sharing local classified ads has turned into THE destination for automotive auctions, with $1.37 billion USD in sales in 2022 alone. The site has close to a million registered users – nearly half of which are also registered bidders – who sift through more than 700 auctions a week. Visitors love the premium feel of the ads, the curation of the inventory, and the community of knowledge bestowed upon the registered users chatting and sharing info in the comments section – all this equates to “BaT”‘s consistent growth year over year.
If you’ve never visited the site, BaT is nowhere near “exclusive” in terms of only featuring a specific car type, which is actually a huge appeal for car fanatics. From timeless Ferraris and rarest-of-the-rare Porsches to your neighbor’s Nissan and buddy’s modded Mitsubishi, Bring a Trailer has featured them all. And for its upcoming 100,000th auction, Randy is actually selling off a very special, very personal 1973 Datsun 240Z.
Well, personal in that he has ownership of it, but not solely to himself. The Datsun 240Z is actually a “company” car he purchased for the Bring a Trailer team, of whom have collective ownership. As a commemoration for the milestone auction, Randy and his team are selling off the car not for profit, but for charity – the Piston Foundation, an organization supporting mechanical trade workers around vintage vehicles. If you’re doing a double take around this 240Z, we don’t blame you – the newly announced Nissan Z pulls design cues from past generations of Z cars, but this is the original one that started it all.
Read up on Randy and Bring a Trailer for our latest edition of DRIVERS and in case you missed it, we last featured an owner of another classic Nissan – creative agency Race Service’s Carter Jung and his Skyline GT-R R33.
Tell us about your car. When did you acquire it?
This is a 1973 Datsun 240Z that I bought for the BaT team five years ago. The digital nature of our company can mean that our team stares at screens too much, so we got this to ensure that we would be out driving and staying true to our automotive enthusiast roots. It is a real driver-oriented sports car, and one that none of us on the team had ever owned. We saw this model gaining a big following in our BaT Community, so it felt like a good one to showcase for the masses on our site.
What made you choose this car specifically?
The color of this car – factory Lime Yellow – is just crazy and screams early ‘70s. I equate it to a tennis ball, and with most modern cars on the road being boring grays and blacks, it just jumps at your eyeballs. This car was also built by the best specialists in the USA at Z Car Garage, so I knew that it would serve us well and help us to keep up with some fast Porsches and BMWs.
What is the main purpose of this car for you?
Our team runs a lot of road rallies and driving events, and there are a wide variety of cars on them. There are a lot of participants at the faster end of the groups with Porsches and BMWs and Alfa Romeos, but not many Datsuns. The 240Z is a very capable model and it is fun to open the eyes of people with more expensive or exclusive European cars when they see this bright thing in their mirrors or out in front of them. It is also really fun to show our entire BaT Community that a relatively affordable vintage sports car is all you need to have fun. We bought it for $25k USD, which isn’t nothing but is quite affordable for the performance and good looks.
“[The 240Z] is really fun to show our entire BaT Community that a relatively affordable vintage sports car is all you need to have fun.”
Any details? Modifications? Changes?
The car retains the original engine block from 1973 but it has been increased in displacement and power. It now displaces 2.7 liters and has three big Weber carbs. Other big upgrades are the 5-speed transmission instead of the factory 4-speed, and a 4-wheel disc brake upgrade developed by Z Car Garage and Stoptech. That handles the stopping and going, and the corners are handled by a lightly modified suspension and Michelin tires on 16” Panasport alloy wheels. The car looks pretty stock apart from the wheels, but it can handily outrun a stock 240Z.
Any interesting stories you’d like to share about this car?
When we bought it in San Jose, California, we were under some time pressure for an idea we had to drive across the country to a track event in Atlanta, Georgia. We quickly prepped the car and off we went to Arizona, Texas, Tennessee, and Road Atlanta visiting events and BaT Community members along the way. It was a crazy thing to do, but our readers loved the daily updates from the road. I personally flew into Nashville to meet the car and drive it from there to Georgia along some amazing twisty roads. Nissan headquarters is also in Nashville and they welcomed us to park the car in front of their HQ for a meet and greet and photo shoot. All of it was the beginning of a great relationship with the car.
Why are you selling it?
Our team is hitting a major milestone, our 100,000th online auction, so we knew we wanted to list a special car. The 240Z is the only car the company owns, so it is a natural fit.
Then we decided that we don’t want to benefit from the 100k exposure ourselves, and wanted to select a charity to give all the sale proceeds to. For that, we selected an outfit called the Piston Foundation which provides scholarships for those learning mechanical trades around vintage vehicles. We want all these fun cars to stay on the road for a long time, and that means that hands-on skills are needed, so we really like this charity’s mission.
We are excited to see where the bidding goes, and we can cheer for a big result without our own bias getting in the way.
What are cars to you: aspirational achievements, functional tools, stress-relievers, etc?
Man, good question, they can be so many things. Maintaining and working on older mechanical cars like the 240Z uses a part of my brain for problem solving, uses my eyes for focused micro scrutiny, and uses my hands’ dexterity in ways that are very different from so many modern digitally supported tasks. I feel like that is just a really great holistic use of my skills and body in a way that keeps me sharp.
Then there is the driving, particularly in a fast and intoxicating car like this one, that gets adrenaline pumping and can put you in high consequence situations. I’m not a skydiver and I don’t take drugs, so I get my thrills behind the wheel. Some drives feel like a major accomplishment to return from in one piece.
And then there is the adventure component… cars have taken me to some amazing places. I love seeing new things and a fun old car adds to the story and takes you there pretty quickly.
What have you owned before?
I’ve been lucky to own a good number of fun vehicles, and like a wide variety of trucks and cars. My first two vehicles were FJ40 Toyota Land Cruisers, and all my high school pals had 4x4s with removable tops like Jeeps and Broncos and Scouts because California weather was great and they were cheap to buy.
After that I swung into classic [Ford] Mustangs because I loved watching them on the racetrack. That red ‘66 Mustang was what I took to my first track day. Then I bought a true dream car of mine: a 1959 Porsche 356A coupe off of Craigslist when I was 27. I felt like I had won the lottery.
There have been some fun dream cars of my youth since then… ‘80s and ‘90s models I couldn’t afford as a kid, and one curveball that nobody ever expects me to have which is a 1956 Chrysler 300B, the model that won NASCAR 20 years before I was born. I love variety.
What’s in your three-car dream garage?
My green FJ40 that I will never sell, a Porsche 959, and a Ferrari 250LM… but this answer changes every month or so because three cars is not diverse enough for my lifetime.
“If you look at a VW Golf today vs. a VW Golf 40 years ago, it is pretty wild what they are capable of. I’m excited for the next 40 years.”
We would love to learn more about what surprises you in terms of what sells on BaT and for how much.
Being surprised by a bidding war or a record result is fun, but it is even better to be surprised with a super unexpected offering or something I have never seen before.
When we were small and I wrote all the listings I had really good visibility into the pipeline so I saw things coming, but now at this huge volume we have a team that produces the listings so I get hit with surprises when things go live on the website. I get surprised just like the general public and it is a thrilling feeling to read the site each day and see what is new. Many of my dream cars come across and I keep a watchlist of 10 or 20 cars every week. I love it.
How would you describe the culture and community around Bring a Trailer and its readers/bidders?
BaT started as a site that critiqued cars for sale and their online sellers, so it is a group whose passion for the truth leads to a marketplace where legitimacy and transparency are paramount. That makes buyers much more comfortable buying online than they would be elsewhere with no community to verify claims being made by sellers. We didn’t plan on it, but that is how it works and that has brought more buyers and more sellers year after year.
As we have expanded the kinds of cars, and now motorcycles and memorabilia, the community has expanded around them. It is amazing how many types of listings we have now after starting in mainly older classics. While the expansive community have all this knowledge, they still often say that it is one of the most civil places to interact on the Internet. That part comes from our team’s careful setting of the ground rules for constructive participation. That has taken a ton of effort over the years, but it reinforces itself, and the years of momentum and new additions like our in-person events make it a really enjoyable group.
What is the future of the automotive industry, and car culture in general?
People want to get around, so there will always be machines that help us do that. Some will want that quiet and chauffeured and sterile, but some will want it fun and thrilling and adventurous, so there will always be a variety of car-type machines. And even with rapid innovation, changing what people like happens pretty gradually, so I think we will see people driving their own cars and driving gasoline powered cars for longer than some people predict.
I am glad that I am alive at a time where there is a lot of innovation and incredible products being launched. If you look at a VW Golf today vs. a VW Golf 40 years ago, it is pretty wild what they are capable of. I’m excited for the next 40 years. I think there will always be excitement and a culture around that.