The breadth and depth of Mecum's two-day Las Vegas motorcycle auction over the weekend offered an opportunity to take the pulse of the marketplace. A weak market meant bikes expected to sell for big numbers often didn't and some remarkable bikes went for very reasonable prices. So although this report covers the most valuable, it also includes "no sales" so we can show what's exciting and still available.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the prices fetched at auction often reflect the vast discrepancies between my perceptions and those of the various marketplace "factions" or genres. I've covered the auctions of storied objects across all genres of collectibles for 15 years, and the prices fetched at auction by items from different genres often astound me.
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Such was the case with Mecum's Las Vegas auctions. Mecum is now the biggest of the world's prestige collectible motorcycle auctioneers, and the breadth and depth of the two-day Las Vegas sale offered an opportunity to take the pulse of the marketplace.
The market is down. Maybe a lot down. Some bikes that would have been expected to sell for big numbers didn't. A lot of motorcycles sold for less than expected.
The good news is that there were some remarkable bikes available at very reasonable prices and hence we've added in the major "no sales" as they provide an equally illustrative view of the market as those bikes that did sell.
Celebrity Motorcycles going cheap
Cars owned by celebrities sell for much more than identical cars without celebrity provenance and movie, music and entertainment memorabilia fetches remarkably high prices for the same reasons.
The sale of a number of significant motorcycles with celebrity provenance during this week's Mecum Las Vegas auction was an opportunity to see how they were valued.
The well known "Rat Pack" of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Peter Lawford and friends is well documented via paparazzi images of the period, but at the same time there was another group of celebrity friends who spent even more time hanging out together on motorcycles.
The core of the group was actor Steve McQueen, racer Bud Ekins and artist Kenny Howard (Von Dutch), but the extended group included racer Malcolm Smith, film-maker Bruce Brown and leading male actors Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.
The bikes came from a wonderful collection of dirt bikes offered at the auction, but the dirt bikes always sell cheaply, and two-strokes almost always sell cheaply, and all that star quality didn't do much for the prices.
No Sale | 1938 Indian Super Six 2000cc
Made circa 1939-1940 by fusing together two 1938 Indian type 438 4-cylinder motors to create a six-cylinder 1966cc engine. The bike received a high bid of US$115,500 but was passed in. The full story of the construction of the bike and frame can be found in the Auction Catalog Description.
No Sale | 1952 Vincent Black Lightning Replica
A former first place winner at Quail, restored by Harris Vincent Gallery, this bike went to auction in Las Vegas with Mecum in January 2016, attracting a high bid of $88,000. This time the high bid became $110,000 but the result was the same. Auction Description.
$104,500 | 1950 Vincent Black Shadow
The most expensive sale of the weekend. A restored, well presented, known and authentic motorcycle. Initially passed in for failing to meet reserve, the deal was done after the hammer on the most expensive sale of the auction. Auction Description.
No sale | 1968 Husqvarna 250 Commando (Steve McQueen)
It didn't sell, but if the $90,000 bid (effectively $99,000 with commission) had been accepted it would have become one of the most valuable off-road motorcycles ever sold at auction. Purchased by McQueen for the 1968 International Six Day Trial held in Poland that year. Auction Description.
$93,500 | 1920 Henderson ACE Four
A first-year specimen of William Henderson's second attempt to build a four-cylinder motorcycle. An original 1912 (first model) Henderson sold for $539,000 in January 2017 with original paint and original tires. Auction Description.
No sale | 1938 Indian 438 Four
A beautifully restored example of a well known motorcycle which has won countless concours events during the 35 years of single ownership leading up to this auction. The bike has also been the "cover bike" on at least one motorcycle magazine and a book on Indians. The high bid of $85,000 (which equates to $93,500 with auction commissions) was not enough to land the sale. Auction Description.
$93,500 | 1951 Vincent Rapide
One of the most valuable post-war Rapides yet sold. Auction Description.
$84,700 | 1932 Indian Chief
A former "front cover" restored 1932 example of Indian's best known model, which was produced from 1922 to 1953, evolving incrementally in design over three decades. This bike is rare, and includes many "one year only" parts, and fetched one of the highest prices ever for a Chief. Auction Description.
$74,250 | 1914 Indian 8-valve Racer
This lot and the next one are both perfect examples of Indian's production racer of the period which was fearsome fast. The 8-valve was a dominant force on the board tracks of the period, and one was timed at 114.17 mph in 1920. That's a 1000cc v-twin engine with four valves per cylinder. The difference between the two lots is that one is "as raced" and retains its original everything, including what is estimated to be 70 percent of its original paint. In perfect running condition. Auction Description.
$74,250 | 1913 Indian 8-valve Racer
The other end of the restoration scale is an identical bike that has been returned to "as new" condition. The two lots sold for the same amount, about 45 minutes apart on Friday night. Auction Description.
No Sale | 1948 Vincent Rapide Series B Hillclimber
This thing is captivating to examine. It is a single-purpose tool created in post-war America specifically to win hill climb events and it succeeded handsomely winning no less than five American titles. Those trophies are still with the bike and would have gone to the buyer had bidding reached the undisclosed reserve price. Bidding went to $72,270 (premium included) but it wasn't enough. Riding this would have been very interesting indeed. The 1000cc Vincent motor had been modified considerably, ran on nitro methane, and flames would belch from those straight-through exhausts. Note the size of the rear sprocket, and the position of the footpegs. Lots more images at the Auction Description.
No sale | 1941 Indian Four
With a high bid of $71,500, this bike was passed in. A disappointing result and an indication of the type of quality on the market at present. Well known bike that was formerly part of the Imperial Palace collection. Check out the images in the Auction Description. Near perfect.
$68,750 | 1906 Indian Racer
An award-winning restoration done in the 1970s. A rare bike in many ways, this was at the end of the period where Aurora manufactured the Indian designed-engine but still only serial no #3052. Auction Description.
$67,100 | 1931 Indian Four
$66,000 | 1929 BMW R62
The R62 was the first of the first 750 BMW designed for touring use and this bike dates from the first few years of motorcycle manufacture, and was only produced for two years for a total of 4,355 built and far fewer extant. Auction Description.
No sale | 1971 Husqvarna 400 Motocross (Steve McQueen)
There was a time when a genuine McQueen bike would have been expected to fetch more. The $60,000 bid (effectively $66,000) wasn't enough. Auction Description.
$56,100 | 1913 Pope Model M 622cc
The Model M was the first Pope single and the first American motorcycle to employ overhead valves in the engine. A significant motorcycle historically and one with the original century-old paint. Auction Description.
$49,500 | 1982 Honda XLV750R
Malcolm Smith is one of the all-time-greats of motorcycle off-road racing, so any bike he has owned and ridden is worth having. This bike is worth having anyway, as it is one of just three made for promotional purposes with high output engine, and has covered just 1,800 miles. Auction Description.
No Sale | 2010 Confederate P120 Combat Fighter
It's difficult to tell how close this 2010 Confederate P120 Combat Fighter came to the reserve price, but with a high bid of $49,500, that's still less than half way to the bike's new price of just seven years ago. Given the carbon and aluminum sculpture has just 204 miles on the clock ... an opportunity going begging methinks. Auction Description.
$41,250 | 1938 Triumph 5T Speed Twin (ex Steve McQueen)
Another inexplicable result. This bike went to auction in Las Vegas just six months ago with Mecum, attracting a high bid of $52,250 before being passed in. This time it attracted a high bid of $41,250 but was passed in. Auction Description.
$39,600 | 1942 Harley-Davidson XA Military
A rare beastie indeed, this was the bike which the American military requested from Harley-Davidson in WW2 after it became obvious that the flat-twin BMW motorcycles of the German army were far superior to the Harley-Davidson WLA v-twin. A thousand were made, far fewer survive, and this well restored example fetched good money. Auction Description.
$35,750 | 1918 Sunbeam JAP
$31,900 | 1953 Honda 3E Dream
This is a very rare motorcycle from the very beginnings of the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer. This model was actually Honda's first four-stroke motorcycle and even more significant when you consider that the brand has promoted four-stroke power ever since. Honda motorcycles are not yet considered highly collectible because they were invariably made in vast numbers. This bike was produced before Honda's star rose. One day it will be worth a lot more than this. Auction Description.
$27,500 | 1964 BMW R69S
An excellent example of one of BMW's most sporting and celebrated models, this R69S was auctioned with the optional fairing and additional gas tank, documentation and the original instruction manual. Auction Description.
$25,300 | 1973 Triumph Hurricane X75
Craig Vetter's iconic X75 design is an auction favorite, though this one went cheaply. Auction Description.
$15,950 | 1968 Husqvarna 360 Motocross (Bud Ekins)
Bud Ekins is one of Hollywood's best known stuntmen of the 1960s and 1970s, not to mention Steve McQueen's great mate and fellow adventurer. This was one of the few celebrity Husqvarnas to achieve a premium at the Las Vagas auctions. Auction Description.
No sale | 1971 Husqvarna 400 Motocross (James Coburn)
James Coburn starred in over 70 movies and countless television shows, ultimately winning an Academy Award. He was also a friend and sometime riding buddy of Steve McQueen. Both indulged their passion for horsepower on two and four wheels, and in 2008, a Ferrari 250 GT California Spider owned by Coburn became the most valuable car ever sold at auction when it sold for €7,040,000 ($10,894,900) at an RM-Sotheby's auction at the Ferrari factory. The same magic didn't work on the Husqvarna, with the bike attracting a high bid of $14,000 ($15,400 with premium) before being passed in. Auction Description.
No sale | 1971 Husqvarna 360 Enduro (Lee Marvin)
Another Hollywood bike, being one of Lee Marvin's motorcycles found at his Baja (Mexico) property. Marvin appeared in many films, with his most famous motorcycling role being as Marlon Brando's adversary Chico in the landmark film, The Wild Ones.
That's Marvin and Brando at the center of it all in the famous film above. His motorcycling gravitas didn't count much in the end as the bike achieved a high bid of $14,300 and was passed in. Auction Description.
No sale | 1968 Husqvarna 360 Sportsman
Another Bud Ekins motorcycle that didn't sell in Las Vegas. The high bid was $13,200. Auction Description.
No sale | 1971 Husqvarna 400 Motocross (Charles Bronson)
Another motorcycle with significant celebrity provenance that failed to translate into a sale in Las Vegas. Legendary tough guy and male lead Charles Bronson's 1971 Husqvarna 400 Motocross bike attracted a high bid of $12,000 ($13,200 with commission) but ... no sale. Auction Description.
$12,100 | 1965 Ducati Rickman Metisse Mk III
An early sixties lightweight built using a 250cc Ducati engine and a Rickman Metisse frame. Built by Bud Ekins and Von Dutch, raced by Dave Ekins. Auction Description.
$8,525 | 1981 Honda MotoCompo
Very few of these "trunk bikes" from Honda made their way to America, though they were well-received in space-limited Japan in the 1980s and demonstrate just how far ahead of the game Honda has been in recognizing and building futuristic transportation solutions. There's every chance that one day this will be seen as a milestone motorcycle. Auction Description.
No sale | 1970 Husqvarna 250 Motocross (Bruce Brown)
This bike was owned by legendary cult film maker Bruce Brown, the man who gave us such classics as On any Sunday and The Endless Summer.
Brown's Husqvarna received just a $6,600 high bid, despite him playing such a fundamental role in the popularity of motorcycling with On Any Sunday. Auction Description.
$5,225 | 2005 Triumph Rocket III
The Triumph Rocket III was one of the bikes which spearheaded the revitalization of the Triumph name, with a stonking 2.3 liter three-cylinder motor and shaft drive. Right now, the landmark machine appears to be at it's cheapest point ever. Auction Description.