Rare Harley-Davidson barn find breaks auction record in Australia
Early 20th Century Harley Davidson motorcycles are rare enough items in themselves. But when one surfaces that was uncommon even when new, and from a line of racing models largely destroyed over the years in the pursuit of speed, you know that you probably have an exceptionally scarce item on your hands. So when a barn-find Harley-Davidson racing machine and sidecar is found after 50-plus years in storage in Australia and then sent to auction, the bidding is sure to be fierce. With a final winning bid of AUD$600,000 (US$420,000) – and a new Australian auction record – that was certainly the case.
The circa-1927 FHA 8-Valve V-Twin racer complete with its scramble-type sidecar was one of fewer than 50 built and an exceptionally rare machine anywhere in the world. So for one to turn up in an Australian shed after decades certainly set the motorcycle collector world abuzz. With bids coming in from all around the globe, the rare Harley was auctioned at Shannon's Melbourne Spring Auction on September 21.
In the mid-1920s, Harley-Davidson's F-head Twin Cam racing bikes were the vanguard for the factory race team until the American Motorcycle Association brought in a new "Class C" for production-based 45-cid motorcycles. These new rules rendered the Twin Cam machines obsolete on the track in America.
This was not the case in Australia, however, and a number of these machines made their way across the Pacific during this time. They were very popular with oval track racers at Maroubra in Sydney, the Motordrome in Melbourne, and other circuits around the country. Running on racing mixtures that often consisted of 75 percent wood alcohol and 25 percent benzol, these motorbikes had higher compression ratios than the standard units and, as a result, much higher outputs than their strictly gasoline-only road-going brethren.
Unfortunately, many of these racing bikes also ended their lives in spectacular fashion in the pursuit of faster speeds and ever more dangerous competition.
As such, it is unsurprising that very few original Harley-Davidson racing bikes have survived from that era and, of those that did, even fewer avoided many and varied "improvements" and modifications. So finding a completely unaltered example of a racer from the time is almost impossible, hence the price and interest in this machine.
With a "no reserve" ticket allocated to the lot, the seller really had no worries about securing a good price, particularly with its incredible rarity value. Nevertheless, the clinching bid of AUD$600,000 (US$420,000) well and truly exceeded all expectations. Even taking exchange rates into account, this sort of money would not have been out of place amongst the notable sales of early and uncommon Harleys at the recent E.J Cole auctions in the United States.
Sure to be eligible for inclusion in Gizmag's list of the top 100 motorcycles to go to auction, this ultra-rare example of Harley-Davidson motorcycle racing history is destined to stay in Australia according to its new owner, so we may well see this particular example one day restored to its former glory and on display Down Under.