Over the past week, car enthusiasts had their minds blown by an absolute cream puff of a car that you rarely see stock anymore. Duncan Imports was auctioning a 1995 Nissan 240SX with just 590 miles on its odometer on Bring a Trailer. The car was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime deal — and then the atmosphere changed. Enthusiasts found discrepancies between the listing and the car, then discovered that the seller placed a shill bid on their own car. The auction was shuttered with so many questions left unanswered. Here’s what happened with the unicorn 240SX.
On March 24, an incredible car graced Bring a Trailer. The second-generation S14 240SX is a car revered in the drift world and popular with the adults who may have seen them in movies and video games in their youth. So many of them are trashed and run-down today that seeing one with fewer than 1,000 miles is an anomaly. It’s no surprise that bidding was already up to $10,000 only hours after the listing went up.
However, it didn’t take long for enthusiasts to question if the vehicle had been damaged in the past. It first started with concerns about rust and missing fender liners.
The selling account for the dealership’s private collection, username Blucking, responded to the concerns with a comment that the dealership keeps vehicles in a climate-controlled warehouse in the condition that they are acquired. In this case, the fender liners were removed by the original owner of the vehicle and the dealership left it as-is.
But the enthusiasts continued to find issues and questioned the car’s history.
One S14 enthusiast, mav1178, pointed bidders to the Zilvia enthusiast forum, where prominent member CrimsonRockett pointed out issues with the car. Duncan Imports acquired the car in 2019, and it’s been for sale as far back as 2020. In 2021, CrimsonRockett made a post detailing everything that was off about the car:
A few pieces that stood out:
Rust under the passenger frame rail
Replaced radiator core support. You can see non-factory welds on the underside pic. It’s also missing the usual core support stickers.
Foam missing between the upper radiator core support and the radiator.
Replaced bumper support. You can sort of spot the black bumper support. From all of the S14’s I’ve owned, the only ones that had solid black bumper supports were cars that had OEM replacement bars installed after an accident.
The front fender fitment is noticeably off compared to factory where the fenders meet the door. The gap is tight at the top and gets wider as you go down.
The inner fender edges in the engine bay makes me suspect a complete respray on the exterior.
Engine has an aftermarket crank pulley.
Rattle can undercoating on several sections of the car. The front TC rod brackets, fender wells, below the spare tire, etc.
Add it all up, and it seems like the car had damage of some kind done in the few miles that it has been driven. But the Bring a Trailer ad mentioned nothing about damage or repairs.
It wasn’t long before enthusiasts started looking at Duncan Imports’ site for answers, and still on March 24, mav1178 found the answer to why the vehicle appears to have been repaired. On Duncan’s page is the 240SX and a statement about its past:
“This is a very clean 240SX that is all original and in pristine condition. This vehicle originally received minor damage in transit and the original owner purchased it, fixed it up, and kept it practically new since then. This comes with the original window sticker, a clean carfax, and only has 590 original miles.”
Checking the Wayback Machine, the listing has had this statement since at least as far back as 2020.
But the Bring a Trailer listing had absolutely nothing about this history. Enthusiasts demanded to know why. Meanwhile, others continued noting oddities down to the lack of badging and floor mats.
On March 25, even CrimsonRockett joined in, repeating the findings that they posted to Zilvia. They then added to their post, pointing out paint in areas that shouldn’t have paint, a grille from the wrong year and non-OEM fasteners on the VIN plate suggesting that the dashboard had been replaced at one point.
That same day, Bring a Trailer posted a vague comment that “paintwork was disclosed by the seller prior to the auction” and that the person writing the listing failed to mention it. They amended the listing to say that the car’s had “prior paintwork.”
Later that day, Bring a Trailer user Pilatus said that they have seen this vehicle and placed a $19,427 bid.
On March 26, mav1178 made another discovery that only deepened the mystery of this auction. Pilatus was none other than the owner of Duncan Imports, Gary Duncan. On January 14, 2019 the Pilatus account commented on a Honda Del Sol SiR TransTop auction saying, “I want to buy it back! Gary Duncan.” The Del Sol in question was a vehicle previously sold by Duncan Imports.
That would mean that Gary Duncan placed a bid on the 240SX being sold by his own dealership.
The enthusiasts also found that the Pilatus account was a bidder on a 177-mile 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix listed by Duncan Imports in early 2021.
That vehicle failed to sell due to not meeting reserve. That said, all of the 25 vehicles won by the Pilatus account come from a variety of different sellers.
The auction actually continued for another two days until it was shut down on March 28, with Bring a Trailer commenting:
“As noted previously, we corrected and took responsibility for accidentally omitting the seller’s mention of paintwork from the original listing. However, it has since become clear that there are many questions surrounding the condition of this car, far beyond what was initially disclosed. 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. This listing has been withdrawn because we do not believe the issues raised by the community will be addressed by the seller. We appreciate the understanding from and the detective work displayed by our community, and we apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.”
In the wake of the auction, Duncan’s Bring a Trailer account Pilatus and the dealer’s selling account Blucking are still active.
Commenters began to openly wonder about Bring a Trailer’s practices.
What Happened Here?
Duncan Imports has built a name for itself selling quality cars. We’ve featured the dealership and its charismatic owner here a number of times. And while some dealerships have earned a reputation for selling beaters shined up with discount paint jobs, Duncan stands out for selling cars where what you see is what you get.
This made the 240SX’s auction shocking for enthusiasts. The non-disclosed prior damage was hard enough, but to see the dealership bid on its own auction was a twist. News broke detailing the auction, but the initial story didn’t detail about what happened in the background during this auction.
To get to the bottom of this, I reached out to both Bring a Trailer and Gary Duncan.
Duncan confirmed that he is indeed Pilatus, and Blucking is one of the employees of the dealership. Why did he bid on his own auction? Duncan says that he did it to get the auction taken down after Bring a Trailer failed to honor his dealership’s repeated requests to have the listing taken down.
The follow-up, of course, is why would Duncan ask for the auction to be taken down?
It goes back to the initially undisclosed prior repairs and Bring a Trailer’s addition to the listing. In emails shown to Jalopnik, on March 25 and hours before the Pilatus account commented then bid on the listing, Duncan Imports had complained to Bring a Trailer about the fact that the website had failed to properly note the vehicle’s history.
The website offered to detail the vehicle’s prior damage and repairs, redactions mine:
However, by the time the error was caught, the comments section was filled with disparaging speculation about the car and Duncan. Duncan felt that the best resolution at that point was to have the listing taken down.
A manager at Bring a Trailer responded by apologizing for the original error and stating that they will take responsibility by writing a comment about it. The updated listing mentioned prior paintwork but not that the vehicle was damaged during transport to the original selling dealership. As Duncan expected, the updated listing did not stop the speculation.
As for Duncan’s request to have the listing taken down, the manager responded, “We do not withdraw auctions once they are live,” and suggested that Duncan stay positive and keep an upbeat tone in the comments.
Duncan told me that since Bring a Trailer refused to remove the listing and their vague update was ignored, he took an action that he knew would get the listing taken down. He commented on the listing then bid on his own vehicle.
He told me that in hindsight, this was not a great move. The comments section was already on fire about the condition of the vehicle. This merely added gasoline to it. And it didn’t even end the auction as he had hoped. The shill bid took place on March 25, and the auction wasn’t taken down until March 28.
After the shill bid, emails between Bring a Trailer and Gary Duncan show that he continued to request to have the listing taken down. Duncan also wanted to tell his side of the story but alleges that any comment that he posted was taken down by Bring a Trailer. Communications between Duncan and Bring a Trailer show that the platform strongly advised against posting any comment that blamed the platform for why he made the shill bid:
“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.”
As for the 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix, he doesn’t recall what happened with that vehicle aside from it not reaching reserve.
Ultimately, Gary Duncan was able to get an apology posted to the listing’s comments section:
Duncan tells me that he still believes in the power of online sales. He, like the rest of us, liked Bring a Trailer for the awesome cars and the engaging community. But he is not a fan of how internet commenters sometimes create a pile-on.
Still, even though his accounts remain active Duncan says that he is banning himself and Duncan Imports from the platform.
I’m sure many are wondering what’s going to happen with this car, after all, it’s still a rarity.
Duncan is still going to try to sell it. But instead of selling it through an auction, prospective buyers are welcome to visit Duncan Imports and inspect the vehicle for themselves. Worst case, it’ll go back into the collection as likely one of the last 240SX to not have been turned into a drift missile or driven until the floors rotted out.
Some questions about this event still remain. I wanted to ask Bring a Trailer about its policies on removing listings, as well as how it determines whether a comment should or should not be posted. I reached out to multiple people at Bring a Trailer, including those involved in this listing. I also reached out to a former Bring a Trailer employee. None have responded.