Unless you've been frozen in a cryogenic storage unit for the better part of the past decade, you've at least heard of eBay, and so has everyone you know. The popularity of this on-line auction house has spread like wildfire, to the point that even those who've never perused its virtual lots know of its existence. If you're reading this magazine, you must be a gearhead, which further increases the likelihood that you've been to eBay and probably even made a few bids, if not walked away with a purchase. That's because the concept of trading automotive wares fits the eBay model so well that a separate division was created just for car stuff, dubbed eBay Motors, which was launched in the Spring of 2000.
It's little surprise that eBay has grown so quickly, and perhaps even less surprising that automotive items are among the most commonly traded. Car guys have been wheeling and dealing hardware since before the days of Thickstun intakes and beehive oil coolers. Traditionally, this has involved checking classifieds, word of mouth, or the motorhead's favorite, the swap meet. But eBay Motors provides the content of a killer swap meet and car corral at the click of a mouse. Go online any time, day or night, and there are thousands of auction listings for cars and parts, plus you still have the opportunity to bargain for items rather than just paying the posted price. Combining these features with the vastness of the new and used automotive merchandise markets and the nature of deal-seeking car enthusiasts, and eBay is a perfect fit.
The Thrill Of The Auction
The concept of an auction is obviously an old one, and something many of us are familiar with. Rather than naming a price and seeking a buyer, the seller puts his item "on the block" at an organized auction, where potential buyers gather en mass to vie for goods. This brings the market to the buyer and broadens his prospects. Then the potential buyers have to actually do battle to "win" the item up for bid; this again works for the seller, as it maximizes his revenue potential by allowing the market to determine the value, provided the item is at all desirable. In some cases, the bidding will eclipse the actual value as competition heats up, which we'll discuss in more detail later.
The online auction takes the benefits of a traditional live auction-or what eBay likes to refer to as an "offline" auction-and then goes further by opening up the field of potential buyers by the thousands. Even popular live auctions only draw people who are seriously interested in buying, and these auctions are usually still limited by geographic region. The online auction allows the casual buyer to look over the wares from the comfort of home, and he can even bid while remaining almost completely anonymous ... from another continent. In this way, as the seller, the world truly is your oyster.
The online auction also insulates the seller even further from the selling process by placing a partial barrier between the bidders and sellers. No more random phone calls in response to a classified ad, no more stream of looky-loos dropping by to criticize your sale item in an attempt to knock down the price. The auction starts and ends when the seller says so, and bidders can look whenever they want during that period, for as long as they like, but can only make inquiries via e-mail. Anyone who's ever sold a car privately knows what a benefit this can be.
But perhaps one of the greatest benefits is one that is shared with offline auctions: the competition that occurs among buyers when a desirable item is up for bid. In a perfectly logical Vulcan world, buyers would place bids until they felt that the value of the item had been reached; then they would cease bidding, either winning the auction at that price or effectively handing the item to the remaining bidders. However, here on earth, it doesn't always work that simply.
All is not lost for those of us with smaller cash reserves, according to Nadjarian. He feels that there are still vast caches of NOS parts stashed away all over the place, and that the sudden sharp increase in value is going to motivate the guys that have been sitting on that stuff for 20 years to cash in. When those parts go up for sale, it won't be at the local swap meet, but on eBay Motors, where the big fish swim. It stands to reason that if there are seven DZ-coded Holley carburetors up for bid at the same time, the level of bids for each item will be reduced, and the laws of supply and demand play out.
The same may hold true for the cars themselves to a lesser extent-the greater number of any particular car that are up for bid at one time, the less each is likely to draw. You're still not going to score a real '70 LS6 Chevelle for $1,500, but hopefully you won't have to pay six figures, which is where those cars seem to be headed.
Play To Win
Whenever you're doing business with people you don't know and haven't met, to purchase merchandise you've only seen in photos, there's a risk involved. It's one thing to take a leap of faith for a $50 air cleaner, it's quite another to lay out $50,000 for an classic car that you've never touched. Yet this sort of thing seems to be happening all the time on eBay Motors. What guarantee do you have as the buyer that the item is as represented? Not much, really, and eBay Motors is up front about this. Your primary form of recourse is to post negative feedback about the seller, though this does nothing for you after the fact, unless the seller is willing to make a deal to avoid the negative comments that could hinder future sales. Still, this is little consolation to the screwed buyer, which means that, as usual, the best defense is a good offense-simply put, do your homework and don't get taken. See the sidebar "Smart Shopping" for more insight on eBay
Motors Purchasing.Nadjarian has another piece of advice for bidders preparing to jump into an auction: Set your price limit before you place your first bid, and stick with it. Just like the gambler, you've got to know when to hold and when to fold.
We recently had the chance to look over a '69 Z/28 RS that was purchased on eBay Motors and then shipped to the buyer's residence. The buyer, who shall remain nameless, hadn't seen the car prior to its purchase and he'd laid out around $50,000 for the privilege. Most of us that pay attention to musclecar values know that it wasn't so long ago that $30,000 would be a great price for a nice '69 Z/28. Upon delivery to a first-generation Camaro restoration specialist for inspection, the specialist immediately suspected that the car was neither a Z/28 nor a Rally Sport. It's easy to point the finger at a fraudulent seller, but the buyer really should have been better informed prior to committing to the sale. Here are some tips to help you avoid a similar scenario:
* Beware of the killer deal: Here in 2004, truly correct cars from 35-40 years ago are becoming scarce. The most prized, like the early Z/28 cars, the biggest of big-block Chevelles, or a Hemi-powered anything, aren't traded casually. If a deal seems to good to be true, you can bet it is, because there are too many sharks swimming around in the collector pool for good deals on great cars to find their way to the general public. If you, the novice buyer/collector, are getting the car for what seems like a screaming bargain, it's most likely because someone else didn't want it.
* Get smart-Don't wait until after you own the car to get educated on its background. Our Z/28 RS buyer should have researched '69 Z/28s beforehand so he'd know exactly what we was looking at (or at least know what questions to ask) when it came time to make a purchase. The value of these cars depends on the accuracy of the finer aspects of each example-you must know what those things are.
* Scrutinize with the eyes-Analyzing photos is your best line of defense. A trained eye can spot critical flaws even in marginal photos, but good photos are a good indication that the seller is on the level. Shots of VIN tags, body tags, engine numbers, and the like are positive indications that the car is as represented. But the bidder still must know what he's looking at. Small details can tell tales.
* Read between the lines-You can also analyze the words of the seller, and the way his listing is composed. Used car hacks usually make mistakes about the details of vintage muscle, or try to pass off incorrect equipment as rare options or the like. Also, an extra heavy sales pitch isn't necessary on desirable goods-be wary of those who try too hard. Serious sellers with quality stuff generally stick to the facts.