Once upon a time there was an Internet. It was small, quaint even, and sparsely populated. The barriers to entry were considerable and the inter-site navigability was limited to webs of trust via hyperlinks. Search engines were still in their infancy, and even though they would soon come to erode the fundamental fabric of the newly emergent online society, sweeping up otherwise intelligent people and burying them in a sea of sameness,i they would be hailed as great servants of mankind ; opening doors to all.
Yet even within this increasingly tattered tapestry, new entrants were continually playing the salmon swimming upstream, replenishing the oxygen in the Internet’s tank by creating nodes – however small – where gas mask canisters could sparingly be left unused.
In 2007, Randy Nonnenberg and Gentry Underwoodii launched just such a breath of fresh air with BringaTrailer.com, designed to aggregate otherwise disparate and disjointed car classifieds. A seemingly banal service, yes, but a surprisingly useful one both for active potential buyers and late-night keyboard-bound dreamers. As such, BaT soon garnered a serious following just by sifting through reams of digital listings on Craigslist,iii eBay, Autotrader, and forums, selecting only the most arcane, historical, and under/overvalued, and writing an informative blurb about the vehicle, its seller, and any relevant or interesting information about the former that the latter may have glazed over. If the fledgling site ever had a tagline, which it didn’t, it would be “ran when parked,” such was the intoxicatingly obscurantist and humourously basket case quality of the dilapidated hoopties regularly featured. It was all just so… whimsical. And very much in the spirit of The Great Before It Needed To Be Great Again, if you catch my dorifto.iv
But times changed and business opportunities materialised and BaT couldn’t help but launch their own proprietary auction listings in 2014. A critical viewing mass had been attained and all Randy and Gentry had to do was say “yes.”v The original spirit remained true for the briefest of instances but not much longer. As the air-cooled bubble was crescendoing in the 993 market and poised to spill over into the 964s and earlier, BaT was in the right place at the right time to capture a previously fractured but fervently obsessive corner of the online market. It wasn’t necessarily their intent when the auctions were launched, but where once BaT brought together men like Bob and I today,vi it soon brought together an overwhelming horde of europhilic anoraks with a penchant for profuse piles of paperwork,vii the dark side of which has been a dilution of the founding ethos, even if the brighter side is that there’s now a stronger price signal for bubblemobiles of all shapes and sizes.
Bring a Bubble ? It has a ring to it. But the real BaT doesn’t have a search engine anymore.
And that’s not a bad thing.
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- What else could you possibly call customised search results that give you more of what you’ve always known but a sea of sameness ? What kind of personal growth could possibly be achieved if your comfort zone were algorithmically reinforced rather than shattered and rebuilt with unpredictable regularity ? [↩]
- These are both, as far as I can tell, real names. At least as real as birth names can be for Californians. [↩]
- A potentially surprising anecdote about Craigslist : no one in Alberta uses it. At least not seriously. We use Kijiji (now an eBay subsidiary) for most of our classified needs. But Pete, do all Canadians use Kijiji ? Weirdly, Little Timmy, no. QC, ON, and AB use it prolifically, but BC uses Craigslist and the rest of the provinces use a mix of the two plus some other shit they brewed up in their e-bathtubs. Autotrader is still the national standard for car classifieds though. [↩]
- Ie. when men actually worked on their own cars with their neighbours and friends, fixing problems as they emerged with nary a YouTube tutorial or OBDII code. Ah, simpler times! [↩]
- As is every entrepreneur’s dream, no ? [↩]
- Bob was buying the 330`000km Golf TDI (Turbine Diesel Injection?) I was selling today because he, unlike the other nine prospective buyers I was contacted by in the first 24 hours of listing it, had a trailer and didn’t much mind that the battery was flat and the hood stuck shut. When he arrived, the skies pissing rain, he and I spent 30 minutes trying to unstick the primary hood release. We succeeded, of course, but then came the secondary hood release, which wouldn’t have been a big deal on a sane (ie. Japanese) car where the secondary release is but a simple sprung latch by the front grille. Oh no. This was a Volkswagen, which being German, was therefore a bit daft on the practical engineering front (see also the need for turret removal to properly access the frequently broken drives of WWII Panther Ds). So the secondary release was needlessly complex, with overlapping hooks and springs and levers, all of which was further compounded by the plastic t-shaped pull tab having fallen off in my hand the day before when I tried to boost the TDI myself before the first viewing. Turned out this secondary release issue was a common problem. Needless to say that another hour of mucking about, several vain google searches, four wet, cold, and dirty hands, and a half-dozen bleeding knuckles later and Bob drove off with the car as-was. He didn’t know for sure that it even ran because when he left the hood was still stuck shut – exactly like the hatchback lid it so happened – and the battery was still dead. All Bob had to go on as he handed me the modest stack of red fifties and green twenties was my word that the TDI “ran when parked.”
He asked for no maintenance records and again took me at my word that the timing belt and water pump had been replaced within the last 5`000km. He was at least 60-years-old, a good Polish-Canadian country boy, and the kind of straight-shooting rural gent that’s all too refreshing for city slickers like me. He’s the kind a fella you could readily idolise, or at least idealise, certainly if you were already inclined towards such moral depravities as communism and worker’s parties/rights. Bob had a no-nonsense vibe that’s almost unknown amongst double-speaking cosmopolitans who read The New Yorker and The Economist. Thankfully, I don’t think I’ve seen the last of him.
- The benchmark for auctioned vehicles is one like THIS that has every single last goddam piece of paper ever possibly associated with the car since new, including but not limited to the birth certificates of past owners. [↩]