The Bonhams' Barber Museum Auction held last weekend saw some remarkable motorcycles cross the auction block, some with celebrity and movie provenance. Some of the results were predictable, and some were puzzling, and raise some interesting questions about celebrity provenance, whether it always applies, and whether it wears off.
We've already covered Steve McQueen's Husqvarna 400 Cross ridden in On Any Sunday which sold for US$230,500 in great depth, but the Barber Museum auction served to highlight just what a remarkable effect the name Steve McQueen has on the value of an object at auction, and to a lesser degree, just how undervalued a motorcycle is if it is a dirt bike or a two stroke, both factors which collectors shun.
Exactly why two-strokes are not favored by collectors isn't rocket science – older two-strokes at standstill live in a white cloud of unburnt hydrocarbons and burned oil and instead of the neanderthal noises of a four-stroke, a high performance two-stroke emits an ear-splitting shriek more akin to a dentist's drill but 50 decibels louder.
Despite the fact they could induce lifelong tinitus, you have to have been there and held the throttle when the expansion chambers heralded the coming of genuine power to truly appreciate a two-stroke. They may have sounded like a tin can full of ball bearings at idle, but they went MUCH faster than the four-strokes of the day. Once the riddles of exhaust harmonics and piston ring metallurgy were solved, two-strokes dominated four-strokes into extinction on the racetrack, then were banned due to their excessive exhaust gas emissions.
There were several two-stroke dirt bikes with great provenance which failed to sell at Bonhams' Barber auction, and the official estimates and values clearly illustrate the perceived value of the two-stroke being but a fraction of a four-stroke.
No sale | 1949 Vincent 998cc Black Lightning Series-B
One of approximately 30 examples ever built of the ultimate Vincent V-twin performance bike, this 1949 model had never been accident damaged, was expected to fetch between $400,000 and $500,000, but ultimately bidding petered out in the low $300,000 range.
$230,500 | 1928 Windhoff 750 Four
This 1928 Windhoff 746cc Four had previously sold into the Top 100 motorcycles ever sold at auction when it fetched $199,292 (£100,500) in April, 2008 at a Bonhams auction in the UK.
Windhoff's four-cylinder motorcycle appeared in 1926 utilizing innovations that were considered landmark decades later. It's a wonderful if somewhat sad story that this exquisite piece of engineering came from a company that produced motorcycles for just nine years before succumbing to the financial difficulties of the depression and disappearing.
The 750 four, produced 40 years prior to Honda's landmark CB750, features oil-cooling and an overhead-camshaft but most significantly, the engine was used as a stressed member of the frame. The crankcase and cylinder block were combined in a massive alloy casting, to which the steering head was directly bolted, while four straight tubes supported the rear wheel. The latter was driven by shaft while the front was mounted in a leaf-sprung, trailing-link fork.
Smoothly styled, with all its oil lines internal, Dauben's engine was an over-square design of 63 x 60 mm bore/stroke that produced 22 bhp at 4,000 rpm. The unit was renowned for its smoothness and flexibility, enabling the Windhoff to be ridden at speeds as low as 6 mph without snatch. Auction Description
No sale | 1970 Husqvarna 250 Cross
Denis Hopper appeared in many famous movies, such as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Giant (1956), Blue Velvet (1986), Apocalypse Now (1979), Hoosiers (1986) and Speed (1994), but his multiple roles in Easy Rider will link him with motorcycling and alternative lifestyles forever.
Hopper was the director of the low budget movie and he co-wrote the script with Peter Fonda, then they both starred alongside a young Jack Nicholson, ultimately producing a movie for $400,000 that would become one of the landmark movies of all time.
Hopper was a very keen motorcyclist, a regular riding buddy of Steve McQueen and owned several Husqvarnas over the years. In 2013, a 250 Commando Husqvarna owned by Hopper attracted a high bid of $30,000 but didn't meet reserve and this bike was also passed in well before its reserve of $20,000. Auction Description
$63,250 | 1953 Vincent 498cc Comet Series-C
Falling just short of the world record price for a single cylinder Vincent (current record $65,000), this bike is almost one of the family at New Atlas. The vendor of this bike was long-time New Atlas scribe and photographer Somer Hooker, and one of its prior owners was Steve McQueen, which accounts for the spectacular price. Auction Description
$21,875 | 1970 Bell Motorcycle Helmet
One of Steve McQueen's open face Bell helmets fetched $21,875, which is a whopping price for a helmet, but one of the cheapest McQueen memorabilia items to sell at auction for some time. See our feature article on his $230,500 On Any Sunday Husqvarna 400 Cross for a lot more details. Auction Description
No sale | 1973 Ducati 885cc 750 Sport 'Old Yello' Racer
The best known motorcycle journalist in the world over the last five decades has been Brit Alan Cathcart, who has been winning international races for most of that period. This is perhaps Cathcart's best known racing motorcycle, and performed faultlessly across 300 race outings. It didn't sell. Auction Description
$27,025 | 1989 Honda VFR750R RC30
The sale of this bike for $27,025 was further evidence that bargains exist out there in auction land and that with a bit of patience and some judicious buying, great returns are to be had.
Two Honda RC30 motorcycles were sold in Vegas during the January auctions earlier this year, one at Mecum for $44,000 and one at Bonhams for $92,000. As we have written before, the significance of the RC30 model can not be overstated. It was built in very low quantities so that Honda could go production racing and each one was hand-built by Honda Racing Corporation, not the Honda factory.
For several years, it won everything, including the first two World Superbike Championships. We go into a lot more detail about the RC30 and its immense significance to sporting two-wheelers in this feature about the evolution of the Sports Motorcycle. Needless to say, with only 3,000 made, and the fact it was built by Honda Racing Corporation rather than Honda (and hence it has a build quality that is beyond superb), $27,025 represents an investment that will pay handsome returns. Auction Description
$3,220 | 1979 Bultaco Pursang Mk12
Motocross world championships have not been too plentiful for Americans over the years, and from the championships' inception in 1952, only seven titles have gone to America. The very first American to win a world championship race was Jim Pomeroy, who won his first world championship race at the 1973 Spanish Grand Prix on a Bultaco in 1973.
Pomeroy rode a Bultaco Pursang 250 in the Spanish Grand Prix and though he went on to race as a factory rider for Honda, his name will be forever linked with the Spanish marque. This isn't the bike he won on that day, but at $3,220, it's a bargain basement addition to any collection. Auction Description
$137,000 | 1974 Ducati 750 SS
Long one of the most collectible 1970s motorcycles, the original green frame Ducati 750 SS has everything going for it. It was produced in limited numbers (400 or thereabouts), won the Imola 200 at its first outing, and it is gorgeous.
No sale | 1968 Bultaco Pursang 250 MkII
This is the Bultaco ridden by Peter Fonda in the opening sequence of Easy Rider, where Peter Fonda meets Dennis Hopper who is riding a CZ dirt bike, they become friends, and from then on they are both riding choppers.
The Pursang might not be as globally recognized as the Captain America bike about which there has been so much controversy, but $60,000 would have owned this bike and the reserve wasn't met. Also, the Captain America bike sold for well in excess of $1 million privately. Estimate: $60,000 to $70,000. Auction Description
$115,000 | 1936 Brough Superior 982cc SS80
The SS100 Brough is the pick of the model range as far as collectors go, but prices of the SS80 are creeping ever upwards, and at $115,000, this bike sold for slightly less than the going rate over recent years. Auction Description
No sale | 1973 Honda ATC70
The things that come up at auction are sometimes quite remarkable, and this lot certainly fits that bill. It is a 1973 Honda trike that was given to the Jackson 5 when they were at the height of their popularity.
That's Michael Jackson in the center of the inset picture, and Jackson's memorabilia usually sells for much more than this. The official estimate for the trike was $8,000 to $10,000 but bidding failed to make even that. Auction Description
$36,800 | 1969 Honda CB750 'Sandcast'
When the word "sandcast" is used in conjunction with a Honda CB750/4 it signifies one of the original batch of bikes which Honda hand made until it was certain its new motorcycle would be accepted by the public.
Remarkably in hindsight, Honda wasn't certain the bike would be a success, and the first 7,414 CB750s produced prior to September, 1969 were all made with aluminum crankcases cast using a sand mold.
No sale | 1967 CZ 250
This bike appeared in the first film adaptation of a Ken Kesey novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, ridden in the movie by no less a name than Paul Newman. Kesey went on to much greater fame, with his second novel movie adaptation being One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but given the number of spectacular names associated with this bike, we expected it might fetch its official estimate of $35,000 to $45,000, but bidding fell well short. Auction Description
$3,750 | Cromwell 'Pudding Basin' Helmet
Prior to helmet standards and mandatory testing and any real concerns for rider safety, everyone wore helmets which were less than ideal. Here's an example of such a helmet, although it was worn during the late 1950s and early 1960s by Mike Hailwood at the dawn of his career.
Hailwood won nine world motorcycle racing championships, 14 Isle of Man TTs and 76 Grands Prix, and is still considered by many to have been the most talented motorcycle racer of all time. Though no-one in their right mind would ever consider using such a helmet today, it is equally as much pristine memorabilia as Steve McQueen's Bell helmet sold above. Which begs the question, "does celebrity provenance fade with the passing of time?" Auction Description
$525 | Racing vests and gloves
Prior to WW2, all racing leathers were black, and riders were given vests on which their racing number was carried. The selection at left above were used by Stan Woods, the Irish road racer who was arguably the greatest pre-war motorcycle rider, winning the I.O.M. TT 10 times plus 20 Grand Prix wins at a time when there weren't that many Grand Prix.
Quite clearly, as the name Stanley Woods has faded from living memory, so too has his ability to influence the price of memorabilia. Auction Description
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more