P[/dropcapeople just seem to hate their money right now.”  That was the explanation from Sam Murtaugh, COO of Mecum Auctions, on why prices for collector vehicles are going crazy in 2022, as evidenced by their amazing run of successful auctions over the past two months.  Mecum’s January collector car auction in Kissimmee Florida was the highest-grossing motor vehicle auction in history, with over $200M in sales. Let that sink in a moment.  Much like their just-concluded Las Vegas motorcycle auction (which brought in ~12% of that figure), well over 1000 vehicles rolled across the podium, making each auction the biggest in the world by volume alone.   This year just hit different, though, and the Mecum crew were riding high on Kissimmee juice when they set up their auction in the South Point Hotel & Casino, well off the Las Vegas strip.

This 1973 Honda CL450 Scrambler with Flying Dragon bodywork fetched $58,300, a world record for the model. [Mecum]
While Mecum’s motorcycle auction, held Jan 25-29, did not set a world record for sales, the prices reached were consistently high, and many world records for individual machines were realized.  Perhaps the premier example was a 1972 Honda CL450 Scrambler with ‘Flying Dragon’ bodywork, the psychedelic hand-applied water-dip paint scheme available as a swap-out from Honda dealers, that fetched an astounding, world-record $58,300. If you’ve ever wondered at the beauty of marbled book endpapers, the Flying Dragon bodywork kits used the same process: drip paint colors onto a still water tank, swirl them around a bit, dip your part into the water, and let it dry. It’s unknown how many of these bodywork kits were made in 1972/3, but four color combinations were offered: gold/purple, silver/purple, green/purple and blue/dark blue.  About 650,000 CL350s were built from 1968-73, so this machine can hardly be called rare.  But, the Flying Dragon bodywork is: former owner Bob Kelly says it’s the last of the bodywork kits he’s dug up NOS from old Honda dealers, and estimates there may be 20 examples left…including the one he sold at Mecum in 2021, that fetched ‘only’ $13,200.

#10 – 1931 Henderson KJ Four $154,000

This 1931 Henderson KJ sold for $154,000. [Mecum]

American four-cylinder motorcycles were always rare and expensive, as opposed to the V-twins making up the mainstay of most manufacturers’ sales.  Big twins were relatively inexpensive and fast, whereas their four-cylinder counterparts took the title of ‘fastest production motorcycle in the world’ many times.  This last-year Henderson KJ is a rarity, as Igaz Schwinn, who owned both the Excelsior and Henderson brands under his mighty bicycle empire, decided that the Depression wasn’t going anywhere soon from the perspective of 1931, and just like that, he announced ‘today we quit’ to his Board of Directors, and pulled the plug on all motorcycle manufacturing that year.  Too bad: the KJ was designed by Arthur Constantine, and had nothing to do with William Henderson’s original four-cylinder design that Schwinn had purchased in 1917.  The KJ was a superbike of the era, actually capable of pulling from 10mph to 100mph in top gear, and looking like a sleek freight train in its ‘streamliner’ bodywork.  This machine was from the esteemed collection of Dr. J. Craig Venter, which meant no surprises for the buyer.

#9 – 1940 Indian 440 Four, $154,000

Such a beauty: the 1940 Indian 440 Four was the first year of Briggs Weaver’s iconic styling. [Mecum]

The Indian Four was the last American four-cylinder motorcycle produced until 2014, when Motus debuted its V4 sports machine.  And this is almost the last of the Indian Fours, a 440 model built in 1940, the first year with Briggs Weaver’s iconic deep-fender styling and plunger rear suspension.  It’s a stunning machine from the collection of Bob Mitchell (more on him later), which I had the pleasure of judging at a Fort Sutter AMCA meet in the 2000s, at which it earned an almost-impossible 99.5-point score.  The problem?  A washer on the points condenser was nickel instead of zinc plated…and who knew that?  Not me – ask the AMCA chief judge from the era, he really knew his stuff.   That was typical for Mitchell’s restorations, and any machine passing through his hands was definitely deserving some extra cash.

#8 – 1932 Indian 432, $154,000

So much motorcycle for 1932: the Indian 432 was the jewel in Indian’s headdress. This one sold for $154,000. [Mecum]

The 1932 Indian 432 was among the first all-Indian fours, shedding its vestigial origins as a rebadged Ace, and joining the Indian family with an all-new chassis and bodywork, and plenty of engine upgrades.  Indian joined the four-cylinder game the easy way – they bought the defunct brand Ace from its previous owner in 1927.  Ace justifiably laid claim to being the fastest production motorcycle in the world when introduced in 1919, and was the love child of William Henderson.  Henderson sold his eponymous brand to Ignaz Schwinn in 1917 after 5 years of no profits, and worked briefly under the giant Schwinn enterprise.  Henderson was pissed that Arthur O. Lemon, Excelsior-Henderson’s chief engineer under Schwinn, suggested changes to the Ace design for more reliability, and quit to form a new company, with a new design that infringed none of his previous designs sold to Schwinn.  When Indian bought the brand, they hired – you guessed it – Arthur O. Lemon to improve the design, but first they assembled the stock at hand for the Indian-Ace of 1927/8, basically a red Ace.  Lemon gradually improved the design with a 5-bearing crankshaft and a heavier chassis, and this beautiful 1932 432 is the result.   And yes, three American four-cylinder bikes each sold for $154k; did someone promise their partner they’d ‘only’ spend $154k on a bike, then do it thrice?

#7 – 1942 Harley-Davidson TA, $154,000

A military machine to its core, Harley-Davidson’s TA featured automobile tires and a 38hp motor. It was say too fun for the Army, apparently. [Mecum]

You’re forgiven wondering what the big deal about a Knucklehead-engined Servi-Car might be, but this is not really a modified production trike: it’s one of 18 prototypes built for the US Army to evaluate as a General Purpose (GP) vehicle capable of carrying 4 soldiers plus their guns and ammunition just about anywhere.  It was one answer to BMW’s R75M military bike with a driven sidecar wheel, and is a far better vehicle for the North African campaign that inspired its creation than the legendary WLA military flathead soldiers were stuck with.   With a detuned EL motor giving 38hp, and twin shaft-driven rear wheels, the TA, as it was labelled, was a potent tractor, with better ground clearance than the R75M.  It coulda been a contender, but another GP vehicle took the contract, becoming known by that label, phonetically, as the Jeep.  I bet the power-to-weight ratio on the TA made it much more fun than any Jeep!  Anyway, only 7 are known to survive, unlike the thousands of WLAs out there, which made it one valuable military machine.

#6 – 1939 Indian 439 Four, $159,500

Perfection in line and décor, the 1939 Indian 439 was from the last year of the ‘open fender’ Indians, which are the prettiest of all. [Mecum]

If you aren’t a little weak in the knees looking at this stunning Art Deco masterpiece, I’m not sure you really love motorcycles.  In my opinion, it’s among the prettiest things on wheels, especially in World’s Fair colors provided by Indian’s owner DuPont, whose paint technology (and gunpowder) made the DuPont family very rich indeed.  Luckily for Indian, E. Paul Dupont (read our full story of the DuPont family here)  really loved motorcycles, and had $100,000 or so invested in Indian; when the company was foundering after the Wall St crash of 1929, he stepped in and bought the company.  DuPont turned Indian’s fortunes around, and their period of ownership (1930-45) were Indian’s most profitable years of all.  The gorgeous silver-over-blue paint job was all about the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and combined with the flowing, almost feminine lines of the Indian, make for an all-time beauty, and one of my favorite motorcycles.

#5 – 1919 Harley-Davidson Model J, $165,000

A 1919 Harley-Davidson Model J for $165,000? That was the first sale I heard about when landing in Las Vegas last Thursday evening. [Mecum]

OK, I admit being a little perplexed with this one.  I reckon the $165k spent on this machine is at least $100k over its comparables of that year and model, so what gives?  Is a secret map to El Dorado etched inside the gas tank?  Auctions are funny things: sometimes you get bargains, sometimes you get two people in a room who want THAT bike, and are willing to spend what it takes to get it.  My father once bought me a BMX bike at a police auction, spending way too much because there was another dad bidding against him, with His son egging him on too.  Anyway, the Model J was Harley-Davidson’s mainstay for almost 15 years, a solid, reliable, and robust motorcycle that cemented the Motor Co’s reputation as builder of exactly that.  This bike was part of the Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection, which fetched a little over $4M for the 98 bikes at the Mecum sale.

#4 – 1936 Harley-Davidson EL ‘Knucklehead’, $203,500.

This immaculate 1936 Harley-Davidson EL is a first-year Knucklehead, and highly coveted among collectors. This machine joins our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list. [Mecum]

Prewar Knuckleheads have been strong sellers for the past six years, so a $200k sale price for a beautifully restored, fully documented first-year EL is on par.   The Knucklehead, as it became known for the shape of its rocker covers, was a game-changer for Harley-Davidson, setting the stylistic tone forevermore for a V-twin cruiser.  It was H-D’s first OHV V-twin roadster, although they’d built racing OHVs since 1915, and OHV singles since 1925. Still, the jump from big sidevalve motors to OHV roadsters in the hands of Joe Public held terrors for the conservative boys from Milwaukee, who feared calamity from such exotic technology in the ham-fisted garages of Americans.  They needn’t have worried, the EL was a big hit, eventually, but for 1936 it appeared in no factory advertising or catalogs; as such, sales were small for ’36, and first-year Knucks are rare indeed, and correctly restoring one is not at all easy, as many parts were one-year-only.  I had the luxury of riding an immaculate ’36 over the 11,000′ Independence Pass in Colorado on the 2014 Cannonball: I found the power turbine-smooth and the ride comfortable, but the handling left much to be desired.  But, I’d been riding a 1933 Brough Superior 11.50, so was spoiled!

#3 – 1917 Henderson Model G, $203,500

This 1917 Henderson Model G is from the last year of William Henderson’s control of his eponymous company. This machine joins our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list [Mecum]

The original Hendersons, under the watchful eye of William Henderson himself, are known as the ‘Duesenberg of motorcycles’ for good reason: they’re long, beautifully finished, and surprisingly reliable.  So much so that a first-year production Henderson Four (1912) became the first motorcycle to ride around the world under Carl Stearns Clancy.  William Henderson was obsessed with four-cylinder motorcycles as a boy, and sketched out notional designs of a four that his father – chief engineer of the Winton car company – would give feedback on.  Eventually young William’s design was beyond criticism, so his father sponsored the building of a prototype in 1911.  It was good enough to inspire a major investment from the family’s car-building friends, and the Henderson Motor Co was on its way.  It’s reckoned the company lost money on every Henderson sold, despite already being the most expensive motorcycle made in the USA, and by 1917 the company was looking for a buyer.  They found one in Ignaz Schwinn, the Chicago bicycle manufacturing giant who had bought the Excelsior motorcycle co. in 1911.  Things changed with the newly badged Excelsior-Henderson Fours, and collectors reckon the 1912-17 models are the ones to buy.

#2 – 1951 Vincent Series C Black Shadow, $231,000

The best of the best? A perfectly restored 1951 Vincent Series C Black Shadow tops all expectations. This machine joins our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list. [Mecum]

Let’s drop some knowledge here: the Vincent Black Shadow is not especially rare, nor is it faster half a Century after its production than its Rapide stablemate.  But, the power of a good name endures, and the Black Shadow is the #1 target for most beginner collectors with a wad to spend and not enough confidence in their motorcycle education to branch out to other, more genuinely rare machines.  As a result, the Black Shadow is the canary in a coalmine for collectable motorcycle prices: I’ve watched Shadow prices seesaw wildly since the 1980s, and lose 80% of their value at times.  A good Shadow is an $80k bike these days (and a couple sold for that at Mecum this year), which is way down from 4 years ago, when $150k+ was the norm.  Still, nobody can fault a nut-and-bolt perfect restoration with a bunch of show wins under its belt.  This machine is the most expensive Black Shadow ever sold at auction, and is probably the best, too.  There are more expensive Vincents, like White Shadows and pre-war Series A Rapides (check our Top 100 for details) , but this bike is the ultimate Series C Black Shadow, which is saying something.

Number 1 With a Gun – 1938 Brough Superior SS100 $236,500

Top price of the auction went to my old 1938 Brough Superior SS100, which fetched $236,500.  The price would have been higher had the engine and chassis numbers matched: read the story below.  This machine joins our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list. [Mecum]
The top price made for the week was actually a machine I once owned: a 1938 Brough Superior SS100 with Matchless MX motor.  I found the motor of this bike in the early 1990s via a print ad in a motorcycle magazine, showing a pile of four SS100 motors at an Argentine dealer.  I already owned a 1938 11.50 model (since 1989), but presented with the chance of owning an SS100 was too much temptation: I contacted Hector Mendizabal by fax, and he assured me the motor was “the most virginal, fresh, and unmolested SS100 in the world.”   With desire overtaking common sense, I wired $7500 to a bank account in Florida, and hoped for the best.  Then I waited, and waited, and faxed, and called, and Mendizabal reassured me the motor would be sent ‘soon,’ but soon turned into 18 months, and I despaired of ever seeing the motor or my money again.

If you had seen this photo in 1992, what would you have done? That’s 3 of the 300 MX-engine Brough Superior SS100 motors ever built, in one place, near Buenos Aires. I only bought one, as that was all I could afford. [Paul d’Orléans]
A chance conversation about an early Parilla racer for sale in Florida changed my fate. On discovering its owner, Dr. Ruben Nasio, was from Argentina, I inquired if he knew Mendizabal?  “Oh yes, I know him well…he is, how you say, difficult to hold.”  “You mean slippery?” I asked.  “Yes, exactly.”  Mr. Nasio gave me succinct instructions on how he would help resolve the situation: “You tell Mendizabal that I will be traveling to see my mother in Buenos Aires in one week, and that if the engine is not in your hands at SFO before then, I will pay him a visit.”   I was most grateful for the help, and faxed those very words to Mendizabal.  72 hours later I was contacted by United Air Freight that I had a package waiting at SFO.  I rushed over the find a stout wooden crate that had clearly been sitting for a long time, and opened it right in the parking lot to find, amazingly, the most unmolested SS100 motor on the planet.  And several really big cockroaches, which I quickly dispatched with my hammer, not wanting to introduce an invasive species.

No cockroaches inside! Investigating the inside of the 1938 Brough Superior SS100 engine – in pretty good shape, actually. [Paul d’Orléans]
Dr Nasio had performed a miracle, although I had to wait a few weeks for him to return to the USA and explain himself.  I wondered – was he a ‘doctor’ for the Argentine military junta with a feared reputation?  Not quite; when I finally reached him back in Florida, he laughed at my query.  “The explanation is simple.  I had a problem very much like yours with Mendizabal, and he was very late delivering a rare motorcycle.  So I brought my friends, and they quickly resolved the situation.”  “Who were your friends?”  “Ah, the Misters Smith & Wesson, they solve many problems in Argentina!  I never had a problem with Mendizabal again.” Nor did I, actually, and later he brokered the sale of a complete rolling chassis for a Brough Superior 11.50 model discovered in Uruguay, in which I hoped to house the SS100 motor.  In the early 2000s I decided it was time to buy a house in San Francisco, so I sold the project to Bob Mitchell, the NASA engineer who was head of the Cassini space probe project, whose restorations are legendary for their no-expense-spared perfection.  My only regret was not being able to afford the SS100 once Bob had finished it!

She used to be mine! But she was a wreck when I loved her, and I didn’t have the time to fix her. Now she’s a supermodel, the star of the show, and way out of my league. [Paul d’Orléans]


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.
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