Bonhams' twice yearly Staffordshire auctions are held in the heartland of Britain's heritage-rich motorcycle country, regularly throwing up basket cases and barn finds of extraordinary value and deceased estates with significant caches of rare motorcycles. Scour the lots after the event and you'll inevitably kick yourself at the bikes that went for far less than you'd expect. It's the perfect place to pick up an extraordinary mount.
In October 2015, the Bonhams Autumn Staffordshire sale saw the sale of two of the most valuable basket case motorcycles in history when a pair of Brough Superior 981cc SS100 Alpine Grand Sport "projects" sold for £236,700 (US$365,000) and £259,100 (US$400,000), respectively.
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This year, Bonhams Spring Staffordshire sale saw yet another significant "project" bike, and it too fetched the type of money we once associated with rare and expertly restored objets d'art, and not all that long ago.
This Vincent White Shadow was acquired in 1973, but when the purchaser got married shortly thereafter ... in a familiar tale, the motorcycle and marriage were not a harmonious pairing and the bike was ridden from 1973 to 1975 by the groom's father, a motorcycle enthusiast of long standing who found himself with a legendary Vincent 1000cc v-twin superbike to ride gratis.
To fully appreciate the significance of the Vincent White and Black Shadows, they were the late forties equivalent of the Bugatti Veyron – they were the fastest road-going vehicles on European highways until the advent of the Jaguar XK120. The graphic below is from our feature on the fastest road cars in history.
When dad passed away in 1975, the rare bike was put into storage where it remained untouched until the present.
Only 16 Vincent White Shadows are known to exist, which makes them the rarest version of the second most desirable collectible motorcycle marque behind only Brough Superior. Very few White Shadows have ever gone to auction. Those that do make waves, and the last few years has seen quite a storm.
White Shadows making waves at auction
In the Las Vegas January sales of 2015, Bonhams sold a pristine White Shadow sold for US$224,250. Auction Link (Credit: Bonhams)
In 2015, this White Shadow sold for $224,250, setting a new record for a White Shadow ... the bike already held the record as it had gone to auction at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in May, 2009, and was sold by Bonhams for $111,150. It doubled in value in six years, though a complete restoration was undertaken in that time.
In January 2016, another previously unknown White Shadow went to auction and moved the model into motorcycling's price stratosphere.
This is one of those bikes you hear about but never see - a jumble sale unicorn. It was purchased in bits in boxes for £1,200 with a view to restoring what was obviously a Vincent v-twin of indeterminate model. During the restoration it turned out to be a Vincent White Shadow (only 16 extant) and on going through the records, it turned out to be the only red White Shadow ever produced. It sold at auction in January 2016 for $434,000. Auction Link (Credit: Bonhams)
It was therefore logical that the White Shadow at auction at Bonhams Spring Staffordshire sale this week would join the top 100 motorcycles of all time despite it's condition ... and it did, selling for £163,900 (US$210,045) against a pre-sale estimate was £50,000 to £60,000.
Other highlights of the 2017 Bonhams Spring Staffordshire sale included:
$73,689 | 1976 MV Agusta 750S America
At 40 years of age, the MV Agusta 750 is now moving into a vintage that will enable these limited edition handmade rolling sculptures to be fully appreciated as one of the most beautiful, rare and functional collectible motorcycles ever built. This particular bike had just three owners from new and sold for £57,500 (US$73,689), which makes it particularly tasty because it has been signed by four men synonymous with the MV Agusta marque: John Surtees, Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, and Arturo Magni. Sadly, in 41 years, the bike has travelled just 21,352 km (13,267 mi). Auction Link
$85,172 | 1973 MV Agusta 750S
No signatures on this one, but it is one of the original MV Agusta 750s models which are quickly increasing in value to the point where you'll soon be lucky to get a good one under $100K. This one went for £66,460 (US$85,800). Auction Link
£135,900 | Freddie Frith's 1949 World Championship Velocette 350 KTT
This bike was the inaugural winner of the World 350cc Motorcycle Racing Championship in 1949, also winning the most important 350cc race in the world (the Isle of Man Junior TT) in both 1948 and 1949.
There were only five rounds in the 1949 championship and 40-year-old Freddie Frith retired at the end of the season with five wins from five starts to his credit. All the other championship classes for the first year of the first world championship saw multiple winners. Later that year Frith was awarded an OBE by King George VI for "services to British motorcycle racing" and "British prestige" in general.
Though based on the successful over-the-counter Velocette KTT racer, the DOHC single cylinder works racer was clearly faster than the competition in 1949, leaving a procession of Nortons, AJS and KTT Velocettes behind it in every race. The bike sold for an astonishingly reasonable £135,900 (US$174,163) considering it's place in history – as Frith already had the title before the final round, this bike is the very FIRST world championship-winning motorcycle. Auction Link
£7,250 | Mike Hailwood's leathers
When Mike Hailwood retired early from motorcycle racing and went car racing at the end of 1967, many argued he was the best motorcycle racer of all time. He'd won multiple world championships in multiple classes on multiple marques: three 250cc titles (1961, 1966, 1967), two 350cc titles (1966, 1967) and four 500cc titles (1962, 1963, 1964 & 1965).
Hailwood initially drove in Formula One while he was still racing bikes at the highest level, and in an F1 car racing career that saw him drive for Lotus, Lola, Surtees and McLaren, his best placings were a third place in the 1974 South African GP and second place in the 1972 Italian Grand Prix. His best placing in the Le Mans 24 Hours was third in 1969, and his most famous feat in car racing was his spectacular rescue of Clay Regazzoni from a burning car during in the 1973 South African Grand Prix. Hailwood's driving suit caught fire while trying to pull Regazzoni from the car, but after being extinguished by a fire marshal he returned to help rescue Regazzoni, an act for which he was awarded the George Medal, the second highest gallantry award that a British civilian can be awarded.
Despite a place in the history books already, it was his spectacular motorcycle racing comeback that was Hailwood's greatest and best known feat. As a positively geriatric 38-year-old, he returned to top flight motorcycle racing 11 years after he had left it and famously won on the Ducati NCR 900 at the 1978 Isle of Man TT, becoming the poster child of the baby boomers. Man caves all over the world were adorned with the famous Ducati Hailwood victory poster.
A huge part of that comeback was due to his relatively gentle return from retirement, which began when he was asked to ride at a few classic bike events in Australia. He rode the events, the bug bit him a second time and he became friends with the guy who beat him in his first few comeback races: Jim Scaysbrook (Jim and Mike pictured in period above). Hailwood then shared a Ducati 900 with Scaysbrook under Avon tires sponsorship in several distance production events and many of the races he rode in Australia as he returned to leading edge competitiveness were ridden in these leathers. They sold for £7,250 (US$9,360), which I think rates an excellent long-term investment. There is only one "Mike The Bike."
Three Brough Superiors in the Top 10 lots
The Brough Superior marque continued to perform in general with three bikes in the top 10 prices at Staffordshire: a 1926 981cc SS80/100 (pictured above and estimated to sell for between £75,000 and £95,000) achieved £126,940 (US$163,940), a 1930 OHV 680 Black Alpine (estimated at £100,000 to £140,000), realized £112,380 (US$145,140) and the 1929 OHV 680 (estimated at £45,000 to £55,000) realized £68,700 (US$118,560).