Mecum is following up its blockbuster 2020 Las Vegas auction with a full slate of motorcycles at their Glendale AZ sale next week, March 11-14.  With ‘only’ 100 motorcycles on offer, the selection is digestible, and one can look over the entire online catalog in a few minutes to find something you can’t live without.  That might include a genuine and achingly beautiful 1954 Matchless G45 production, or a super rare ‘upside down’ Indian Four, or an awesome bruiser of a Maico 500cc two-stroke motocrosser.  Have a look at our faves below, and check out the whole catalog online.

1954 Matchless G45

Poetry in motion: the 1954 Matchless G45 combined good looks with raw power. [Mecum]
The first 500cc production racer from AMC (AJS/Matchless) was not the single-cylinder OHC racer everyone expected, but an adaptation of their G9 500cc twin-cylinder road bike engine in the chassis of the AJS 7R single.  The engine had terrific speed and acceleration, as parallel twins tend to, but as Triumph found with their Grand Prix models, early success does not guarantee continued success.  The G45 had some early wins in serious competition, including victory in the 1952 Manx Grand Prix, which was controversial because the model was a factory job, and not yet offered to the public. When deliveries began in 1953, the limitations of the roadster-based engine became an obstacle to development, and mechanical gremlins could not easily be rectified.  Only 80 G45s were sold between 1953-57, making this one of the rarest production racers of the postwar era.  It’s also perhaps the most beautiful of all, with the lovely deep finning of the twin-cylinder motor and heart-shaped timing cover, combined with the perfection of the AJS 7R chassis, makes for a heart-stoppingly gorgeous motorcycle, that’s capable of 130mph.

1955 Nimbus Four

Made by a vacuum cleaner factory outside Copenhagen, the Nimbus is a charming anachronism that can be used every day. [Mecum]
At the other end of the performance scale is this Nimbus four-cylinder machine, which simply oozes charm.  The specifications were quite advanced when it came out in 1934, with an overhead-camshaft motor (albeit with exposed valve springs) and shaft drive, and a simple frame built of flat strip steel.  The design proved good enough for a 25 year production run, and one ride on the Nimbus tells why: it’s built for the long haul, not the short burst, and proved perfect for utility work with the Danish Post Office and military.  They’re fun and smooth and simple, and are often hitched to a sidecar, which suits them well and adds to the fun factor.  They’re lovely machines, in short, and are full of character, which is welcome in an age of jellybean cars and plastic motorcycles.  They’ve been ridden around the world (even recently), and their stately performance reminds you that winning isn’t always about being first.

1936 Indian 436

The 1936 Indian 436 is a very rare bird, with beautiful lines. [Mecum]
The famous ‘upside down’ four was Indian’s first full redesign of their four-cylinder engine since they purchased their design lock, stock, and cylinder barrel from Ace in 1926.  The 436 moved the exhaust valves upstairs (and the intake below, in an inverted F-head design) in a successful bid to increase power, which made the 436 a real hotrod, but also a hot ride.  Riders complained that the exhaust system gave them hot leg syndrome, but their complaints seemed more resistance to change than an actual issue.  Regardless, Indian swiftly changed the design, making the 436 a rare machine.  Also, it was built at the absolute apex of Indian’s Art Deco styling era, with gorgeous sweeping fenders complementing the teardrop fuel tanks, and the best DuPont paint scheme Indian ever devised.  Let the sayers nay: the 436 is an exquisite motorcycle, and faster than any other Indian four.

1971 Maico MC501

King of the jungle: the Maico 501 was the most powerful motocrosser for many years to come. [Mecum]
If you’ve raised children, you know that getting what you asked for does not always mean you get what you want.  The Maico 501 was such a case: when released, it was the most powerful motocrosser ever made, and just oversize enough to compete in the 750cc class of AMA competition – hillclimbs, ice racing, motocross, what have you.  The 501cc capacity was built at the request, of course, from the American importers of this German beast, and significant development was required to make the crankshaft/rod/piston successful for such a large two-stroke without vibration issues.  It worked, and the 501 became legend, mostly for being outrageously potent.  Cycle magazine testers thought most riders would never get out of first gear, while pros could hardly keep the bike flat out in second gear: nobody could keep it wide open in third.  And that was it: the earliest 501s only had 3 speeds, as more were not necessary…but any bike imported to America had 4 gears, for the sake of normalcy if not utility.  It’s hard to describe the impression this bike made on the MX scene in the early 1970s, but let’s just say it blew everyone’s mind that such a monster was even built, let alone raced.  If you like dirt, you need this awesomeness in your life.

1930 Excelsior Super X Overhead Valve Factory Hillclimber

This ex-factory Excelsior OHV hillclimber is one serious piece of badass, from a lost era of vertical drag racing. And, it comes with a glass case! [Mecum]
Here’s the deal: this Excelsior is a bona fide, blue chip, jaw-dropping factory racing motorcycle.  Also the deal: most collectors are sheep, and buy what they know other people want.  Not many contemporary motorcycle collectors really understand the importance of hillclimbing in the American racing story: factory hillclimbers are super-exotic racing motorcycles that had big money thrown at them, because hillclimbing was the most popular motorcycle competition in late 1920s America.  Board track racing was over, and dirt track racing was coming up to replace it, along with vertical drag racing, otherwise known as hillclimbing.  The Big 3 (Excelsior, Indian, and H-D) duked it out in a National Championship series, and sent their best stuff to the game, which by 1930 included alcohol-swilling monsters with 80hp developed from overhead valve engines they didn’t offer to the public.  Excelsior was kicking everyone’s ass in 1928/9/30, with Joe Petrali winning the National Championship via 31 straight victories in ’28/9, and Gene Rhyne winning the Championship in 1930 with a bike identical to this one. Was it this bike?  We don’t know.  What we know is its next owner (Excelsior called it quits in 1930) was Indian dealer Al Lauer, who painted this bike red and raced with an Indian jersey, fooling exactly nobody.  The next owner, George Hass of San Francisco, wisely left the Excelsior in exactly as-last-raced condition when he bought it from Lauer in 1988, and also built this cool glass case for it!  I would be happy to stare at this bike every day forever.

 

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