No one is quite sure how many Crocker v-twins were made between 1936 and 1942, with estimates ranging from 70 to 100 units. What is known is that only the first 23 Crocker V-twins had hemispherical heads and the bike being offered at Bonhams Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction on 26 January, 2017 is one of just seven "hemi head" Crockers known to have survived.
The bike is from the collection of the Wheels Through Time Transportation Museum in North Carolina and the engine number (# 36 61 8 i.e. made in 1936, 61 cubic inch, number #8) makes it the earliest example ever offered at public auction. Accordingly, the 1936 Crocker is expected to become just the fourth motorcycle ever sold for more than US$500,000 at auction.
The Laws of Supply & Demand
When we first compiled our most valuable motorcycles at auction listing, we found that Vincent motorcycles were the most represented marque in the top 250 highest prices ever paid, but Brough Superior was the most plentiful brand in the top 100.
That's because of the laws of supply and demand – 3048 Brough Superiors and 6872 Vincent V-twins were made and around 1000 Brough Superiors still exist compared with an estimated 3000 Vincents.
That undersupply has elevated Brough prices above those of Vincents, but the meagre 50 extant Crockers means the relative scarcity has driven the astronomical prices they now fetch (see our list and images of the top 12 Crockers sold below) to a much higher average price than either Vincent or Brough Superior. Only the American Cyclone (seven extant) has a higher average price, with Cyclones holding first and third place on the most expensive motorcycle list.
The bike to be auctioned has an fascinating history, with the motor having been purchased in a collection of original Crocker parts by Wheels Through Time Museum in 2014. Motor #8 was restored just before Crocker #22 was acquired for the museum's collection which already included Crocker #113. Research showed that the cylinder heads on motors #22 and #113 had been swapped decades ago, so the museum's workshop retransplanted the original hemi-heads to engine #22, in the process making engine #113 engine original too, though it was incorrectly mated to an earlier frame. That frame was mated to engine #8, creating the bike being auction by Bonhams.
Extraordinary bikes come from extraordinary people
George Brough created the legendary Brough Superior marque, though he no doubt learned the foundations of his trade from his motorcycle pioneer father, William Edward Brough, who produced Brough motorcycles from 1890. When George decided to go it alone instead of joining the family company, William wasn't pleased. He was even less enamored with George's choice of name and the inference, however true history has subsequently judged it to be.
Crocker originally worked at Aurora Automatic Machinery Company designing the legendary Thor motorcycles and was "poached" by Indian Motorcycle President Oscar Hedström and Chief Designer Charles Hendee, who he met when racing motorcycles. It was in the Indian engineering department where he first met Bigsby. Crocker and Bigsby collaborated on the original Crocker speedway bikes, then the Crocker v-twins and when WW2 intervened and production ceased, Crocker went into the fledgling aerospace industry while Bigsby went into the music industry and created one of the first electric guitars. If they were awarding Nobel Prizes for guitars and motorcycles, Bigsby would have two. Our listing of the world's most valuable guitars contains dozens of guitars with Bigsby's famous tremelo arm fitted - Hendrix, Clapton and all the guitar gods have used Paul Bigsby's creations.
Like many "artists", which Albert Crocker most certainly was, his focus on the business side of things was less than perfect, and he was somewhat tardy in numbering his motorcycles sequentially, which is one of the reasons we have engine numbers ranging well past 120, but less than 100 motorcycles produced. Crocker was more interested in engineering excellence and manufacturing superior motorcycles than mundane documentation. Crocker built almost everything in-house, including carburetors, with only items such as magnetos, spark plugs, wheel rims and tires being "bought in".
This motorcycle stands testimony to his capabilities and as the auction description states, "the engine could produce 60 horsepower and attain speeds of 110 mph" and was "designed to withstand the force from a 200 horsepower motor." Albert Crocker was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.
Just as you can buy a modern replica Brough Superior or a remanufactured Vincent, you can now also buy a Crocker Replica brand new, though the few authentic Crockers that remain cost considerably more to buy. In 1997 the new Crocker Motorcycle Company commenced production of Crocker components for the restoration market. The parts were received enthusiastically enough to prompt incorporation of a new company in January 1999. Using many of the old-school fabrication technologies, the Crocker Motorcycle Company set about re-creating all Crocker components such that new Crocker Big Tank and Small Tank motorcycles could be assembled, resulting in remarkable recreations of the originals. Crocker began taking orders for its very limited production in 2012 and now builds complete Crocker motorcycles to customer specifications just as Albert Crocker and Paul Bigsby did eight decades ago.
The Top 12 most valuable Crockers
Prior to the inclusion of a Crocker (the 1939 Crocker Small Tank owned by Otis Chandler - #8 on the list below) in the Guggenheim Museum's The Art of the Motorcycle Exhibition in 1998, the Crocker marque had faded into obscurity and was only known to the most hardcore of enthusiasts and many a Crocker sold for chump change during the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the Guggenheim's motorcycle exhibition being the most popular exhibit ever staged there, the single event that appears to have changed the brand's fortunes was Jared Zaug's 2006 Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d'Elegance where Crocker was one of the featured marques and 20 Crockers were gathered in one place. Several notable Crocker motorcycles changed hands privately during that event, and from that point forward, Crocker prices have climbed relentlessly to make it one of the most expensive motorcycle marques in the world.
1 – 1942 Crocker Big Tank | $385,000
Sold: March, 2015, Las Vegas | Mecum
This 1942 Crocker V Twin was estimated to fetch between $300,000 to $350,000 at Mecum's E.J. Cole Collection auction in March, 2015. It sold for $385,000, setting a new record for the marque. See image gallery for detail images and auction links.
2 – 1938 Crocker "Small Tank" | $371,800
Sold: August 2016, Monterey | Mecum
3 – 1939 Crocker "Big Tank" twin | $302,500
Sold: June, 2008, California | RM-Sothebys
Sold by RM as part of Joe MacPherson's (of Joe's Garage fame) collection, this Crocker was the star of the show at the 2008 sale and became the most valuable Crocker ever to sell at auction at the time when it fetched US$302,500.
4 – 1940 Crocker "Big Tank" | $302,000
Sold: August, 2012, Monterey | Bonhams
4 – 1937 Crocker "Small Tank" twin | $302,000
Sold: August, 2012, Monterey | Bonhams
6 – 1937 Crocker 'Small Tank' twin | $291,000
Sold: August, 2012, Monterey | Bonhams
7 – 1937 Crocker "Hemi-Head" | $276,500
Sold: November 2006, Los Angeles | Bonhams
8 – 1941 Crocker Big Tank | $243,800
Sold: January 2007, Las Vegas | Mecum
9 – 1939 Crocker "Small Tank" twin | $236,500
Sold: October 2006, Los Angeles | Gooding and Co.
10 – 1939 Crocker V-Twin Big Twin | $233,200
Sold: January 2008, Las Vegas | Mecum
11 – 1934 Crocker Speedway Bike | $159,500
Sold: March 2015, Las Vegas | Mecum
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.
12 – 1934 Crocker Speedway Bike | $151,200
Sold: January 2011, Las Vegas | Mecum
13 – 1929 Indian-Crocker Overhead-Valve Conversion | $93,600
We had to throw this one into the mix because it is such a wonderful example of the OHV conversions which Crocker created before turning his hand to entire motors and motorcycles. This price was achieved a decade ago at the Legend of the Motorcycle Auction however the same machine went to auction again at Bonhams' 2016 Las Vegas Motorcycle sale but failed to meet reserve.
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