It’s not a brave new world: it’s a strange new world (apologies to Aldous Huxley).  Life has certainly changed during the COVID pandemic, but one thing remains the same; riding a vintage motorcycle or cruising in an old car or truck IS a socially distanced activity.

Mecum’s Indy sale on July 12th 2020: masks, bidders sitting 6′ apart, regulated foot traffic, and strong sales. TV commentator Scott Hoke noted, “A nine page safety document, masks required as per the mayor, lots of hand sanitizing stations, much less seating in the arena. No-contact transactions as much as possible.” And it worked. [Scott Hoke]
“There is no greater socially-distanced hobby than driving a vintage car or riding a collector motorcycle by yourself or with a loved one,” says Sam Murtaugh of Mecum Auctions. “There’s no slowing that down, you can still get out on a nice cruise or a ride.”

Buyers and sellers of special-interest vehicles are keeping auction houses busy, but there have been challenges in the sales calendar. Luckily, in the land of motorcycle auctions, the large January 2020 Mecum sale in Las Vegas was unaffected by any COVID fallout. The story was different by mid-March.

Sam Murtaugh is a familiar face at Mecum Auctions: he’s VP of Marketing and Presentation. [Sam Murtaugh]
“We joined the rest of the world in lockdown mode, and had to cancel upcoming events,” explains Sam, who is the VP of marketing and presentation at Mecum Auctions.

From their website, posted March 17, an update said, “In accordance with the CDC’s recommendation to postpone events involving more than 50 people over the next eight weeks, we will be rescheduling our March and April events.” Some were rescheduled, like the Gone Farmin’ Spring Classic and Indy 2020 auction. Other events, such as Portland 2020 and Denver 2020 were canceled outright. Mecum’s first live auction took place June 17 to 20 in Davenport, Iowa, with the Gone Farmin’ sale of vintage tractors.

The big bike sale at Indy: probably the best original-paint Pierce 4 in existence, which sold for $225,500, a record for a Pierce, and tied for #78 on our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list. [a podium monitor capture from Scott Hoke]
“We’ve had four successful live auctions since mid-June,” Sam says. “Consignments have been strong, and bidders and sellers have been attending. In conjunction with that live bidding, there’s been an increase in phone and internet bidding for those not ready to attend in person. In fact, internet bidding activity has been 10 times higher than prior to the pandemic.”

To ensure each live event meets state, county, town and venue guidelines, Mecum submits their plans well in advance to authorities. New regulations include temperature checks at the door, mandatory use of face masks (whether indoor or outdoor), physically distancing in auction arenas and one-way entrance and exit scenarios.  “We adjust and add to our plans to the point where we all feel safe, it’s a great team effort,” Sam adds.

The typical scene at Mecum’s Las Vegas sale, the largest motorcycle auction in the world. This is only one of three halls with bikes. [Mecum Auctions]
The Indy 2020 auction at the Indiana State Fairgrounds from July 10 to 18 offered 117 motorcycles. Only 16 went unsold. From a 1982 Yamaha Enduro 100 for $2,750 to a 1918 Indian board track racer for $40,700, the highlight of the sale was a 1911 Pierce Arrow Four that hammered at $225,000. “There was a good mix of bikes at Indy,” Sam explains, and adds, “Some of those machines were consigned prior to COVID restrictions, while others, thanks to the postponed date, were consigned during lockdown.”

Don’t expect crowding at the big Las Vegas auctions…but nobody can predict the run of this pandemic. [Mecum Auctions]
Recognizing life would not instantly return to normal post-lockdown, Mecum upgraded their internet bidding platform. Video was introduced to allow an internet or phone bidder to follow along in real time with an auctioneer, hopefully stimulating that sense of excitement that’s part of a live auction format. Also, because photographs of consigned motorcycles are submitted by the seller, there’s new importance placed on the quantity and quality of images submitted for the sale catalog and online gallery.

“There could be up to 50% of bidders just online or on the phone, and the more photographs the merrier,” Sam suggests. “The more you can give a potential bidder, the better the result. We’re helping sellers understand why we need as many photos as possible, because there might not be as many potential bidders able to see a motorcycle in person. We also encourage sellers to send in video of a bike being ridden or starting and running – that’s highly educational for bidders to see, especially those who can’t or won’t be there in person.”

Coming to Las Vegas: Bryan Bossier’s amazing and very fast 1950 Vincent Black Lightning. [David Martinez]
As of now, the huge Las Vegas 2021 motorcycle auction is going ahead as scheduled and consignments are open; machines are being added on a daily basis. Star attractions include a 1950 Vincent Black Lightning that our Editor Paul d’Orléans recently road tested and filmed (with Vintagent Contributor David Martinez) in action in the hills of Marin County.  It’s a fearsome beast with an unforgettable roar, and has a fully documented history from new, which will certainly stir international interest.  There are rumors of an ultra-rare Cyclone racer and a Crocker coming to the Mecum podium, too.

Another beauty coming up: a 1917 Excelsior Big X. [Mecum Auctions]
But, Sam recognizes, “January is quite a way away. Whether we’ll have to pivot and adjust is anybody’s guess; what happens today could change tomorrow. We’re learning to adapt so we provide the same platform for commerce we always have, but generally speaking, the market seems to be largely unaffected. Unquestionably, the economy has been hit, but there’s still a lot of demand here in the U.S., not only for collector vehicles but used vehicles in general. At our auctions, people are still wanting to sell, and people are still wanting to buy.”

Will the apex collectibles continue their rise? Keep track of the most coveted machines on our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list, regularly updated. [Mecum Auctions]
Automotive auction prices have actually seen an uptick since March, probably because folks with disposable income haven’t been able to spend it elsewhere.  It’s hard to take that vacation in the South of France when American citizens are barred from international travel, and big-ticket shopping is out the window too.  So, cars.  We’ll see what happens with motorcycle sales come January: will pent-up demand send prices through the roof, or the cratered economy send them crashing down?  We predict both will happen, with quotidian machines continuing their downward trend as paycheck buyers stay home, while blue chip bikes float heavenward, as the widening economic gap in the U.S. is expressed in the collectible motorcycle scene.



Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics