At first glance, a 34-year-old Ford F-250 looks out of place when listed for sale next to a million-dollar Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. If Bring a Trailer in 2020 has taught us anything, though, it's that old trucks are booming right now. And not just in overall popularity—all of a sudden, well-kept examples of these delightfully simple, utilitarian workhorses from decades past are commanding big money. Like $45,000 for that F-250, or $84,500 for an even older Chevy K20 in June, or $90,000 for a 1991 Ford Bronco just last month. What's going on here?
In some ways, it's a surprising trend in 2020. In many others, though, the current market mania for old pickups and SUVs has been a long time coming, as Bring a Trailer founder and CEO Randy Nonnenberg explained when I rang him last month to see if his fine site intended to price every single classic truck out of my reach. Kidding. Sort of.
But in all seriousness, you're not imagining things—2020 has been the year where pickup listings and sales shot through the roof of the popular auction site. Nonnenberg was kind enough to explain why that's currently the case, and why he doesn't see it changing anytime soon.
Bring a Trailer has earned its spot as a go-to place to sell a classic, new, custom or factory-stock vehicle that fits into the collector niche. That used to mean aircooled Porsches and GTOs and split-window Corvettes above all, but as the collector market broadens to include perfect pickups and SUVs, the dynamic is changing. And they aren't just after high-end Icon restomods, nor are they all deadset on 55-year-old Chevys with unblemished, original paint. It's a healthy mix of the two.
"Honestly, [motivation] is different for every buyer," Nonneberg explained in a conversation with The Drive. "We have some buyers who want a really simple, stripped-down truck to go on a ranch or on a certain type of trip or do a certain type of work. Nowadays, some people are more accustomed to super-high options—people who buy new Raptors and Silverados want leather, all the creature comforts. There are different buyers for each type of vehicle."
"Some people, what really resonates with them is they want it to be in brand new condition," Nonnenberg continued. "For some, that really appeals to them and for others, that really drives them crazy... There's enough buyers and sellers in our community that a low-mile truck can go crazy or a perfectly optioned vehicle can go crazy. There isn't really one that's ahead of the other but there are definitely wild results for both."
It's easy and convenient to look at the astronomical hammer prices of these online auctions and think, "Damn. They're ruining this for everyone." I've felt the same when watching seemingly ordinary trucks fetch twice as much as I expected, but at the end of the day that's not BaT's call. Whereas these mint condition Broncos or Blazers could find their way to a local dealer with a crazy price on the windshield, these going rates are set by bidders. Some have multiple income streams, others don't, but they're the ones setting the perceived market value, often in rapid-fire bidding wars during the closing minutes of a sale.
In many ways, Bring a Trailer is a mirror for our current desires. On the other hand, its community-focused comment section and legions of deep-pocketed bidders do set the stage for positive feedback loops, where rising interest in a car or type of car gets reflected in a high sale price and tons of comments, which spurs more people to list their matching vehicles, which drives even more attention, and so on.
When asked about that 29-mile 1991 Ford Bronco that fetched $90,000, Nonnenberg responded:
"That's the type of vehicle that people have found you really need to put up for bid on BaT. You'll see something like that parked at a dealer and they guess on some asking price—and it's a total guess—I mean, they have no idea. So when you put it on BaT, everything starts at a dollar, right? So it's going to go for what it's worth with very low fees. It's a very efficient marketplace for finding what a [29-mile] Bronco is worth, or what the actual values of these crazy restomods are."
People argue these rigs are part of a bubble, set to pop sooner or later. Truck sales have always been hot, though, especially stateside where vehicles like the Ford F-Series have dominated the sales charts for more than four decades. In Yesteryear U.S.A., the pickups and 4x4s in question were the childhood norms of new collectors—more specifically, post-Baby Boomers like Generation X.
Companies dedicated to classic cars, like Hagerty for example, attempt to methodically map-out the direction of collector categories. The insurance firm's valuation tool has a selection of publicly-available market trend graphs for muscle cars, German collectibles and even seven-figure Blue Chip sales, but not trucks. At least, not yet. Luckily, BaT plots each sale on its graph for that specific model, showing exactly where it finds itself amongst the rest that has sold in the past few weeks, months, or years. Black dots represent completed sales, and white dots show high bids on trucks that didn't meet their reserve prices.
These can be narrowed down by make and model to give a wide view of what's popping right now. Take Chevy pickups, of which eight have fetched more than $50,000 on BaT in 2020. Last year? Just one, a modified 1950 Chevy 3100. This year has seen specials like two
K10 trucks, built 13 years apart, go for $75,000 a pop. Where I'm from, in America's Midwest, that's never happened, at least not on a platform that anyone with an internet connection can be a part of.
The International Scout is another nostalgia-nabber that folks can't get enough of. They're far from rare—a little more than 532,000 were built between 1961 and 1980—though they resonate with potential buyers who saw them on every Tennessee backroad or California boulevard growing up.
In this case, warmed-over Scouts with LS swaps have proven most valuable, though a relatively stock Scout II eclipsed the $50,000 mark last November.
Then, there's the Ford Bronco. You probably already know what this graph is going to look like.
Crazy-thorough restomods bring the most coin, but largely original, OEM-plus builds can also rake it in. For proof, here's a beautiful 1973 Bronco in an unoriginal coat of green with a 347-cubic-inch stroker. $120,000! That's $51,800 more than Hagerty values a Concours-level example, for what it's worth.
Nonnenberg clarified why truck values have shot up in the past 12 months by saying, "These sorts of vehicles really resonate with different groups of our audience. People have seen vintage trucks become more popular over the last decade, I'd say, and a lot of that is part of their general age. Seventies and '80s trucks in particular started to become a lot more usable as classics. More automatic transmissions, more air conditioning, more SUVs, frankly—it wasn't all pickup trucks, right?"
"The market really exploded into a lot of variety and iconic design in the late '60s, '70s and '80s," he added. "That's when that market really went crazy and when you look at the popularity of those vehicles and the nostalgia of that age group, it's people who are now in theirs 30s, 40s, and 50s that saw them around when they were kids. Maybe their family had one and maybe they rode around in one back then and now they want their own."
Indeed, now might be the time to list your rare or well-kept rig as the values—and volume—of throwback trucks are launching in 2020. The "Truck & 4x4" category on Bring a Trailer consistently has 45 or more live auctions, but if this year has proven anything, it's that there's a buyer for just about every vehicle out there. You probably won't have to worry about it meeting reserve, if you even set one, but don't expect to buy it back for less in 10 years. From here, it's hard to see an end to the massive uptick in pickup and SUV popularity.
Or, you can ride it out and hope for more. At this point, who could blame you?
Caleb Jacobs is Deputy News Editor at The Drive. He buys weird things, like a '66 Ford dump truck, a '65 Chevy school bus and a '63 International Loadstar. We can't seem to stop him from writing about them. Send him a note: firstname.lastname@example.org