Bring A Trailer Auction Of 590-Mile S14 Goes South After Curious Commenters And Shill Bidding

The seller admitted to The Drive that he bid on his own car, but claims his intention wasn’t to boost the price.

byMar 30, 2022 2:30 PM
Bring A Trailer Auction Of 590-Mile S14 Goes South After Curious Commenters And Shill Bidding
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Bring a Trailer is a mainstay of the automotive enthusiast world at this point, offering hundreds of hand-picked car auctions per week to those with enough coin to buy, and giving the rest of us some fantastic window-shopping opportunities. It's not always the smoothest experience, unfortunately, and sometimes sellers are accused of hiding information that could change a car's story and a potential buyer's mind. This wildly low-mile 1995 Nissan 240SX is one example, as it was withdrawn this week—a rare occurrence for a site that prides itself on transparency—after accusations of both deceptive selling and shill bidding, which is when a seller bids on their own vehicle to inflate the final price. But the story is even messier than it looks.

To get to the bottom of it, we spoke to both Bring a Trailer and the accused seller, Gary Duncan, owner of Duncan Imports & Classics in Virginia. Surprisingly, Duncan admits straight-up that he bid on his own car—but not to boost the price. Instead, he says he did so to force Bring a Trailer's hand in taking down the auction, which was initially posted without all the info he provided to the site about the car's past—omissions he claims opened the floodgates to the accusations from the Bring a Trailer community and threatened to sink his reputation as the site initially refused to pull the listing like he asked.

For its part, Bring a Trailer declined to discuss the situation further, pointing to its two public comments where it admitted to posting an incomplete listing at first and later announced the end of the auction due to the seller's shill bidding. However, emails provided by Duncan show Bring a Trailer indeed declining to pull the auction, and further warning him that publicly blaming Bring a Trailer for the resulting mess would result in him being banned from the site altogether.

First off, the car. It's an S14 240SX with a claimed 590 miles on the odometer that was previously listed as part of a private collection at Duncan's shop. On the face of it, it looked stunningly clean, with an uncracked dash, straight body panels, and a reasonably fresh-looking engine bay. However, Bring a Trailer users noticed discrepancies within eight minutes of the listing going live on March 24. 

Commenters almost immediately noticed that underbody shots of the car showed rust on the radiator mounting brackets, along with some parts of the undercarriage and the spare tire well. Furthermore, they pointed out that sections of the underbody were either missing paint or undercoated strangely, with overspray onto nearby components that were not consistent with OEM work. The crank pulley was also replaced with a red anodized lightweight unit at some point, and the front fender liners were missing entirely from the car. 

If that wasn't enough, there appeared to be non-factory welds on the core support, suggesting a front-end collision that required its replacement. Within the first day of the auction, a commenter had linked to a thread on Zilvia, a Nissan enthusiast forum, pointing out various discrepancies they'd spotted on the listed S14. 

The seller, whose username is Blucking, has stated in the past that they sell cars from Duncan Imports & Classics' personal collection. They claim the 240SX was acquired from the previous owner missing the fender liners, adding that it had been kept in its as-acquired state. They then pointed to the Virginia title and CarFax as documentation of the mileage and condition's authenticity. This didn't fully satisfy potential buyers, as commenters further pointed out that even the VIN plate on the dashboard appeared to be nonstandard. The 240SX originally came with a riveted VIN tag on its dash, and the listed car appears to have plastic push-pins holding its plate in place, which suggested to doubters in the auction thread that an airbag had possibly blown at some point in the car's life. 

On March 25, Bring a Trailer noted that it had updated the auction with details about the paintwork that were originally disclosed by the seller but that it had failed to include in the original post, along with an apology. Later that day, a $19,427 bid was placed by one user named Pilatus, and that's when the auction went completely off the rails.

As users pointed out in the comments on March 26—the day following the listing update and the $19,427 bid—Pilatus appeared to be none other than Gary Duncan. On Jan. 14 this year, Pilatus commented on a Honda Del Sol auction and said, "I want to buy it back! Gary Duncan." The Del Sol listing the user commented on, showing a rare SiR TransTop model, stated in the first line that the car was originally brought over from Japan by Duncan Imports. 

Pilatus has placed over a thousand bids in their nearly seven years on Bring a Trailer, winning 25 auctions. Indeed, this 177-mile 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix listed by Blucking in early 2021 that failed to meet reserve had a $31,000 bid placed by Pilatus, and was listed on Duncan's website around the time of the auction as a private collection vehicle, as shown in archived versions of the website. The cars the user has won, however, are from a variety of different sellers located across the country.

After commenters pointed out links between Pilatus and Duncan, the 240SX listing was withdrawn by Bring a Trailer on March 28. The statement from the auction site said, "The seller has failed to follow advice on how to salvage this auction from a number of commenters as well as private conversations with us, and has instead engaged in shill bidding – an activity that we do not tolerate on BaT." The firm added, "We appreciate the understanding from and the detective work displayed by our community."

Afterward, though, commenters were quick to point out that both Pilatus and Blucking appeared to still have active accounts on the site, leading some to question how prevalent shill-bidding is on Bring a Trailer. 

Gary Duncan confirmed to The Drive that he is indeed Pilatus, that Blucking is employed by him, and that in this case, he placed bids on his own car to shut down the auction. "I shill bidded it to try to get Bring a Trailer to [take] it down," he said. Duncan expressed that he was upset about the initial omission of the paintwork problems and sought to have the listing removed entirely, rather than clarified, as commenters continued to savage the car and his own reputation as a seller.

In emails shown to The Drive, Duncan had been in correspondence with Bring a Trailer on March 25—before the shill bid had taken place—asking that the 240SX auction be taken down as skeptical comments piled up. In those emails, the auction house stated it would clarify the listing with the paintwork information Duncan had originally provided, but it would not withdraw the auction. Bring a Trailer updated the page and explained what happened in another comment: "Hi all, paintwork on the car was disclosed by the seller prior to the auction—we deeply apologize for missing that detail and have updated the listing as such. We know how important transparency is and try to uphold the same standards we instill in our sellers. Thank you to our knowledgable community for your eagle eyes! - BaT"

That didn't satisfy Duncan. "They posted that they made a mistake, and commenters did not go back and read those," he said. As far as the shill bid is concerned, he acknowledges that "what I did was wrong and I admit it was wrong, but I did it because [the situation] was wrong." He also claims to have reached out to Bring a Trailer with an offer to write an apology to the community, but he hasn't heard back yet. When asked about the 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix listing, Duncan stated he had no recollection of bidding and that the car may have been a consignment vehicle. 

After the Nissan listing was pulled, Duncan attempted to leave a comment explaining his side and why he felt his shill bidding was justified in this case and placing the blame for the whole thing on Bring a Trailer. He provided another email to The Drive where a Bring a Trailer employee warns him about the potential consequences of allowing that comment to go through:

"We haven't posted it publicly yet and I would highly advise against it. Again, as I suggested before, the only path forward here that saves this auction is for you to accept responsibility for the phony bid and comment and say that you understand it was wrong. I recommend that so strongly because that behavior has us ban participants from the site...So at this point you can leave a different comment that accepts responsibility for your bidding (as we did with the apology about the paint issue, and everyone then moves on)...Alternatively you can tell us to go ahead and post the comment you left earlier which blames us and takes no responsibility and expresses no remorse. If you choose this route, this is a violation of the rules...and we will have to restrict all Duncan accounts from participation on the site going forward."

The saga is, for now, mostly over though basically unresolved, with comments on the original listing slowing down to a trickle and no further word from Bring a Trailer on auction policies. In the meantime, let this be a lesson: you cannot get anything past some motivated car enthusiasts with internet access. 

Got a tip or question for the author? Contact her directly: victoria.scott@thedrive.com