The motorcycle world will hold its breath on March 20 & 21 when the largest and most significant collection of motorcycles ever auctioned at one time will sell at "no reserve" in Las Vegas. The catalog for the E.J. Cole Collection Auction reads more like a history of American-made motorcycles than a normal auction catalogue, with examples of many of the most important motorcycles ever made in the United States going under the hammer.
More than that, I'm somewhat surprised at the restraint being used by Mecum MidAmerica in touting this landmark auction. The March issue of Mecum's monthly magazine is running a cover story entitled "The Motorcycle auction of the Century?" – yep, with a question mark.
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While acknowledging that it might be a bit soon to predict that a bigger auction won't ensue in the next 85 years, there is no question that the E.J. Cole Collection represents the most important motorcycle auction that has been held in the 130 years leading up to 2015!
When we recently discussed the possibility that the ex-McQueen Cyclone Board Track Racer might sell for $1,000,000 or more, we tried to emphasize the significance of the Cole Collection and to support this argument, we've pulled a few statistics.
Only 27 motorcycles have sold for more than $300,000 at auction. The Cole Collection contains five motorcycles which Mecum Midamerica estimates will sell for at least that amount. In essence, that means the very top tier of the elite rare motorcycle market could grow by more than 15 percent or more in a day.
Beyond the spectacular star exhibits (such as the highly original Harley strap tank pictured with lifetime collector E.J. Cole above), the 220 bike collection is also rich in quality to an astonishing depth. Gizmag is currently in the process of mapping the motorcycle auction market and so far we've databased 330 motorcycles that have fetched more than $70,000 at auction.
If the motorcycles within the Cole collection sell within Mecum-MidAmerica's estimates, that number will increase by roughly one third – 110 motorcycles, over 100 of them in one session on one day.
We'll see what happens on that momentous day (March 21), but it's also worth noting that the estimates for the auction are generally conservative – it's a "no reserve auction" and estimates always tend to be a bit light when there's no lower limit on pricing, in order to attract a greater universe of bidders.
There are some hidden gems still in this collection and Mecum MidAmerica called upon a group of venerated motorcycle historians to help pull the background together on some of the rare machinery in the collection for the catalog, and a "bolter" might well emerge if two collectors covet the same rare motorcycle. In the world of collectibles, value is in the eye of the beholder.
Undoubtedly Ron Christenson (Mecum MidAmerica Motorcycles president), Dana Mecum (Mecum President) and E.J Cole (nonagenarian, lifetime motorcycle collector and the vendor) discussed the possibility of breaking such a momentous collection into two parts because auctioning so many motorcycles of gravitas on one day might detract from the overall result.
We think they've made the right call in doing it all at once because the collection is so significant that it will attract the undivided attention of every serious motorcycle collector in the world, and one hopes that Mecum's tech team is ready for the avalanche of global viewers on the internet. This is one event worth watching – if you're not in the same time zone, set your alarm clocks for Vegas time at 4pm on March 20 then 11am on March 21. Once upon a time, and not that long ago, a room of bidders could only carry so much money. Nowadays, with the internet expanding participation globally, the universe of bidders is infinite and unlikely to allow much to escape unnoticed of a representative price.
While the elite end of the market will most likely see some new records set, because the reality of what's on offer will not escape the heavyweight collectors, those not fully immersed in this complex marketplace might not realize what an opportunity the auction represents to purchase bikes which may not emerge again for many years. Accordingly, on the day, I expect we'll see most motorcycles on offer exceed their estimates due to this last-chance-to-buy imperative.
American Motorcycles moving to the fore of collectibles
What's more, the Cole Collection is comprised almost entirely of American-manufactured motorcycles and the injection of such a large quantity of American bikes into the highest category of collectible prices is also certain to realign marketplace statistics.
Currently, the top 50 motorcycles ever to sell at auction contains 27 British-made bikes and 18 American-made bikes.
The Top 100 contains 44 British bikes and 41 American bikes.
The Top 150 contains 61 British bikes and 58 American bikes.
The Top 200 contains 87 British bikes and 75 American bikes.
The Top 250 contains 108 British bikes and 92 American bikes.
The Top 300 contains 125 British bikes and 113 American bikes.
Much has been written and written about the fabled British motorcycle industry. With marques such as HRD-Vincent, Brough Superior, Norton, McEvoy, Matchless, Douglas, AJS, Ariel, Coventry-Eagle, Montgomery-Anzani, Triumph, BSA, Royal Enfield and Velocette, it would be reasonable to expect that the British industry would supply the bulk of the most collectible motorcycles ever sold at auction.
A look through the top 250 motorcycles ever sold at auction shows that perception is not indeed reality – there are 15 British marques and 108 British bikes represented in the top 250 motorcycles sold at auction.
The vast majority of British bikes come from Vincent-HRD (51) and Brough Superior (39), with a sprinkling of bikes from the other known brands: McEvoy-JAP (3), Matchless (2), Norton (2), Douglas (2), AJS (1), Ariel (1), Coventry-Eagle (1), Grindlay-Peerless (1), Montgomery-Anzani (1), Scott (1), Triumph (1), Zenith (1) plus a one-off tribute bike to the Ferrari brand which we've allocated to Great Britain because of its British design and manufacture. Names you might expect to see on this list but don't, include BSA, Royal Enfield, Panther, Sunbeam and Velocette.
America currently trails the United Kingdom on the top 250 list with 92 bikes, but exceeds it considerably in the number of marques represented because there are many more American marques which are highly collectible. This was obvious in our first attempt at analyzing the industry with our initial top 100 analysis last year, when we realized that the American industry wasn't far behind the British industry in supplying highly collectible and valuable bikes.
Now that we've deepened our statistical analysis to the top 250 (to be published soon), it can be said that there are 20 American motorcycle manufacturers currently in the top 250 motorcycles: Harley-Davidson (29 individual bikes), Indian (21), Crocker (9), Flying Merkel (8), Pierce (4), Pope (3), Henderson (3), Curtiss (2), Iver Johnson (2), Ace (1), Cleveland (1), Cyclone (1), Excelsior (1), Excelsior-Henderson (1), Hudson (1), Marsh Metz (1), Minneapolis (1), Royal Pioneer (1), Sears (1), and Winchester (1).
In addition, a cursory look through the motorcycles on offer during the Cole Collection auction indicates that there are quite a few marques with the potential to join that list during the two day auction.
Those American marques which stand a realistic chance (based on auctioneer's estimates) of join the existing 20 American motorcycle manufacturers in the top 250 include: American, Armac, Crouch, Detroit, Eagle, Emblem, Erie, Flanders, Geer, Imperial, Merkel-Light, Militaire, Peerless, Racycle, Rambler-Thor, Reading Standard, Theim, Thor, Thoroughbred, Wagner and Yale.
During the EJ Cole auction, those motorcycles will influence the statistics to such an extent that the motorcycle marketplace will undergo a significant adjustment, tilting the "most collectible" numbers in favor of American bikes for the first time ever. By March 23, there may be two times, going on three times as many American marques in the top 250 collectible motorcycles as British manufacturers.
As America's wealthy collectors are recognizing the heritage of the country's once glorious motorcycle industry, American bikes have become progressively more desirable, and on March 20-21 the tectonic plates of collectible motorcycles will move visibly in just a few hours.
Vincent will still be the most represented marque but ...
While it's unlikely that the most represented motorcycle model and marque in the top 250 auction results will change, the statistics for the most represented marques will change.
The Vincent Black Shadow is by far the most represented model in the top 250 motorcycles to sell at auction with 43 Black Shadows (or close variants – White Shadows, Black Lightnings etc.) plus another eight HRD-Vincents of various hues (predominantly Rapides), accounting in total for 51 bikes in the top 250, giving it better than a one-in-five share and its iconic Black Shadow the heavyweight title for a single model.
Harley is set to relegate Brough Superior to third place
When we did our first analysis of the top 100 motorcycles last year, Brough Superior dominated the space, with 24 bikes in the top 100 and even today Brough still has eight of the top 14 most expensive bikes ever sold at auction – all before Vincent makes its first appearance on the list.
We suggested that Vincent would probably take over as top marque once we'd refined the depth of our analysis to 200 and beyond and that has proven to be true.
Rarity is one of the factors – in the 21 years of Brough Superior production, just over 3000 were produced and approximately 1000 of these bikes still survive today.
During Vincent-HRD's slightly longer production lifetime (1928 – 1955), 6872 bikes were produced and roughly 3000 still exist, so that's why there's a stronger Vincent presence in the top 250 than in the top 100. The scarcity of Broughs at least partially accounts for the higher prices they fetch.
With the sale of the Cole Collection though, Harley-Davidson is very likely to overtake Brough Superior as the second-most represented marque.
Currently, Brough Superior has 39 bikes in the top 250 and Harley-Davidson has 28. A quick look through the list of bikes going to auction in Las Vegas on March 20-21 indicates that even with a few bikes failing to sell, Harley should nab second place on the listing. Pushing the revered Brough Superior name into third spot is quite some feat.
Mecum-MidAmerica challenges to become the top motorcycle auction house for elite motorcycles
Bonhams has dominated elite motorcycle auction sales for the last decade, and has sold 133 of the top 250 most valuable motorcycles at auction for a 53.2 percent share of the two-wheel collecting stratosphere.
The recently amalgamated Mecum MidAmerica Motorcycles which will conduct the sale of the E.J. Cole Collection, has sold 59 of the top 250 for a 23.6 percent market share and Gooding & Company is a distant third with 15 bikes for 6 percent. The sale by Mecum MidAmerica of over 100 individual bikes with pre-sale price estimates indicating they are capable of forcing their way into the top 250 though, is going to realign the numbers.
When one bike forces its way into the top 250, it forces another out, which may have been sold by Mecum MidAmerica, Bonhams or another auction house, so we've run a few simulations on the numbers and we expect that by the time the hammer falls of the final lot on March 21, Mecum MidAmerica will be challenging Bonhams for leadership in the motorcycle auction market for elite motorcycles, with both auction houses having sold roughly 40 percent each of the top 250 motorcycles.
America consolidates its position as the home of classic motorcycle collecting
America is already the home of classic motorcycle collecting. Of the top 250 motorcycles ever sold at auction, 151 were sold in the United States (60.4%), and 85 in the United Kingdom (34.0%).
By the end of this auction, the percentage sold in the United States will be a lot higher – perhaps exceeding the figures of classic car auctions – with more than 80 percent of the marketplace being possible a week from now.
As the above image indicates so clearly, the buyers of classic motorcycles come from all over the world, with most of the serious collectors based in America, then Europe (primarily the UK), then Japan and then Australia, but with the internet now enabling bidders to indulge their passions and participate in auctions anywhere, it's also clear that sellers are beginning to channel the best motorcycles (and cars) through auctions held in the United States.
Three Harley-Davidson Strap Tank Singles
The highest auctioneers estimate of all the bikes in the Cole Collection has been placed on one of the three Harley-Davidson Strap Tank Singles in the collection.
The strap tank single is the popular name given to Harley-Davidson's first motorcycle, a 440cc single cylinder motorcycle with Nickel-plated steel straps attaching the oil and main fuel tank to the frame. These bikes are the most sought-after of all Harley-Davidson models and when the Otis Chandler Collection was sold in 2006, a 1907 Strap Tank Single sold for $352,000. It will be interesting to see how this bike sells because the original Otis Chandler bike which set the record for a "strap tank" appeared at auction again earlier this year with the Barrett-Jackson sale of the Ron Pratte Collection and only fetched $165,000.
This bike is one of the first 100 Harley-Davidsons ever built. Its serial number suggests it was the 37th bike made in 1907, making it the 94th bike overall, including the original two prototypes. Strap tank single Harleys are rare, but the striking aspect of this bike is its originality.
Not only does the bike present with completely original paint, it is on just its third owner. This bike was purchased by Cole from the Leo Bongers estate auction in 1993 and Bongers father was the original purchaser of the bike in 1907.
The two other strap tanks to go under the auctioneer's gavel in Vegas will be reproductions, albeit exquisitely built reproductions.
One, a 1904 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank Single (Lot S157 – pictured directly above) is estimated to fetch $250,000 to $275,000.
Why so much for a replica, albeit a well-researched, painstakingly reproduced replica? Well, Harley only built one bike in 1903 and one in 1904, the second one being the first Harley-Davidson to compete in a racing event.
The other is a replica of a 1908 Strap Tank Single is (Lot S156 - pictured above) estimated to fetch between $200,000 and $225,000.
Ex-Steve-McQueen 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer
Lot S57 – estimated $650,000 to $750,000
We've previously written up this bike in great detail and consider it possible that it will sell for $1,000,000 though the publishing of the auctioneer's estimates seems to indicate I've been a little too optimistic.
1911 Flying Merkel Twin Racer
Joseph Merkel only made bikes for 15 years, and under three different names (Merkel, Merkel Light and Flying Merkel), but his motorcycles are among the most collectible in the world. As previously mentioned, there are eight Flying Merkels in the top 250 motorcycles ever sold at auction, the fourth most collectible American motorcycle behind only Harley-Davidson (29), Indian (21) and Crocker (9). No other marque comes close in motorcycle history from an American perspective.
This 1911 Flying Merkel board track racer is in completely original condition, and is regarded as one of the central gems of the entire E.J. Cole collection. We covered the importance of board track racing to America's motorcycle heritage in the Cyclone article recently, and this big v-twin embodies that character.
1942 Crocker V Twin – the American superbike
Not a lot of Crockers come to market because only around 100 of the v-twins were ever built between 1936 and 1942 and only 72 are known to still exist. Those that make it to auction invariably sell for spectacular numbers, and several have been rumored to have changed hands privately for more than $500,000. This 1942 Crocker V Twin (Lot S69) is estimated $300,000 to $350,000.
The last few Crockers to go under the auctioneers gavel surfaced at Pebble Beach in 2012, when Bonhams sold three in consecutive lots at its Quail Lodge sale. First up was a 1937 model which fetched $291,000, then a 1937 Small Tank for $302,000, and then a 1940 Big Tank also sold for $302,000. Given those prices, it's reasonable to expect that this bike might fetch a lot more.
Prior to the appearance of those three bikes at Pebble Beach, RM Auctions sold a 1939 Big Tank model in June, 2008 for $302,500, MidAmerica sold a 1941 Big Tank model in Las Vegas in January, 2007 and Bonhams & Butterfield sold a 1937 Crocker "Hemi-Head" for $276,500 at the Silverman Museum auction in November, 2006.
The only other Crocker V-twin to reach auction in recent times was sold at Gooding & Co's auction of the Otis Chandler Collection in 2006 when a 1939 Crocker "Small Tank" sold for $236,500, though a replica 1929 Indian 45ci Scout with a Crocker overhead-valve conversion sold for $64,350 in May, 2008.
The Crocker is so sought after for good reason – it was very fast, and could blow anything of its day "into the weeds." Just how a Crocker would fare against a Vincent or Brough Superior of similar vintage is a point that will be argued over for many years to come.
1915 Henderson Model D With Rogers Sidecar
Founded by the grandchildren of Alexander Winton, the founder of the Winton Motor Co., William G. Henderson and Tom W Henderson offered the fastest, most reliable and most advanced motorcycle of the era in the form of the Henderson Four.
Produced from 1911 to 1917, when it became part of the Schwinn empire, the two-speed Model D long-wheelbase (65 inch) 1915 Henderson Four cost $335 and although Henderson offered a sidecar option at the time, the motorcycle on offer here is a Rogers item. Other features of note on this machine include an aftermarket passenger saddle, full acetylene lighting set, and a Klaxon horn. This 1915 Henderson Model D With Rogers Sidecar (Lot S80) is estimated to fetch between $250,000 and $300,000
1930 Harley-Davidson Factory Hillclimber
One of Harley-Davidson's most successful and important racing machines, the "DAH" hillclimber is among the very few pre-Knucklehead OHV models produced, winning three national hillclimb titles.
Only 25 of these specialized racers were produced between 1929-33, and this machine has a documented competition history ridden by Windy Lindstrom, and it was also used by sculptor Jeff Decker as a model for his famous statue "The Hillclimber," which sits outside the Harley-Davidson museum.
Ex-Steve-McQueen 1917 Henderson 4
The Henderson Four was one of the largest and fastest motorcycles of its time, and though it was produced from 1912 until 1931, 1917 was the last year of production of the "true" Henderson Four lineage, as the company was purchased by Schwinn in October of that year, and production was moved from Detroit to Chicago and the company became known as Excelsior-Henderson. The Henderson Four was the first production motorcycle to be capable of exceeding 100 mph and many celebrity owners ensued, amongst them Henry Ford (who bought a 1917 model just like this one) and aviator Charles Lindberg.
The most important celebrity owner for motorcycle enthusiasts is of course, Steve McQueen and this bike (Lot S95) was formerly owned by McQueen and purchased at the Steve McQueen estate auction in Las Vegas in 1984.
1928 Excelsior Big Bertha Hillclimber
A factory hillclimb machine of which only a handful were ever built. The full story is fascinating. This bike was "bleeding edge" racing exotica when it was created using the Super X crankcase with a pair of racing cylinders from Excelsior’s 30.5 cu-in. single-cylinder half-mile dirt track engines.
1910 Detroit Single
Though only built for two years (1910-11), the Detroit motorcycle uses very large-diameter tubing for its frame, which contains both the gas and oil tanks, similar to the Pierce motorcycle. The Detroit features a direct flat-belt drive and leading-link fork, and the engine is a 30.5 cu-in. (500cc) F-head single, with the throttle and ignition controlled by twistgrips on the handlebars, and rods to the carburetor and points assembly.
This 1910 Detroit single is built around an original engine, and is extremely rare, being one of just three known to exist.
1934 Crocker Speedway Racer
The precursor to the famous Crocker v-twin, Albert Crocker built just 31 speedway bikes before turning his hand to the bikes which made him a global name. This is one of them, and not surprisingly, they don't appear at auction very often. MidAmerica sold the last one to appear at auction in Las Vegas in 2011 for $151,200 (including buyer's commission). This 1934 Crocker Speedway Racer (Lot S73) is estimated to fetch between $150,000 and $180,000
1917 Henderson 4 Generator Model
This 1917 Henderson is an older restoration, but incorporates the ‘generator’ option for the Model G which was a very expensive upgrade and hence very rare. Only six of these machines are believed to exist and this bike is also one of six bikes purchased by E.J. Cole from the Steve McQueen estate. With its rarity and the provenance of the man with the Midas touch, expect fireworks when this exquisite machine reaches the block. Lot S85 is estimated to fetch between $135,000 and $175,000.
1907 Indian Tri-Car With Sedan Chair
Lot S67 – estimated $155,000 to $175,000
One of the true classics in the Cole collection, this 1907 Indian Tri-Car With Sedan Chair is for all intents, a chauffeured armchair. It was made in the period where personal transportation was still finding its way, and while the pedal-powered rickshaw became commonplace in some countries, putting the passenger dead-center in harm's way proved folly and most tricars used the passenger space for more commercial endeavors and the transportation of goods.
This tricar is possibly the only tri-Car in the world that retains its original chair and upholstery, and this machine has provided the pattern for several replicas for tri-Cars which had lost their chairs.
1913 Minneapolis Twin Two Speed
The Michaelson Motorcycle Company already has one motorcycle in the top 100, and this 1913 Minneapolis Twin Two Speed will almost certainly become the second. The 1911 Minneapolis Model N Tricar currently at #95 in the top 100 (sold as part of the Otis Chandler Collection in 2006) featured a single cylinder engine. The four Michaelson brothers (Jack, Walter, Joe and Anton) developed a motorcycle whose design was one of the freshest and most advanced of its time - this big V-twin, developed in a hot-bed of motorcycling innovation which was once the home of motorcycle companies such as Wagner, Thiem, and Cyclone.
1914 Pope Model K
Lot S101 – estimated $110,000 to $150,000
Pope produced the first OHV production engine in America in 1912, and would remain as the only OHV engine for many years. This 1914 Pope Model K single is hence of revolutionary design, fully restored, in beautiful condition, and is a very rare combination of an OHV engine with belt drive.
E.J. Cole purchased this 1914 Pope Model K at the Steve McQueen Estate Auction at Las Vegas’ Imperial Palace in November 1986, so once again, the McQueen provenance will boost the price.
1912 Minneapolis Big 5 Single
This 1912 Minneapolis Big 5 single still has its original paint, and was designed and built by the forward-thinking Michaelson brothers, who pioneered many firsts from their small company.
1912 Harley-Davidson Model 8A Twin
This 1912 Harley-Davidson Model 8A is a very rare and very early twin-cylinder model with a belt drive and idler wheel, enabling it to be stopped with the engine still running. It was restored from a complete and original machine.
1915 Militaire Model 2
Lot F28 – estimated $130,000 to $150,000
This 1915 Militaire Model 2 is a fascinating and unconventional four-cylinder motorcycle with an equally fascinating history as it was developed through several manufacturers. Now very collectible and extremely rare, the "two-wheeled car" features outrigger wheels which are operated by lever for low speeds, center-hub steering and wooden wheels.
1912 Henderson 4
William Henderson became obsessed with the idea of building a motorcycle in his childhood. His grandfather was Alexander Winton, founder of the Winton Motor Carriage Co, and his father was a Vice President and engineer at the company. Henderson began work at Winton at 16 years of age in 1899, but spent his free time sketching motorcycles, which his father would critique. By 1909, all the criticisms had seen the motorcycle refined to detailed drawings and a prototype was built in 1911 and production began in 1912 of the inline four-cylinder with a belt drive. Remarkably, if you look closely, you'll see that the passenger is seated in front of the rider, between a long pair of "wheelbarrow" handlebars. This ultra-rare first-year 1912 Henderson 4 is believed to be one of only six survivors. It’s an older restoration, and was purchased from Cape Town, South Africa in 1983.
1929 Indian 402 Four
An early 1929 Indian 402 Four Cylinder built in the year the Indian Four was upgraded from the 401 to the 402 model, which came with stronger twin downtube frame based on the 101 Scout frame and a stronger five-bearing crankshaft.
Recent Indian Fours of similar vintage to sell at auction include a 1929 Model 401 for $104,500 at Scottsdale this year (2015), a 1929 402 for $82,500 in Las Vegas in January (2015), a 1931 Indian 402 for GBP90,000 ($153,959) in July, 2014, a 1929 402 for US$73,600 in Las Vegas in January, 2014, a customized 1930 Indian 402 for US$86,250 at Quail Lodge in August, 2012, and a 1931 Indian 402 for $62,700 (Drew Lewis Collection) at Pebble Beach in 2009.
1915 Harley-Davidson Twin Model 11
This 1915 twin-cylinder Harley-Davidson Model 11 is in very original condition,with original paint, much of the original pin-striping and an enamel license plate from 1925.
The 1915 twins had a 37 percent power increase over the 1914 models, thanks to larger inlet valves, a larger intake manifold, and a new muffler. H-D claimed 29 refinements in a single year.
In its older stand-alone guise, MicAmerica sold a 1913 Harley-Davidson twin for $85,600 at Las Vegas in 2011 and a 1915 twin for $171,200 in Las Vegas in 2009.
1911 Excelsior Single
This 1911 Excelsior Auto-Cycle 500cc single is in excellent original condition, equipped with a belt drive and tensioner, and Excelsior’s own version of the FN/Sager leading-link fork. The bike is a pre-Schwinn machine with the original-style tank transfer, atmospheric intake valve, force-fed lubrication.
1914 Excelsior Twin
MidAmerica sold a 1913 Excelsior Big Twin similar to this for $74,900 at Las Vegas in 2009. This bike is rare and very original.
1928 Harley-Davidson OHV Peashooter
Not a lot of Harley-Davidson's Peashooter racers come up for auction. Like so many race-bred cars and motorcycles, once progressed relegated them to uncompetitiveness, they often got thrown out as worthless. One of the top 10 cars to ever sell at auction was once abandoned on the edge of a Hollywood freeway - value is clearly in the ye of the beholder The Peashooter came in 21 cubic inch (350cc) and 30 cubic inch capacities (500cc), and was Harley's contribution to dirt track racing and speedway.
The last three Peashooters to sell at auction were a 1929 Harley-Davidson 500cc Peashooter which sold for $69,000 at Las Vegas in 2013, a 350cc 1929 Peashooter which was found in a mine in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia for $125,800 at Las Vegas in 2011 and a 1929 Harley-Davidson Peashooter 350cc sold for $105,395 at a Minneapolis St Paul MidAmerica auction in 2007. Follow those links for some great stories about the Peashooter.
1915 Reading Standard V-Twin
Reading Standard production peaked at around 1700 bikes a year in 1917-19 so the company's big Charles Gustafson-design V-twins are rare. Gustafson went on to design the Indian v-twin. Initially a 1000cc, the engines had grown to a 71 cu-in. (1160cc) by the time of this model, which has been restored, deeply loved and shown for decades.
This bike won an AACA Senior National first place in 1974. The only Reading-Standard to reach auction in recent times was a 1911 V-twin which fetched $80,250 at a MidAmerica auction in Las Vegas in January, 2011.
1906 Indian Camelback Single
George Hendee was a very successful bicycle racer (302 wins from 309 starts) who parlayed his name into bicycle production. When he saw one of Carl Oscar Hedstrom's motorised bicycles pacing an event at Madison Square Garden in 1899, he commissioned Hedstrom to build a motorized two-wheeler for sale to the public.
That bike became the Camelback and the brand name chosen was Indian, giving America its first production motorcycle with its 250cc single-cylinder F-head engine becoming the rear member of the diamond frame and the camelback tank segmented for gas and oil. Only a few Camelbacks have sold at auction in recent times with the record price being a 1901 model which sold for US$133,500 at Bonhams Las Vegas sale in January, 2011.
Other auction results for this ultra rare model include a 1908 model which was sold by RM Auctions for $60,500 in June, 2008 and a 1906 model by Bonhams for US$46,800 at the 'Legend of the Motorcycle' sale in May, 2008.
1912 FN Four Cylinder
Motorcycle manufacturers at the turn of the nineteenth century largely came from the bicycle industry, but there was one other well-represented industry which diversified into motorcycle manufacture – the firearms industry.
Many notable motorcycle manufacturers originally produced guns including England's BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) and Royal Enfield, Germany's Simson, Sweden's Husqvarna, Czechoslovakia's CZ ("Česká Zbrojovka" translates as "Czech Armament Works"), America's own Winchester and Iver Johnson marques, and Belgium's La Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (FN, for short).
FN produced the world’s first practical four-cylinder motorcycle which first appeared publicly at the 1905 Paris Cycle Show. Initially, the 362cc air-cooled four featured "atmospheric" inlet and mechanical (side) exhaust valves, a robust five-bearing crankshaft, advanced lubrication, a reliable Bosch magneto ignition and the world's first shaft drive. The engine was enlarged to 410cc in 1906 and 498cc in 1910, and a two-speed transmission was added in 1911. This bike is an older restoration featuring all those improvements and could go well beyond its reserve.
One other FN Four has already sold in the top 250 motorcycle prices of all time. In November 2006, a 1904/5 model from the Silverman Museum sold for $102,375.
1909 Pierce 4
Percy Pierce was the son of the founder of the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, George N Pierce and when the company decided to produce motorcycles too in 1907, Percy traveled to Europe to look at the more advanced two-wheeled industry there. Percy imported an FN four-cylinder model which provided the basic model for the engine, shaft drive, and forks though the Pierce engine had a 43 cu-in. (707 cc) capacity, and used a T-head sidevalve design, eschewing the atmospheric inlet valve operation of the FN.
Nor did Pierce copy the remainder of the FN, using large-diameter tubing for the frame (to contain the gas and oil tanks, plus all the cables), plus using the engine as a stressed member of the frame.
The first models of 1909 had no clutch and a single speed (a two-speed transmission and clutch were added in 1910), and are both rare and highly sought after as they were America’s first four-cylinder motorcycle, and had excellent performance.
Sadly, the bikes were expensive to produce and cost more to build than they sold for, with the Pierce Motorcycle Company ceasing production in 1914 with less than 500 Pierce 4s built. This first year 1909 Pierce 4 is an older restoration.
1920 Ace 4
When the Henderson brothers sold the Henderson motorcycle to Ignatz Schwinn in 1917, both brothers quickly moved onwards, with Thomas traveling to Europe, and Bill deciding to build a new and better four-cylinder motorcycle. That bike became the Ace.
The Ace 4 retained F-head cylinder, and increased in displacement of 75 cu-in. (1220cc), with splash lubrication and a three-speed gearbox for an output of 20 hp. This 1920 Ace 4 is an older restoration, and bears the earliest Ace serial number known.
Quick links to our pick of the E.J Cole Collection
1925 Harley-Davidson Knuth Special Factory RacerLot S88 – estimated $90,000 to $120,000
Lot S133 – estimated $90,000 to $120,000
Lot S113 – estimated $85,000 to $120,000
Sadly, with an estimate of just $18,000 to $20,000, the delightfully eccentric 1922 Ner-a-car (above) isn't really a contender for a top 250 spot, but it is yet another indication of the levels of innovation the American Motorcycle industry once exhibited.
The feet-forward, hub-center steered, Ner-A-Car in many ways attempted to do what Honda succeeded in doing with its step-through design fifty years later, and was marketed as a low cost alternative to a motor car. Like Honda's ubiquitous (at least in Asia) scooters, the Ner-a-car offered freedom from road grime and engine fluids, enabling riders to wear ordinary clothes. The company was funded by King Gillette (of safety razor fame) and one of its strongest advocates was the legendary Cannonball Baker who rode one from New York to Los Angeles in 1922, with the total journey of 3,364 miles taking 174 hours and costing $15.70. Baker later started a Neracar dealership in Los Angeles.
Around 10,000 were manufactured in the United States and another 6,500 were produced under license in England by Sheffield-Simplex.
And a thought for the long term
E.J. Cole purchased many of these bikes for one or two percent of what he will sell them for. He's a shrewd investor whose entire considerable fortune has been built upon the premise that one man's junk is another man's treasure. He has been collecting bikes since long before it was fashionable or exhibited conventional wisdom.
There are no British bikes in his collection because they were always highly regarded. His wisdom in investing almost exclusively in American bikes will be proven on March 20-21.
One of the bikes which stood out in E.J. Cole's collection was the 1975 Chang Jiang KL750 Yangtze, a bike which was produced in China for the Red Army and has a family tree which runs back through the Soviet Union's Dnepr M-72 all the way back to BMW's pre-WWII R71. There's some interesting history represented by this motorcycle.
Scoff if you will at the motorcycle, but E.J. Cole got ridiculously wealthy playing the long game. His motorcycle collection will likely bring somewhere between $15 million and $20 million and represents just a small percentage of his total net worth.
Right now, Japanese motorcycles are just becoming fashionable for collectors and prices are beginning to rise past that magical point where they are worth more than their original price plus inflation. The most valuable Japanese motorcycles, like Ferraris, Brough Superiors and other collectibles, are those which are available in very limited quantities.
The Japanese motorcycle industry has been dominant globally for half a century and the Chinese motorcycle industry's time is yet to come. It's time will come however, and when it does, bikes such as this early and original Chang Jiang KL750 will become valuable, not just to eccentric American collectors but to the many wealthy Chinese collectors who will emerge when that country becomes much much wealthier than it is now.
If you have the time and resources, there are many motorcycles and cars of today which will become collectible if you have the foresight and patience. Think about it.
Mecum will be netcasting the auction of the E.J. Cole Collection. It's an auction the motorcycle world will still be talking about a century from now.View gallery - 597 images