It is interesting that in January, which is usually the dead of winter, when few motorcycle riders are even considering riding their bikes, the two largest motorcycle auctions in the U.S. are held in Las Vegas. This is what happens every year and the weather did not dissuade prospective buyers from raising their hands to try and get the bike, or bikes, of their dreams.
No matter what kind of bikes you are into, we have to believe that there was a model to pique your interest at auctions staged by Bonhams and Mecum (details after the first photo gallery below). They had hundreds of motorcycles on offer, from the early teens to some of the latest and most advanced superbikes built today.
We started our visit at the Bonhams Las Vegas motorcycle sale held at Bally’s Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Bonhams featured an amazing array of rare and valuable bikes along with a nice assortment of less expensive starter classics.
The collection of various Vincent motorcycles at the Bonhams auction was definitely the highlight of the event and it was a Vincent, a factory red painted 1951 White Shadow, which is a Black Shadow that does not have its engine painted black, that set the top price of the week, selling for an astounding record setting $434,000.
Other Vincents did quite well, including a 1948 Vincent Series B Black Shadow selling for $150,000; a 1953 Vincent Series C Black Shadow that sold for $140,000; a 1951 Vincent Series C Black Shadow that sold for $137,000; and a 1954 Vincent Series C Black Shadow that brought $125,000.
Six-figure results were not just reserved for Vincents, however. We also saw a 1977 MV Agusta 750 S America, with just 41 original miles, selling for $120,500; a Brough Superior SS80 (fitted with a Matchless engine to SS100 specification) that sold for a very fair $120,500; and a rare early American motorcycle, a 1910 Royal Pioneer, sold for $115,000.
But you did not need to spend $100K to get a nice bike at Bonhams and there were quite a few bargains on newer classic bikes and future collectibles. Some of our favorites were a 1986 Yamaha SRX 6 which sold for a very reasonable $3,680; a nice restored silver metal flake 1970 Norton Commando Roadster(yes we know it is not a stock color) for a bargain price of $6,440; a 1975 Honda CB400F Supersport selling for only $3,680; and a well restored 1955 BSA Goldstar sold for only $16,100.
Our favorite bike of the sale as the one we bid on and lost. It was the ex-Buddy Parriot 1959 Norton Manx 500. Parriot was the first American to get FIM World Champion points, making this a fantastic British racing motorcycle with a unique America twist. Happily, a good friend was the winning bidder. He will be keeping it in the United States and riding it quite a bit. The Manx achieved a final price of $46,000, a strong price, though not for a Manx with significant history.
At sales end, Bonhams posted total sales of just under $5 million, telling us that we do indeed have a growing vintage motorcycle market.
I thought Bonhams had a lot of bikes, but was staggered when I walked into the Mecum auction room at South Point. This is by far the biggest group of bikes I have ever seen for sale in a single place. With 719 auction lots available, it was hard to know where to start when looking at the bikes. The only way to really see everything was to go row by row. If I have any advice for anyone attending the Mecum Vegas sale next year it is to be sure you give yourself enough time to see everything.
Much like Bonhams, there were bikes available of every era and at every price level. If you wanted a 1922 Harley-Davidson they had one and if you wanted a 1986 Honda Interceptor they had that as well.
Among the hundreds of bikes there were a few standouts that I very much wanted to add to my own collection. The first was the 1947 Triumph Speed twin Hawkeye Hillbilly hillclimber, famous for it’s starring role in the movie On Any Sunday. Another favorite was a 1953 Harley-Davidson KR Flat Track Racer that sold for $16,000. This was a flawless restoration and a good buy at the price.
Another pair of standouts were an Indian and a Norton. The 1949 Norton International was a nicely restored example sold for a strong $19,000.
The 1970 Indian is not really an Indian; i.n 1970 there was a bike marketed as an Indian in the U.S. that actually had a British Velocette 500 engine with Indian labels on the tank. This bike was unrestored and all original and was a virtual time capsule. At press time the bike was still available for sale.
My favorite bike at the Mecum sale was a 1955 Vincent Black Prince. Called the Bentley of motorcycles when new, the Black Prince is a fully enclosed motorcycle, designed for the gentleman to ride to work. The Black Prince is definitely an acquired taste but I have always found them fascinating and forward thinking. Obviously I am not alone as this Black Prince sold for a very strong $120,000.
By auctions end, the Mecum MidAmerica Las Vegas auction had posted an astounding $9,054.965 in sales, an increase of more than $1.5 million compared to the 2015 sale. Strong numbers, indeed.
These results tell us that the vintage motorcycle market is very strong and growing stronger.
Part of this is likely due to the lower prices of motorcycles compared to classic cars. Even storied competition bikes like the Norton Manx are selling for less that $50K and most top tier bikes sell for less than $150,000, making them more attainable than cars of similar history.
There is also the issue of space. Motorcycles take up considerably less space than cars so you can have more of them.
Whatever the reason, we can see that this is a very strong collector vehicle market. Our advice would be that if you have always wanted a certain classic motorcycle that you should buy it now.
Photos by Andy Reid