The collectible motorcycle market took a confidence hit at last month's Monterey Car Week and the sale of the famous Robert White Collection in London yesterday seemed to confirm that motorcycle values are well down at present, at least on the surface. The most interesting aspect though, was that the collection was being sold for charity following the death of Robert White and all but four of the 614 lots in the sale were sold.
The head of Bonhams' motorcycle department, Ben Walker, told us, "the sale surpassed expectations in total, with close to US$3 million being raised and we're hoping that when the final lots are sold, the new cancer treatment wing at Dorset County Hospital can be built entirely with the proceeds of the sale."
Robert White's story was told in great detail in a July, 2016 article entitled Five perfect copies of priceless motorcycles for sale and White was an avid collector of several genres of "big boys toys" including watches, cameras and cars, in addition to motorcycles.
Even White's beloved camera collection (be became wealthy in the photographic trade) fared well in comparison to the motorcycles, with this Leica MP-294 (below) estimated at £15,000 to £20,000, selling for £26,250 (US$34,200).
The Leica MP was introduced by Leitz in 1956 as a Leica M for professionals and was used by world famous photo journalists such as David Douglas Duncan and Alfred Eisenstaedt.
Not surprisingly, the cars sold well in excess of the highest priced motorcycle, with a 1930 Bentley 41/2 Litre Tourer (Lot 612 – top left) selling for £315,100 ($410,540), a 1958 AC ACE Roadster (Lot 614 - top right) selling for £180,700 ($235,432), a 1959 AC ACE-Bristol Roadster (Lot 611 - bottom left) selling for £254,620 ($331,741) and a 1931 Bugatti Type 51 Re-Creation by Pursang (Lot 613 – bottom right) selling for £124,700 ($162,470).
This last sale represents an incredible bargain at a fraction of the cost of a new replica from the famous Argentine Company Pursang, which I wrote about in this year's Techno-Classica report. Pursang is the company you go to if you want a period race car, such as a Type 35 Bugatti or Alfa 8C Monza, produced with authentic everything, right down to the finest detail, all brand new.
In that report, I wrote: Let's say you've just spent a couple of million on a period race car of significant provenance and desperately want to race it, but it's too valuable to race with a clear conscience because it should be in a museum. Well you can take it to them and they'll replicate it – perfectly! Then you can get crazy in the replica while the real one stays warm and safe in your climate-controlled garage.
Also exceeding the highest priced motorcycle was another of White's most treasured toys, a rare 18K gold limited edition George Daniels watch, which sold for £224,500 ($292,480).
The circumstances were right to pick up a bargain though, because nearly all the 614 lots were sold without reserve and only one of the motorcycles, the MV Meccanica Verghera replica of Agostini's 1972 500cc three-cylinder MV Agusta failed to make reserve and as we went to press, three interested parties were negotiating to purchase the bike (pictured below) post auction. If you think you might be interested, give Ben Walker a call at Bonhams in London on +44 (0)208 963 2817.
Still available – MV Agusta 1972 500cc three-cylinder replica
In 1972, the MV Agusta from which this bike was replicated won the first 11 Grands Prix of the season (10 to Agostini, one to Alberto Pagani when Ago's bike experienced problems), before doing as had become customary for the factory and missing the final Grand Prix once the titles were sewn up. Hence, it had a perfect Grand Prix record – 11 starts, 11 wins.
Such was the dominance of MV Agusta that it regularly went through entire seasons undefeated. No Formula One car has ever achieved this feat. This 1972 500cc three-cylinder race bike was the first MV Agusta that the Kay's replicated and the Black Eagle Racing Team's race results in the Isle of Man Classic 500cc TT speak for themselves, with Dean Harrison taking first place at an average speed of 108.855 mph (175.185 km/h) per lap and Lee Johnson taking third with a 107.972 mph (173.764 km/h) average in 2015.
In the recently run 2016 Isle of Man Classic TT, Dean Harrison finished second at an average speed of 111.070 mph, behind the highly-modified Paton of perennial IOM TT winner John McGuinness. That's the winners circle in the 2016 Isle of Man Classic TT above with Dean on the left and John McGuinness center.
Automotive technology has come a long way in 50 years and many of the bikes fielded in classic events are now producing 50 percent more rear wheel horsepower than the equivalent factory racers did in their time. Metallurgy and internally resculpted cylinder heads and cam profiles make up most of that difference, but more accurate machining, better fuels, lubricants and sealants all add up, and vastly improved suspension internals and tire construction complete the transformation.
The MV Agusta race bikes, though, are identical in every respect to the bikes raced by Agostini and Pagani, with the sole exception of an electronic ignition that is primarily there to ensure that the bikes won't exceed their rev limits and make an expensive bang.
What's more, despite the massive leap in performance of all other bikes on the classic racing grid and their complete authenticity to the period, the MV Agusta replicas are still always on the rostrum.
These are not just pretty replicas, they do the business exactly as they did 50 years ago. Mark Kay of MV Meccanica Verghera estimates the price to create a new 500 three-cylinder replica like this one would be in the vicinity of £115,000 to £120,000, so snaring the bike under the estimate of £70,000 to £90,000 would represent a 50 percent discount on a new replica price.
Of those bikes that did sell, quite a few people used the low estimates to snare a bargain.
$115,827 – 1951 Vincent Black Shadow Series-C
An unrestored, matching numbers, 1951 Vincent Black Shadow Series-C (Lot 564) was the highest priced motorcycle at the sale, selling for £88,900 ($115,827 on the exchange rates of the day). The bike was purchased by Robert White in 2009 for £47,700.
$107,019 – 1921 Megola 640cc Tourer
This 1921 Megola 640cc Tourer (Lot 610) sold for £82,140 ($107,019), well below estimate for the ultra rare machine with the unique feature that it's engine is a five cylinder radial located inside the front wheel.
$83,671 – 1977 MV Agusta 861cc Magn
A genuine Magni MV Agusta manufactured by Magni in Italy, a company founded by legendary MV Agusta engineer Arturo Magni, whose career began under Piero Remor (designer of the Gilera 500/4 featured elsewhere in this article) at Gilera and moved to MV Agusta in 1950.
Magni's career then encompassed the entirety of MV Agusta's race activity until the factory race effort finished in 1976. These bikes are based on the 750 Sport and a Magni-designed chain drive conversion turns them into very powerful and much sought-after road and race bikes that routinely sell for more than $50,000. This bike features the chain drive conversion, dry clutch, 2LS front brake, and a front-mounted oil cooler and was raced at both the Isle of Man TT and Southern 100 with the scrutineers' stickers still on the fairing (most recent 2006) and has been signed by Phil Read (dated 1992). The bike (Lot 595) sold for £64,220 ($83,671).
An older restoration of one of the later MV Agusta 750S models with just 12,500 kilometers recorded, Lot 584 sold for £56,350 ($73,418).
$73,287 – 1968/69 MV Agusta 350cc three-cylinder
Grand Prix Racing Bike Re-creation
Another of MV Meccanica Verghera's re-creations, this 1968/69 model 350cc three-cylinder MV Agusta (Lot 598) sold for £56,250 ($73,287), on an estimate of between £50,000 and £60,000.
In period, this was the fastest 350cc class bike in the world. In 1968 it won every 350cc Grand Prix (seven from seven), and in 1969 it again won the first 10 Grands Prix straight, then with the marque having clocked up enough points to take both 350cc and 500cc titles, MV Agusta did not attend the final two races of the season. That is, this bike won 17 straight Grands Prix before being replaced.
The deal between Robert White and the Kays involved making one 350cc four-cylinder bike for the Kay's racing effort, now known as the Black Eagle Racing Team, and one for White, with no other copies of the bike to be produced while White was alive. When the Kay bike finished third in the Classic 350cc TT at the Isle of Man, White bought that bike too, and a third machine was constructed so the Kays could keep racing.
We asked Mark Kay if he would now build any more replicas of the 1968/1969 350/3 MV Agusta and his response was, "If someone came with the money and wanted one, of course we would ... it's what we do."
The price? "Around £120,000 to £125,000, depending on whether they wanted to parade it or race it," said Mark, indicating that the additional work required to build a machine to be mercilessly thrashed required considerable additional effort.
Just a few months back with the USD-GBP exchange rates vastly different, you'd have paid $200,000 for an identical replica, and the Brexit devaluation discount means a new one is now worth $160,000. Buying one of these bikes for £56,250 ($73,287) is a steal, in my humble opinion.
$71,919 – 1968/2004 EGLI-Vincent 998cc
An Egli-Vincent built for White in 2004 by the renowned Vincent specialist, Patrick Godet, Lot 582 sold for £55,200 ($71,919).
$71,919 – 1957 Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle
The 1957 Gilera 500cc Grand Prix Race Replica was the first of the Kay Engineering race bike recreations. Gilera dominated the first decade of world championship motorcycle racing, winning the premier class in 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, and finished racing at the end of 1957 after winning the championship one last time. As the final version of a bike with a decade of world championship-winning development behind it, the 1957 model is one of the most desirable racing bikes in history.
As there were so few built, the surviving factory Gilera fours from the period are now in museums or closely held in private collections, and thus extremely unlikely ever to be offered for public sale. With the explosion in interest and participation in classic racing of the last few decades, it was inevitable that it would eventually lead to the construction of replicas of these precious thoroughbreds, and so it came to pass.
After obtaining a loan machine, dismantling and copying every last nut and bolt, the Kays began producing replicas of the final 1957 championship-winning Gilera four – perfect copies of the bike which won all but one Grands Prix that year (1957), with the Gilera fours finishing first, second and fourth in the championship ridden by Libero Liberati, Bob McIntyre and Geoff Duke, respectively.
In all, MV Meccanica Vergerha has now made six 1957 Gilera four replicas, and two have previously come up for auction, one that sold for £84,000 ($138,667) at Bonhams' Stafford in April, 2011, and another that fetched £76,300 ($112,184) in April, 2009 in the aftermath of the global economic calamity.
When the hammer finally fell, this bike (Lot 588) sold for £55,200 ($71,919), the lowest priced of the three that have been to auction.
$70,030 – 1920 ACE 1,220cc Four
$68,923 – 1974 Ducati 750SS
Slightly compromised in that it is not a matching numbers bike, the bike is regardless one of the original 401 examples of the green-framed 72 hp Desmo 750 SS which was produced to celebrate the Ducati 1-2 victory of Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari in the 1972 Imola 200 Mile race. That non-matching engine number cut $100,000 from the price, as a new world record for the 750 SS was achieved just a month ago when Gooding & Company sold a near identical 1974 Ducati 750 Supersport for $176,000, beating out the previous record of $152,885 (sold for €114,371) set at the Paris Retromobile auctions in February, 2013 by Artcurial.
$68,402 – 1929 Henderson Streamline KJ Four
$68,402 – MV Agusta 500cc Grand Prix Racing Motorcycle
This model was the last of the MV four cylinder race bikes to win a World Championship, with Phil Read and Franco Bonera finishing first and second in the riders' championship, and the bike taking five (read, four wins, with one win to Bonera) of the eight Grands Prix that year. Yamaha's four cylinder two-stroke 500 won three of the Grands Prix that year and the inevitability of complete two-stroke domination of the class was becoming clear.
It was the Italian company's last world championship and it's seventeenth consecutive 500cc title. Hence the 1974 MV Agusta 500cc four is the last of the breed of Italian multi-cylinder racers that dominated Grand Prix Motorcycling for it's first quarter century.
Many decades ago, I can remember standing next to one of the original bikes in the pits one day as an MV Agusta mechanic warmed it up before Agostini emerged, feeling supremely privileged to get so close to the stuff of legends. Now, I can scarcely believe that you can buy an exact replica.
MV Meccanica Vergerha has now re-created four 1974 MV Agusta 500cc fours and it is the most expensive motorcycle the company has produced, with Mark Kay estimating the current cost for an identical bike would be in the vicinity of £210,000 ($275,000).
Almost apologetically, he added, "it's the amount of work in them that makes that difference." "The 500 MV Agusta is a work of art on the inside too", he said. "It's a thoroughbred in every sense. By comparison, the Gilera which was the best in the world in it's time, even respecting that it is 20 years older, well ... it's a tractor by comparison."
Bonhams hasn't posted an estimate on the four-cylinder 500cc MV Agusta replica yet, but as Kay has elucidated, it costs a quarter million dollars just to make one, and while it may not be a "real one" it replicates exactly the same experience Giacomo Agostini would have had as he kept the two-stroke hordes at bay for one last win at Nurburgring on August 29, 1976.
In the end, the bike sold for one quarter the price of a new one, with Lot 597 fetching £52,500 ($68,402).
$67,424 – 1972 MV Agusta 750GT
$64,428 – 1977 MV Agusta 789cc 750S America
The America is the rarer and more valuable of the two MV Agusta 750 S variants, with this fully-faired 1977 MV Agusta 789cc 750S America (Lot 585) selling for £49,450 ($64,428).