The ‘bike week’ in Las Vegas hosts the world’s largest motorcycle auctions, with a total of 1850-odd vintage machines on sale this year.  With two sales during the week, hosted by Mecum Auctions and Bonhams Auctions [full disclosure – both supporters of TheVintagent.com], the variety of motorcycles available makes this literally a ‘something for everyone’ event.  All price ranges, all types, makes, configurations, ages, and countries of origin were present, from a replica 1894 Hildebrand&Wolfmuller, the world’s first production motorcycle, to sport bikes from 2016, with literally everything barring steam motorcycles represented on the auction block.  Many come to buy, many come to sell, but all come to enjoy seeing that many old motorcycles in one place, as the auctions are by default also the largest vintage motorcycle display in the world.  It’s a museum where everything is for sale, although you never know what any machine will fetch once the hammer falls.  Bargain or world record?  It’s impossible to tell beforehand.

Star of the Show: this 1939 Crocker Big Tank brought a whopping $705,000, the second-highest price ever paid for a motorcycle at auction.  A second Crocker big twin brought $423,500, which would have been the highest price ever paid at auction for this legendary American make, but it was eclipsed earlier by this machine! [Mecum]
With this a huge sampling of verifiable prices, the Las Vegas auctions are also a snapshot for the vintage motorcycle market. Prices this year were decidedly mixed, and totally unpredictable, which may reflect domestic politics more than the economy!  Take it how you will: either the price of a Crocker V-twin has shot up wildly, or remains at a 5-years status quo, as two similar machines sold, for $705,000 and $423,500, one day apart at the Mecum sale. Was there enough difference between the two machines to justify the $282,000 price difference?  Both were restored, both looked tremendously appealing, but the top price came from the MC Collection of Sweden, who provided excellent documentation for this machine, and all their 240+ bikes sold at Mecum.

We loved this fun collection of 1971 Honda SL street scramblers – every model in Honda’s CL range that year. They went to a new French museum, which took home many machines this year’s auctions.  The set of 6 brought $51,000. [Bonhams]
Records for particular models were certainly set: a pair of new-in-crate Honda Z50 ‘monkey bikes’ brought an astonishing $51,150.  These were dealer-only ‘Christmas Special’ models, gifts from the Honda factory to their best-selling dealers, and had an all-chrome finish.   Twenty other Honda Z50s of various vintages were sold at Mecum’s South Point Hotel venue, with an average price of $5500, although one other Christmas Special sold for $13,200, which bends my mind, but says a lot about collectors in general: it doesn’t matter what it is, if people want it, they’ll pay what they need to get it.

This gorgeous 1967 Velocette Thruxton broke all the rules in fetching $56,100, while another one sold for a more ‘reasonable’ $42,100! [Mecum]
The following are probably the top prices ever paid at auction for these machines:

The takeaway: most of these are for post-1980 bikes. That’s the hottest part of the motorcycle marketplace now, with recognition (in the form of money) going to the best motorcycles of the 1980s.  Generally, bikes from the 1920s/30s/40s held their value (barring the ’25 SS100 at $357,500, about $100k off the expected price), while those of the 1950s/60s slipped on the whole.

The Honda RC30 is a perfect design object with wicked performance, and has been collectable since it was released – many have zero miles! This one has 3 miles, solely from being pushed around at the Mecum auction… [Mecum]
In a unique scenario this year, 240-odd machines from the MC Collection in Sweden were sold in one day (Friday Jan. 5th at Mecum): the 50-year collection of outstanding machines from Christer Christensen.  Prices varied greatly, from bargains to world records (for a 1938 Crocker ‘Big Tank’ at $705k), but on the aggregate, prices were above average, and at the end of the day Friday his collection (minus 7 machines sold Saturday), fetched over $9.5 Million…which used to be the total for the entire ‘bike week’ in Las Vegas.  But there was still another 1500+ machines to sell!   Those ‘other’ bikes boosted the Mecum total to a staggering $26Million, which is an 87% increase over last year.  With a 92% sale rate, the 2019 Mecum sale will be remembered as the largest and most successful motorcycle sale in history.

Christer Christensen of the MC Collection was sad to see 245 of his motorcycles dispersed around the globe, after 50 years of collecting. But $9.5M helped. [Paul d’Orléans]
The venerable Bonhams Auctions sale at the Rio Hotel featured a manageable 120 motorcycles on Thursday afternoon, with a sell-through rate of just under 80%, and prices generally at or below the expected averages. One bright spot was Steve McQueen’s 1938 Triumph Speed Twin, which fetched $175,000: a 4X factor courtesy the King of Cool.  No other McQueen bike in Las Vegas at either auction house, though, had that kind of Steve multiplier, so there’s nothing to be learned here.  A surprising number of no-sales at Bonhams for restored 1960s Triumph twins may reflect their seller’s unrealistic expectations – prices at both auctions were well down on mass-produced British twins compared to 2016, and we rarely see $16k+ prices for these bikes anymore. Managing the expectations of motorcycle owners is perhaps the most difficult job of an auction house, as people remember the very top prices for special machines or reached in one-off auction fights, but fail to realize their machine is not in the same situation, even if apparently identical!

The magic of Steve McQueen launched this 1938 Triumph Speed Twin into the stratosphere! $175,000, which is 4X the usual top price. [Bonhams]
While British parallel twins prices continue to weaken, it’s the Vincent Black Shadow that’s the auction-world weather balloon…or the canary in the coal mine, depending on whether you’re buying or selling.  VBS prices have been a rollercoaster indicator of global economic health for the past 3 decades, swinging between $25k and $150k and back again several times over now.  They’re the go-to bike for first-time collectors, a box to tick on every must-have list, but such checkbook buyers vanish in bad times.  Restored Black Shadows reached a high average of around $140k two years ago, but today have sunk back to $85k, which is in line with prices within the Vincent Owner’s Club, according to my sources.  A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning failed to sell at Bonhams after bidding peaked at $320k, which is a mystery, as last year a similar Lightning – both with long, documented histories – set a world record at $950k.  Three more Lightnings sold privately in 2018 – two at around $350k, plus an amazing Craigslist discovery at $20k.  Yep; keep your eyes peeled, there’s still treasure to be found!  Yaar!

Likely the highest price ever paid for a Benelli 250 Quattro (which can also be found as a Moto Guzzi): $15,400 [Mecum]
Perhaps all the pre-auction swooning over this 1981 Bimota SB2 helped kick it to $52k at auction? [Mecum]
This 1986 Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica sold for $49,500, although other, identical machines sold for less than $15k during the week! [Mecum]
This mighty Münch Mammut set a high water mark of $115,000. [Bonhams]
What must be the most expensive ‘civilianized’ Norton Interpol II rotary, a 1986 model for $33,000. [Mecum]
Exotica! And perhaps the ultimate Honda supertech superbike. The NR 750 was crazy expensive when new, and remains so at auction at $181,500. [Mecum]
I’m not sure why this 1981 BMW R80 G/S brought $38,500, but it did, and now sets the high bar for the G/S series. [Mecum]
Also sold at Mecum, the uncategorizable full-scale model of an AJS V4, built from photos and ridden 15,000 miles by Dan Smith, its creator. Mecum asked, ‘what’s it worth, Paul’, and I said, ‘maybe $80k’, and I guess it was, at $85,250. [Paul d’Orléans]
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