One of the downsides of spending a lot of time scouring auction results is that the excitement born out of outrageous hammer prices begins to wane.
The more you understand about how markets are influenced — and the more data you process that validates or disqualifies any assumptions you may have about those markets — the less likely it is that you’ll be surprised by “unexpected” results.
Here at ACC, we do the heavy lifting to make sure surprises are justifications, not contradictions. Every now and then, however, even we get caught picking our chins up off the floor.
Editor Pickering knows that I have a soft spot for both K5 Blazers and the Ringbrothers, a Wisconsin-based duo who I believe build some of the most interesting and thoughtful custom muscle cars and hot rods in the country. So when a K5 built by Mike and Jim popped up on Bring a Trailer in April, he was quick to let me know. Over the following few days, we watched the online bid on Lot 30593 go from strong, to too much, to absolutely out of sight. When the auction closed, I could not believe what I had just witnessed.
I’ve written at length about classic 4x4s over the past year or two, including in last issue’s column, but nothing I’d seen or written about prepared me for this result. Watching a lightly modified first-gen K5 Blazer sell publicly for $300,000 felt a lot like a hundred-year storm packing Category 5 hurricane winds ripping through the market.
The more I thought about it, the more the storm analogy began to make sense.
For a hurricane to form, the conditions have to be just right. The water below the storm must be the perfect temperature, the air below the storm must be the right density, and the clouds above must form just so. Even then, hurricanes are not exactly considered rarities, and most fizzle out before ever making landfall. However, when the perfect conditions align, unpredictability precedes the storm and devastation follows.
By the time this particular Blazer sold on April 24, 2020, conditions for a market-swamping result had slowly been brewing for years. Values for first-gen K5s have done nothing but surge upward over the past five years, and, most notably, have done so in spite of many of the conventions we typically apply to high-value markets.
Buyers have been favoring customization over originality, and, for the most part, eschew anything related to provenance entirely. Top-dollar muscle cars come equipped with impeccable documentation and original equipment. Four-bys? Not so much.
The truck’s builders have been on a bit of surge themselves the past several years, and they’ve done so the hard way. They don’t star in their own reality series and they don’t build 50 cars a year, but what they do build is hard to ignore.
They put themselves on the map in the mid-2000s building cutting-edge Pro-Touring-styled Mustangs out of the back of their family-owned collision shop. Their aggressive paint schemes and ornately machined one-off tidbits aren’t for everyone, but for people like me, they check boxes we didn’t even know were on the list.
Cars like the “Reactor” ’67 Mustang, “Razor” ’69 Camaro and “Bailout” ’66 Mustang reshaped the high-end Pro-Touring game in profound ways that continue to influence today — which is another reason this Blazer sale seems so strange.
Ringbrothers built a nearly identical K5, dubbed “Seaker,” in 2018 that was unveiled to the public at the SEMA show that year. Sporting steel wheels and a sophisticated, subdued color scheme, Seaker left many of us scratching our heads and just a wee bit disappointed. Personally, I really liked the truck, but it lacked much of the signature style I had come to expect from Ringbrothers builds. Take a look at their “Adrnln” Pantera and you’ll see what I mean.
Our K5 here appears to be a second pass at Seaker, but with a ZZ motor replacing the LS3 we saw in the original. I spied “Recoil,” a Ringbrothers-built ’66 Chevelle in the background of one of the BaT garage pics, so maybe a loyal customer just had to have a Seaker of his own? Whatever the reason, why would one of Ringbrothers’ least-dramatic, least-complex and least-famous builds bring some of the biggest money any of their rides have ever seen at auction? Did the auction itself play a role?
I’d be remiss if I were to exclude the influence of the auction platform as a factor here. Bring a Trailer, which started as an enthusiast blog, has matured in delivery, presentation and clientele. In doing so, BaT has cemented itself as a legitimate auction experience.
However, out of the 30 or so K5s that have sold previously on BaT, not a single one managed to crack the $50k mark. Admittedly, none were in the same league as a Ringbrothers build, but a $250k upcharge gives me goosebumps.
A new normal?
So what about the wild-card factor? You know, the one that has us all sitting at home twiddling our thumbs and testing our relationships? Did the unforeseen upheaval of our daily lives somehow play a part here? Did we just watch a perfect storm demolish our expectations in a once-in-a-generation upheaval, or should we move the line where credible valuation lies when it comes to celebrity builders and trending markets?
The clouds are parting and the dust is settling, but it’s going to take me a while to recover from this one.
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect storm blowing this way again anytime soon, but knowing it’s possible means I’ll never be able to look out across the horizon the same way again.