The Car Auction Makes a Comeback

A 1939 Bentley Mark V Credit: Courtesy The Finest Automobile Auctions

Shelling out six figures at a live auction isn’t a diversion for the faint of heart. Neither is riding shotgun on a stack of leather cushions in the cut-out passenger “seat” of a windshield-less 1954 Jaguar XK120M.

Bradley Farrell is confident that he’s come up with a way of lowering the barrier of entry to both experiences, making them each more interesting along the way. You’d never know that Farrell, 41, is the quiet leader of a revolution in online auctions from the skateboards affixed to the rafters of his garage office, or his distinctive body art. A serial entrepreneur, auctioneering is hardly Farrell’s first venture. After successful stints in the digital marketing world, preceded by a career as an artist, he turned his attention to a passion project of collectible cars. Farrell’s path to entering the business was tortuous, at best, but it’s paid off.

His latest company, The Finest Automobile Auctions, will hold its first live auction at The Elegance at Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on June 11. Farrell’s preferred venue may be the Internet, where The Finest will aim to succeed where eBay dares not play, offering boutique auctions of inherently valuable cars. Appearing at Hershey, in person, will give face value to Farrell’s newest venture. His ideas pick up where traditional auctions leave off, allowing bidders to continue the process even if a car doesn’t sell on the block, for instance.

Unlike mega-auctions like Barrett-Jackson, which move hundreds of cars in a single event, Farrell’s collection is “highly curated.” Sifting through the marketing speak, that means fewer Corvettes and Thunderbirds, and unique variations of already rare vehicles. Not every auctioneer will allow a pre-war bespoke Bentley to sit next to a post-war Kaiser M725 ambulance. A ’91 Subaru Sambar fire engine? Please, just take our money. (You can click here to browse the whole collection directly.)

As much as Farrell is obsessed with harnessing the Internet to move four-wheeled treasures, he is a headstrong champion of “analog” experiences. By Farrell’s estimation, the best way to engage the next generation of digital-first sports car enthusiasts is “to put them in the driver’s seat.” The aforementioned allusion to a joyride is from first-person experience. Moments after we set foot in Farrell’s shop in a northern suburb of New York City, we were already on our way in a one-of-61 Maserati coupe set to be auctioned for over half a million dollars, followed by the XK120M. Keeping the cars running is important to Farrell, and there’s no better way to understand why you want a classic car than to ride in one — or drive a road version of the legendary land speed record setter.

The price for all this history? The XK120M is listed at no reserve, a move that Farrell is encouraging his clients to follow, although he has a six-figure price tag in mind. It could be yours, however, for “five dollars,” Farrell said. And if you're still musing over your treat yo’self splurge purchase, fire up your iPad and stick out your bidding fingers.