Steve McQueen's Cyclone could become the third million dollar motorcycle
A Cyclone Board Track race going to auction next month seems to have all the boxes ticked to become just the third motorcycle in history to sell for more than a million dollars. Rarity? One of just six known to exist. Tick. Precedent? A similar bike set the world auction record in 2008. Tick. Technologically significant? The bevel-driven OHC V-twin was capable of 111 mph in 1911. Tick! Wildcard factor? Previously owned by the man with the midas touch, Steve McQueen. Tick, tick tick!
Trends in public fascination come and go, and just over a century ago, at the dawn of the age of personal transportation, car and motorcycle racing was a phenomenon across the United States and Europe.
Motorcycle sport began wherever it could. Invite men to race or fight anywhere and you can immediately oversubscribe competitors and draw a crowd, but the most successful race promoters of 100 years ago built massive banked board tracks in cities across the United States and it was on these tracks that the public's first taste of theatrical motorsport was played out.
Unlike other pioneering motorsport contests (primarily road and cross country racing) where the the majority of the race could not be seen from one vantage point, the giant oval motordromes offered spectators close access to the entire spectacle, and contributed to it because the wooden surface quickly became slick with oil and treacherously slippery.
With a very similar format to the gladiatorial chariot races which preceded motorsport by thousands of years, spectacular often tragic accidents could be seen at every event and prodigious crowd-pulling feats (and hence profit) were a given.
Newspaper headlines quickly helped the fastest of America's new motorcycle manufacturers develop enduring brand names. The advent of the motorcycle was the first time that personal transport had been available to the public at an affordable price, and there were more than one hundred American motorcycle manufacturers in the first decades of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, winning such races was rewarded with success in the sales showroom but only a few prevailed on the racetrack – Harley-Davidson, Excelsior and Indian were the predominant names before board track racing was banned. For a short period, one technologically advanced marque was clearly faster than the rest, Cyclone.
You don’t need to do a lot of research to realize just how rare Cyclones were in their day, let alone one in such pristine condition a century later. The extraordinarily beautiful motor of the Cyclone was a 996cc, 45 degree V-Twin with bevel-driven overhead camshafts. In 1915 it was reportedly timed at 111 mph (178.6 km/h).
The short-lived but spectacular success of the Cyclone brand and the bike’s remarkable bevel-driven OHC V-twin design, which was bleeding edge at the time, both contributed to another Cyclone setting a world auction price at a Mid-America auction in 2008 (pictured above).
Only two motorcycles have ever previously sold for a million dollars: the current world auction record holder, the Captain America Chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in the film Easy Rider (pictured above), and the ex-Rollie Free Vincent, which set a world record for a private sale several years ago.
As we accurately forecast last year, the Easy Rider Captain America Chopper smashed existing motorcycle auction records when it sold for $1.62 million last year, tripling the previous record of $580,000 held by the 1910 Winchester motorcycle below. The image above is of the on-line auction interface during bidding for the Captain America Chopper, showing the competing bids and the highest bid at that time.
The only two Winchesters known to exist are also heading to auction in March along with the EJ Cole Collection (of which the Cyclone is part), suggesting that more records are likely to fall in the next month.
The most expensive motorcycle to ever change hands privately was a 1948 Vincent Black Lightning famously ridden by Rollie Free at Bonneville Salt Flats to a then record speed of a 150.313 mph (241.905 km/h) over the "flying mile" on September 13, 1948.
The "Bathing Suit Bike" was sold in late 2011 for US$1,000,000 by elite Texan rare motorcycle agency and restoration service Harris Vincent Gallery to well-known collector Chip Connor.
Restoration by Stephen Wright
The motorcycle in question was restored by Stephen Wright, which may not mean much to most people, but for knowledgeable enthusiasts, Wright's involvement in the restoration adds an authenticity even greater than McQueen's.
Apart from being a restoration expert of exceptional quality, Stephen Wright was one the foremost authorities in early American motorcycle history having penned the now highly-sought-after books "American Racer 1900-1940" and "American Racer 1940-1980" plus "The American Motorcycle 1869-1914" which is still available and like his restorations, will also appreciate in value when the limited stocks run out.
Wright-restored bikes are highly sought after, not just those he restored while working directly for Steve McQueen at Solar Productions, but the many he subsequently restored.
The quality of his work can be seen quite obviously on this Cyclone, but also on this selection of motorcycles which have come to auction in recent years, and the prices they have fetched.
Several of Stephen Wright's restorations have crossed the auction block in recent times: From top left clockwise, a 1912 Indian V-Twin Board-Track Racer which sold for $61,500, a 1920 Indian Powerplus ‘Daytona’ Racing Motorcycle which sold for $150,000, a 1929 Harley-Davidson Model B which sold for $37,440, and a 1914 Indian Model F board track Racer which sold for $34,500.
Fittingly, Ron Christenson, the founder and Managing Director of Mid-America, (now the president of Mecum Mid-America Motorcycles, the two companies having amalgamated in 2014), will preside over the sale of the ex-McQueen Cyclone. That's Ron pictured above at the sale of the only Cyclone ever to be previously offered for public sale, on the day it set a world record in 2008.
Indeed, the only thing more exciting than this motorcycle going to auction is the collection which is to be auctioned at the same time, the EJ Cole Collection. The collection is easily the most significant and valuable motorcycle collection ever to reach public auction.
We'll have a full preview of the collection later in the week, but suffice to say this collection also contains a 1942 Crocker V Twin likely to fetch $500,000 or more, a 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank (one of these sold for $352,000 in 2006), a 1911 Flying Merkel Twin Racer (Auctions America sold a 1911 Flying Merkel for $201,250 in 2011), a hyper-rare 1913 Minneapolis Twin, a 1915 Harley-Davidson V-twin (Mid-America sold one of these for $169,600 in 2009), a 1917 Henderson Four, a 1914 Theim Single two-speed (made by the same company that made the Cyclone, Joerns Motor Mfg. Co) and dozens of other priceless exotics and it will almost certainly attract the cream of the world's collectors.