Las Vegas January motorcycle auctions preview: The state of the market
January's Las Vegas motorcycle auctions have have long been the epicenter of the world's collectible motorcycle marketplace, but this year, with more foreign-owned collections than ever before being shipped to Sin City, the event has matured yet another level.
The back-to-back motorcycle auctions of Bonhams (January 7, 2016) and Mecum Mid-America (January 8-9, 2016), the two dominant auctioneers in the motorcycle space, will see the sale of 850 of the world's most desirable motorcycles over three days. The Las Vegas motorcycle auctions are a significant global event, coming as they do in the first few days of January, as they strongly influence the market for the remainder of the year.
This year, more than 100 of Mecum's 600 bikes (17%) were shipped from overseas for the sale – from as far afield as New Zealand and Australia with many more from Europe. Bonhams also reports a significant increase in international bikes being shipped to Vegas for the auctions.
This volume of overseas motorcycles heading to Vegas is unprecedented, and it's one of the reasons why more motorcycle collectors will make the pilgrimage next year, and still more motorcycle collections will make the journey from far away in subsequent years. The strength of the Greenback is another. There are more American collectors than all the other collectors in the world put together, and when the US dollar is strong, overseas sellers get more for their bike. Indeed, quite a few of the bikes in Vegas are bikes that didn't sell at Webb's disastrous Auckland auction a few months back.
"They're not coming for your bikes, it's the other way around", was the message from regular motorcycle concours judge, writer and industry commentator Somer Hooker on this subject. "Americans always think that people are coming from overseas to buy bikes in America. The fact of the matter is, a bunch of bikes are now being shipped from overseas because of the strength of the dollar. I've seen folks make their money just on the luck of the currency exchange."
"There are 50 bikes from Australia between the Mecum/Bonhams auctions and most will go to American buyers!"
Trend 1 - Las Vegas rules
Las Vegas is now motorcycling's equivalent of Monterey Car Week's auction cluster, with the added attractions of the inexhaustible supply of accommodation in Las Vegas and the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which runs concurrently with the viewings and auctions, ensuring that even the most hyperactive among us won't be bored for long.
Gizmag has a team at CES and reports extensively on all the announcements and new products there, but if you're already in the same city, it's a show everyone should see at least once in a lifetime. The CES is the biggest single show that the world's biggest convention town puts on each year, and its gargantuan size represents America's technological point of difference. If you're there for the auctions, check it out as it offers ingenious technological solutions for every aspect of lifestyle.
With so many top line motorcycle collections coming into the country, the depth of quality bikes on offer is also very high, offering a complete cross section of near museum quality motorcycles from the beginning of motorcycling in one place for the first time.
This year there's actually some additional historical perspective due to the auctioning of a replica of the very first internal combustion engined motorcycle, the Daimler Reitwagen ("riding wagon") made by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1885. It was actually more a testbed for the motor than a motorcycle, but it was an absolutely sterling idea and the spark that ignited the shared passion which afflicts all those who have read to this point in the article.
A small proportion of the collection of Australian Allen Smith will go to auction in Vegas. Smith owned the Australian Motorcycle Museum and the 1885 Daimler Replica going to auction is a former display from the museum. It's not THE original, because that was destroyed by fire, so even the "Riding Wagon" in the Mercedes-Benz museum is a replica. Hence, this is as good as you can get and having had the pleasure of seeing one of these close up, it's quite captivating. I found myself engrossed in the engineering puzzles faced by the inventors, who had no precedents. My guess is that the Reitwagen will surprise with the price it brings. Building one from scratch would be very costly.
If you're looking for a particular bike of any ilk you will quite possibly find it in Las Vegas – most significant models in the desirable motorcycle spectrum are represented and the large number of high quality examples of motorcycling's many different genres means collectors now have a one-stop shop for the first time.
American four cylinder motorcycle collectors in particular have a broad selection this year with a Pierce, a Cleveland, two Aces, six Hendersons, and five Indian fours to choose from.
The Indian fours are covered under the Indian marque report below and for those wishing for something a bit different in four cylinder machinery, there's a Danish-built 1939 Nimbus 746cc Four (above). From the Larry Pedersen collection and beautifully restored, this is actually the first motorcycle that used telescopic forks (though BMW's R12 became the first bike with hydraulically dampened telescopic forks in 1935). Only around 12,000 Nimbus Fours were built, but Wikipedia reports that more than 4,000 are registered and running in Denmark still, so there's a good chance you will be able to easily obtain any parts required.
On the singles front, there are some rare and delightful American made singles from a century ago. From top clockwise, a 1910 Royal Pioneer, a 1912 Pope Model H, a 1913 Thor, a Yale 24M, and a 1908 Bradbury Peerless.
Trend 2 - prices up at the top, down in the middle
Last year Mecum Mid-America staged the largest auction in its then 24 year history, and this year's auction is bigger. Mid-America founder Ron Christensen has sold a lot of motorcycles over that quarter century, and Ron believes the sale of the EJ Cole collection in March made "an uptick in the value of American bikes."
"What it has done is to bring a lot of those bikes which had been hidden from the market out from their hides," says Christensen.
"We see the highest quality bikes in Las Vegas. The best of the unrestored, or the most properly restored … they are the bikes which top the bill in Las Vegas and I'm sure they have climbed 20 percent in value in the last year.
"The market for the quality motorcycles has grown because the biggest buyers are looking for top tier bikes. If it's a motorcycle that they produced a lot of though (ed. large production volume), and it's just an average restoration, then the value has fallen a bit."
With the Las Vegas markets setting the tone for the year, it will be interesting to see how many of the seventies bikes fare on the auction block. There are some fabulous specimens of bikes from the seventies including Harley Davidson's XLCR, Laverda's 750 SFC production racer, Harley-Davidson's XRTT road racer and Norton's Commando Production racer all shaping up as collector machinery for the future, most of which are still at affordable prices.
Trend 3 - Authenticity is becoming more important
Authenticity is desirable in any vintage car or motorcycle but two major auctions highlighted authenticity as the principal theme of 2015, with collectors voting with their check books for unmolested original machinery. The E. J. Cole Collection sale saw an completely original 1907 Harley-Davidson strap tank single sell for $715,000, a stunningly original, as-raced 1911 Flying Merkel Board Track Racer sell for $423,500, an original as-raced 1928 Indian Altoona sell for $247,500 and an original wicker basket 1907 Indian Tri-car fetch $181,500 – all were landmark results and all now reside within the top 50 motorcycles ever sold at auction.
The second defining moment of the motorcycle auction year was the Bonhams Autumn Stafford Sale where two separate Brough Superior 981cc SS100 Alpine Grand Sport basketcases sold for £259,100 ($400,039) and £236,700 ($365,454) respectively.
There were some other outstanding results for highly original motorcycles including a 1930 Brough Superior OHV 680 Black Alpine which sold for £138,140 at Bonham's Spring Stafford Sale on 26 Apr 2015.
Trend 3 - Car guys versus motorcycle guys
The topic de jour of motorcycle collectors these days is the appearance of a new breed of buyer at motorcycle auctions: the car guy.
An emerging trend, with the traditional low values of the collectible motorcycle industry, is that cashed up car buyers who are accustomed to paying millions for a piece of historical significance, are becoming ever more willing to pay significantly more than motorcycle buyers do for first rate machinery with a provenance.
The subject came up when I was speaking to Mecum-Mid-America's Ron Christensen about trends in the marketplace in preparation for writing this article.
"They are serious, and if they've collected top tier cars, a hundred thousand is loose change to them. They know their stuff as well as the bike guys do – I really am impressed with how thoroughly they do their research – and if the bike is authentic, and they can buy it for $170,000, they're very happy.
"We saw it a few times this year when a car guy was prepared to pay more than a motorcycle guy. We saw it at Monterey. Where one major automobile collector out of Pennsylvania, paid $175,000 for a Flying Merkel where the estimated price was $100,000.
"At the same auction, a BMW R32 estimated at $125,000 brought $170,000. A car collector and a bike collector got into a bidding war and it ended with another world record. It happened at a car auction with a car crowd.
"Some people say that these car guys are coming in and wrecking the market. Well, no they're not. They appreciate what you can buy for that amount of money. These individuals are accustomed to paying millions of dollars for the best in the world and when they can buy one of the best in the world for $175,000, they think they've got a great deal.
"And they have got a great deal, because in my mind, motorcycles are more a work of art than a lot of automobiles. You can see it all on a motorcycle. Maybe sometimes when there's a fairing, you can't see it all, but in most cases, it's all there to see.
"If you take any Ferrari for instance, and lifted the body off it, it's even more impressive underneath than it is with the coachwork in place. The most wonderful parts of most cars are hidden away, whereas with a motorcycle, it's all there to look at, and you can ride it too.
"I use the word passion a lot in relation to motorcycles. I think when you're passionate about something, you're not always looking at the object you collect as an investment. Having that passion makes it more like a hobby and in my observations, the most passionate people who collect motorcycles and cars consider it their hobby.
"If you're thinking of investors as people buying it for as little as they can and then selling it for as much as they can, then I don't think you see that as much with motorcycle people.
"Motorcyclists can be just as passionate about a $500 bike as they can about a $500,000 bike. To achieve that same level of passion in the car world, those people own cars upwards of a million dollars.
"We work in the classic car business too, so I've met the buyers and sellers at all the major car and motorcycle auctions, from Amelia Island to Pebble Beach, and right the way through the mid-range of the market. The reason I say that, is that the average guy out there selling a car for between say $50,000 and $100,000, probably has $150,000 to $200,000 (invested) into it. You lose your passion pretty quickly with that sort of financial return.
"A motorcycle person selling a mid-range motorcycle will not usually have the same cash outlay invested in the motorcycle, but they've logged hundreds, maybe thousands of hours, and if they get back $2 an hour, they're happy. If they sell a bike for $40,000, they'll feel like the richest people on earth, not realizing they just got paid $2 an hour to restore it. A passionate person will not view that as a poor return on investment because they've ridden and lovingly restored the bike and gained enormous pleasure."
Trend 4 - the collectible motorcycle market
Ron Christensen's words from above quote that the 'car guys' "appreciate what you can buy for that amount of money" gelled with some of my previous writings which have concluded that the motorcycle marketplace is undervalued.
As an illustration of the strength of several collectibles marketplaces, we compiled the above statistics. The statistics were derived from the 100 most valuable items sold at auction in each marketplace. It's hence possible to see that the comic book auction market values the average comic book at 1.6 times the average motorcycle, which is twice as valuable as the average film poster.
The 100 most desirable motorcars fetch 32.6 times the price of the 100 most desirable motorcycles at auction and as the collectible car market has grown at record pace over recent years, the difference in prices fetched between the top motorcycle and the top car is now 44.7 times more.
It's easy to reconcile a car as being more valuable than a motorcycle – they're bigger, have more working parts and a lot more materials, they cost more to manufacture and commanded higher prices when they sold new. But the value of a car or a motorcycle or any other collectible bears little relation to what it cost to manufacture.
The amount and quality of artisan workmanship is difficult to compare between a car and a motorcycle, and the comparison with other markets, such as wristwatches, only muddies the water further.
Cars, bikes and watches all often account for thousands of hours of an artisan's time in their creation, but not all valuable objects are created the same way and it is illustrative to compare the baseball card, comic book and film poster markets for that exact reason.
Baseball cards, movie posters and comic books were produced on a printing press – the design, the creativity and artwork are a one-off up-front cost. Once the printing press is running, the cost of manufacture is actually just cents per unit. That comic books are created differently provides an interesting contrast in the way the different marketplaces perceive value.
Whereas authenticity issues continue to plague car and motorcycle auctions, the comic and sports card markets have authentification and grading systems and the entire focus is around perfect original issues.
If you think the attrition rate for motorcycles is high (only one third of Brough Superior's motorcycles have survived), it's much higher for comics, film posters and baseball cards.
In 1938, 206,000 copies were printed of the original Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, Clarke Kent and Lois Lane. The comic sold out, and as the publishers slowly discovered the popularity of the first superhero, the print run for subsequent issues was eventually increased to the point where every comic was selling more than a million copies.
Despite that initial production run of 206,000, it is estimated that less than 100 intact remain today, and five of those are among the most expensive comics ever sold. A near perfect copy of Action Comics #1 (graded 9.0 by CGC) was sold on eBay on August 24, 2014 for US$3,207,852 setting the world record for a comic book at auction.
That's roughly four times the value of the most expensive motorcycle – the ex-Steve McQueen Cyclone. Value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
The baseball card market is another we'll compare with motorcycles when we've done all the research, but an effective illustration of the strength of the markets is the world's most expensive baseball card – the T206 Honus Wagner. The Honus Wagner card has been the rarest and most expensive baseball card in the world for eighty years because of the low volumes produced.
The original card was withdrawn prior to circulation because Wagner, a non-smoker, threatened legal action against the tobacco company which had planned to use his image on a cigarette card without his permission. With such an active marketplace of card collectors, and just 57 Honus Wagner cards known to still exist, the laws of supply and demand have driven the card to astonishing prices.
The Honus Wagner card has a long history of setting jaw-dropping price records, with the record-setting card's sales history well known (see above). Look at the top 100 list of motorcycles at auction and you'll see a sprinkling of Crocker motorcycles. The American Superbike of the late thirties is regarded as one of the finest of rare motorcycles. They sell for more than US$300,000 whenever they come up at auction, the last four all selling between $295,000 and $385,000. Scarcity is an acknowledged key variable in this high price (for a motorcycle) as only 72 Crockers are known to exist. Why then is a baseball card worth more than a motorcycle of similar scarcity?
Unfortunately, there are no reliable statistics with which to compare the number of motorcycle enthusiasts and comic book enthusiasts and baseball car collectors but my guess is that there are a lot more comic and baseball card aficionados than motorcycle collectors because the marketplace is far more active and the prices obviously higher.
Whatever the reasons, there are long term consistent trends which show comic book enthusiasts value their comic books, as frail and unsubstantial as they may be measured in bespoke artisanship or kilograms of metal, more than motorcyclists value their motorcycles. This is not to demean in any way the artistry and contribution to our culture of comics. It does however seem that when you study the collectibles marketplace, you often get a sense that things are somewhat out of proportion.
Finally, when known investors from the car market are visiting motorcycle auctions because of the value on offer is greater, it's also a sure sign that the market is undervalued.
The world's most desirable motorcycle marque, Brough Superior, is poorly represented in the Vegas auctions this year, with only two SS80s on offer, one with an SS100 spec motor. SS80s were guaranteed to run 80 mph, the SS100 using the same nomenclature and hence the more coveted. Both Broughs will sell for six figures (the SS80 here), with the upgraded SS80 perhaps broaching $200,000. Beyond the ultra-rare Brough Superior and Crocker marques though, most stratas of the market are well represented with numerous examples of the most appealing models.
18 Vincents and three EGLI Vincents
Vincent is second to Brough Superior for the number of bikes sold into the top 100, but has more bikes than any other marque in the top 250 – there are three times more Vincents (3000) than Brough Superiors (1000) extant. This year the Vincent name is exceptionally well represented with no less than 18 motorcycles from the famous British marque, plus three EGLI Vincents.
The pick of the offerings this year, as it was last, is the very first Series B Vincent, the HRD 1X Prototype machine from 1946. It was one of the stars of the Las Vegas auction last year (on the Bonhams bill) but failed to meet reserve on an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. This year it will top the Mecum bill and it can be expected to sell within the same limits. That's it above.
There's the usual wide selection of Black Shadows, ranging from a 1948 Series B Black Shadow expected to fetch between $120,000 and $180,000, through to an array of stunning period specials to a 1950 Series C "barn find" expected to sell for between $50,000 and $60,000.
Black Shadows are the most prominent single model in the top 250, but the most expensive shadow is not black, but white. Only 15 were ever built, and at the same Bonhams auction at Bally's Hotel & Casino in 2015, a 1950 Vincent Series C "White" Shadow sold for $224,250.
That's why the "one-of-one" Chinese Red White Shadow above is expected to fetch north of $300,000.
Another of the bikes sure to get amongst the big figures of the three days is the ex-Ed LaBelle 1952 Vincent road racer and drag bike. One of the prettiest bikes you have ever seen, the bike has a strong racing provenance and has been restored lovingly by regular judge, journalist and Vincent afficianado, Somer Hooker, with a list of celebrity specialists having done the work.
It's always difficult to outline the prospects for a marque which is more defined by Egli principals than by Egli manufacture. The Egli marque came about when Swiss engineer Fritz Egli built a frame for his Vincent race bike in 1965 and began a cult of people taking the big understressed V-twin Vincent engine and modernizing the old bolt-up box-section spine frame with an all-welded tubular spine chassis that subsequently proved adaptable to any type of motorcycle engine. These days the Egli brand has been widely licensed and copied and the quality of the work on many "Egli Vincents" I have seen is astonishingly good. The issue for me surrounding this marque is that the auction marketplace works on the laws of supply and demand, and if new Eglis can be minted, it scrambles the scarcity factor in the equation and ... I'm afraid it's caveat emptor with unregulated brands.
The three EGLI Vincents that will go under the auctioneers hammer in Las Vegas are the Ex-Gene Aucott 1974 Egli-Vincent, and the 1968 Egli-Vincent with panniers and top box from the Sinless Collection (both in the top image), and directly above, the 'Big Sid' Biberman 1970 Egli-Vincent which utilizes a Rapide motor built to Lightning specification.
Crocker motorcycles rarely reach auction. Only 72 exist, but this year there's a wonderful example of an Indian-Crocker 45ci Overhead-Valve conversion. Before Albert Crocker created the legendary V-twin Crocker motorcycle, he created single cylinder speedway engines and OHV conversion kits for Indian Scout 101s. Crocker's conversion made the Scout considerably faster than standard. This is one such kit, though best to read the full auction description to avoid any misunderstandings, as there's a story to it. Last time this 1929 Indian-Crocker 45ci Overhead-Valve Conversion crossed the auction block in 2007, it sold for US$ 93,600, so if it sells within its estimate of $65,000 to $75,000, it will be a spectacular buy. Crocker's motorcycles are rare, they sell for $300,000 plus at auction (the world record for a Crocker V-twin was set earlier this year – $385,000) and the Crocker Overhead valve conversion was its direct forerunner. To me, this bike personifies the spirit and culture of American engineering. Crocker would fleetingly produce the finest motorcycles available, then move onwards to the fledgling aerospace industry where his talents were handsomely rewarded. Paul Bigsby, Crocker's chief engineer, went on to fame and fortune in the music industry where he continued creating innovative solutions that worked reliably. Bigsby played a major role in the invention of the electric guitar and his Bigsby tremelo arms are fitted to the vast majority of the world's most expensive guitars. This is a rare example of some of the early work done by Crocker and Bigsby.
The dominant American motorcycle brand for most of the last 100 years, Harley-Davidson is always well represented in Las Vegas and with 140 Harleys constituting close to 20% of all the bikes on offer, most significant models are available. The most interesting of many stand-outs, will be the Harley-Davidson strap tank singles on offer, the most significant of which is pictured above. The bike was discovered as a complete motorcycle in a Wisconsin barn about 70 miles from Milwaukee in 1941 by David Uihlein, who kept it in its home state for the next 66 years. It was subsequently restored to concours condition by Paul Freehill of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Believed to be one of less than a dozen motorcycles extant from 1908, and the original tank, rims, engine belt pulley, seat cover and muffler sleeve are included in the sale. The bike will sell for north of $300,000, but maybe much further north than we expect.
A 1907 'strap tank' from the E.J. Cole Collection dubbed "The Mona Lisa of Harley-Davidsons" for its highly original condition, sold earlier this year for $715,000, becoming the second most valuable motorcycle ever to sell at auction.
Which makes the sale of another strap tank on the Bonhams program (pictured above), even more interesting. Highly pedigreed significant bikes now have some significant precedents and top tier buyers are focussed on authenticity more than ever this year. This 1908 Harley-Davidson is a recreation by a group of artisan enthusiasts using an original engine and carburetor that was purchased twenty years ago. The execution of this motorcycle is outstanding and earned 99.75 points in AMCA judging in 2004. What's it worth? Well, the estimate is between US$ 150,000 and $180,000. Let the marketplace decide!
There are a number of headliner motorcycles bearing the Harley-Davidson imprimatur in Vegas this year, and they don't come much more recognizable than the 1976 XL1000 custom ridden by professional daredevil Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel in the film Viva Knievel. Decorated in the same stars and stripes as the hero machine, Knievel pioneered extreme sports, set a world record which may stand forever for the number of bones broken in a lifetime, and became the childhood hero of the adrenalin junkie generations. Bonhams is quoting $80,000 to $100,000 for this bike but with the provenance of one of motorcycling's most revered wild men, who knows. Knievel looms large in the American psyche. 'Twas a shame about the film though – it is possibly the most cringeworthy movie committed to celluloid in history.
There's also a 1957 Sportster XL, the first year of the still-in-production Sportster, (and hence the start of one of the longest model runs in motorcycle history) and wearing Serial number 57XL1010, the lowest serial number known for a Sportster. So this is probably the earliest Sportster in existence.
Finally, there's this 1918 Harley-Davidson Board Track racer which is pure functional art. It's a military grade (circa WW1) 1000cc v-twin, two wheels, a frame, and little else. This beastie would propel you to 120 mph on the board tracks of the day, with 1918-quality tires the only thing between you and a life-time supply of splinters. If the aim of an objet d'art is to create an emotional response, this bike does it for me.
Indians in abundance
Including the Crocker OHV conversion, there are 66 Indians on sale in Vegas, all but a handful from the pre-1953 Springfield, Massachusetts era. Indian was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer a century ago, but since the demise of the original marque, the brand's reputation has been damaged by numerous failed attempts to revive it. This time around, the brand custodian (Polaris) is financially stable and we can look forward to a long future for the marque.
In addition to the expected array of beautiful v-twins, there are five Indian fours (top), a fascinating 750 v-twin 841 841 built for the military in 1941 with a longitudinal engine (think Moto-Guzzi), and an ex-Steve McQueen Arrow which is believed to be the bike that Steve used to teach his wife Barbara how to overhaul a carburettor.
BMW celebrates its 93rd year of motorcycle production this year. BMW produced 3,090 units of its first model, the 500cc side valve horizontally-opposed R 32 between 1923 and 1926. Most were sold in BMW's home market of Germany and the bike above is one of a very small number of surviving machines. This R32 was first delivered on 18 March, 1925 to the Telos BMW dealership in Hamburg, Germany. The professionally restored motorcycle comes with a certificate from the BMW archive and an even rarer original Bosch electric system.
Many more Beemers from the first few years of production are available this year including a 1928 BMW 490CC R57 (top of image), then clockwise, a 1927 BMW R42, a 1929 BMW R63, a 1929 BMW R62, and a 1931 BMW R16.
Ducati grows from strength to strength
Ducati has done everything right to create long-term investment-worthy motorcycles. Perhaps by good luck, perhaps by good management, its low volumes have the right scarcity profile to ensure demand will always outstrip supply. It's original racing success in the 1972 Imola 200 spawned the 750 SS which has long been an auction block favorite, but it now seems the magic is being passed on to the later 900 SS models and the original non-desmo 750 GT and 750 S models too, and several will test the market in Vegas. The 750 GT is one of the first batch of 400 bikes and the engine casings are sandcast.
The world auction record for a Ducati 750SS is held by a 1974 Ducati 750 SS which sold for €114,371 ($152,885) at the Retromobile auctions in Paris in February, 2013, closely followed by a 1973 Ducati 750 SS which fetched $137,000 at Bonhams' Las Vegas auction in January, 2014. The big V-twins look certain to lead among 1970s collectible motorcycles and it will be fascinating to see what prices these bikes bring.
Ducati's Desmosedici road bike is another which should be considered as a safe long term buy. The bike is as close to a race replica as it's possible to get from the MotoGP era, and getting something this recent for this relatively low financial outlay is astonishing. The new Honda RCV-213 will set you back a quarter million. It's 1000cc instead of 800cc, but it represents Ducati's sole MotoGP world title which Casey Stoner won in 2007, and with the first customer deliveries beginning in January 2008, everyone was happy. Despite scarcity and a fabulous pedigree, I believe the bike is still selling for well below its potential, perhaps because many of the people who invested in the 1500 units which were produced have been sending them to auction just a tad too early. The bike going to auction in Vegas is a total "time warp" as-new machine with just 55 miles on the clock yet it's estimated to sell for between just $45,000 and $55,000. In the United States, where just 300 were allocated, the retail price in 2007 was $72,000. An auction block superstar in waiting at a bargain basement price.
Yet another Ducati of a slightly older vintage but equal gravitas will cross the block in Vegas – one of the fabled NCR F1 bikes which made their name when Mike Hailwood came out of retirement at 37 years of age to ride one and won at the Isle of Man in record time. This bike is a square case 1979 model and carries an estimate of $85,000 to $100,000. It's a genuine very low production run racing machine – probably one of 25 or thereabouts. If such a bike can be obtained for under $100,000, it must surely be about to enter a sweet spot in appreciation.
The magical MV Agusta marque
At the height of its domination of world motorcycle racing, MV Agusta won 17 consecutive 500 cc world championships. No marque has ever dominated the world's elite category of racing on two or four wheels, as comprehensively or for as long as that. During that time at the top of the sport, MV Agusta sold small capacity bikes to consumers, and it was only in 1971 that MV Agusta released the four cylinder 750 with a shaft drive, a deliberate design feature by Count Domenico Agusta to prevent people from converting his bikes for the racetrack and cheapening the brand.
These days the 750S (above top) and its America-styled derivative (bottom left above) are extremely desirable, with the record price for an MV Agusta 750 S of £85,500 ($143,661) achieved by Bonhams in April, 2014.
Hence the three MV Agustas on offer in Vegas will help to define the market for others later in the year. The America at bottom left in the above pic will probably achieve the highest price of the three as it is in showroom condition with just 41 miles on the odometer. The original owner purchased this bike in the summer of 1978, rode it for 41 miles and then hid it away in museum-quality storage for 45 years. Only 540 Americas were ever made. The bike is estimated to sell between $100,000 and $120,000. There's also another America for sale, wearing the highest engine number known for the model. The bike is also from Allen Smith's Australian Collection and has a 912cc engine with considerable work done on it.
The 750S in its original livery is slightly rarer than the America with only 450 built and in my mind, it's one of the most attractive road bikes ever produced. Now that MV Agusta is part-owned by Mercedes Benz, the future of the marque is secure and this will also have a bearing on future values.
Honda - not everything was mass produced
There's never much joy for Honda owners at the auction block, mainly because Honda's motorcycles were so good and cheap to buy, they sold in much greater numbers than the competition and hence many of the better Honda models might never be rare enough to command five figures at auction. One such example is this 1962 Honda CB77 Super Hawk which although now 54 years old, is still capable of performing well on the racetrack in its historic class, will do so with unfailing reliability and might just represent the most cost-effective form of motorsport competition available. It's estimated to sell for $8,000 to $10,000 and comes already fitted with many factory performance parts.
One of the most interesting lots at the sale is another Honda ... though of a much rarer ilk. It's a 1955 Honda 219cc Dream 4E twin port and it's a significant motorcycle because it is the first complete four-stroke motorcycle produced by Honda. Unlike the mass production of a few years hence, very limited numbers were produced. It was made before Honda had an overseas marketplace at a time when Soichiro Honda was scouring the racetracks of Europe looking for ideas and four years before that first Honda team foray to the Isle of Man. It was also several years prior to bikes which made an impact on international markets such as the Super Cub and Benley. This is a very early example of the world's greatest motorcycle company's work. This humble 219cc pushrod single played a role in one of the greatest success stories of all-time. Given a tad of historical perspective, bikes like this which are rarely seen outside Japan, will be valued highly. In my mind, it should fetch a lot more than its estimated $25,000 to $30,000.
It's kinda ironic that the best part of an auction is not necessarily the star lots, but all the other stuff and this is the paragraph in which to encapsulate it. Apart from the time-honoured pastime of pitting your sense of value against the marketplace, this is one of those areas where you can still in fact, pick up a fantastic bargain, which will give you years of riding pleasure and retain or grow its value while you do it.
This year the auctions are heavily laden with British bikes (ten AJS motorcycles, nine Ariels, 56 BSAs, 12 Matchless, 23 Nortons, seven Royal Enfields, two Velocettes, two Rudges, four Sunbeams and 140 Triumphs ) and amongst all those lots are some very good examples of iconic bikes which because they were made in quantity, their value has never really increased all that much. Hence some of these perfectly restored examples really will return their owners a few dollars an hour for their restoration labors.
To highlight the fact that well restored or highly original examples of some pretty tasty machinery can had for not much, based on published estimates, you should be able to buy a Velocette 350cc MAC, a Matchless G80CS, a V7 sport Moto Guzzi, and a Confederate Hellcat Roadster for under $10,000. The Confederate in particular is in that period of time when its price is at its lowest ebb.
If you believe, as I do, that the Confederate brand will endure and prosper, then the 1999 Hellcat (pictured above at bottom) and the 2007 B120 Wraith (above top) offer prime investment potential. The Wraith is estimated at $38,000 to $44,000.
Across the two auctions, there are also a dozen Bimotas (including two TESI 1Ds) and several mid-sixties Rickman Metisse Triumphs, all of which should fall for around $15,000. That sort of money will also land you a pristine British twin from Triumph, BSA, Royal Enfield or Norton. A bit more than $15,000 will get you a BSA Gold Star or an Ariel Square Four.
Finally, there's a second McQueen bike at the Bonhams auction – a 1963 Triumph Bonneville Desert Sled ridden extensively by Steve McQueen, modified by his friend and trail riding buddy Bud Ekins and painted by Kenny Howard (better known as Von Dutch). That's quite some pedigree and although the price estimate from the auctioneers is only $50,000 to $60,000, when Steve McQueen is involved, anything might happen. A Kawasaki 125 two-stroke trail bike owned by McQueen and painted by Von Dutch sold for $55,000 a few years back.
I discussed the McQueen provenance with Ron Christensen, and Ron feels the McQueen effect is not as great as it once was: "Once upon a time if McQueen owned a bike, you could safely double what it would be worth without his provenance. These days I think the McQueen multiplication effect is closer to 1.5."