It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not the one involving jolly old Saint Nick. Instead, almost exactly a month after the cheery (or perhaps not so cheery) glow of Christmas fades, Mecum’s motorcycle buying and selling extravaganza takes over the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas from Jan. 24 to 28, 2023. There are some 2,000 motorcycles to be sold, from rare antiques such as a 1906 FN Four to more modern machines including a 2004 Honda Rune. From the quotidian to the exotic, from barn finds to fresh from the painters, platers and powder coaters, all manner of motorcycles are now available for viewing in the company’s online auction catalog. Presented with the Herculean task of picking just 10 motorcycles to watch from that extensive listing, here is my in-no-particular-order selection of machines that caught my eye. Trust me, opinions will vary.

Lot R491 1908 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank

Star of the show, one of the most desirable of all Harley-Davidsons, an original Strap Tank. [Mecum]

Given ‘Main Attraction’ status is this extremely rare and ultimately correct 1908 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank – so named for its plainly obvious pair of nickel-plated metal straps wrapping around that exquisitely finished pair of tanks. That is two tanks – the 2-quart oil tank is above the gasoline tank. These early production Harley-Davidson Strap Tanks are exceedingly rare, as only 450 were built in 1908 and fewer than 12 are considered extant. This one has an outstanding history, having been found complete in a Wisconsin barn in 1941 by David Uihlein. The barn where it was found? About 70 miles distant from the Milwaukee factory in which it was produced. Uihlein kept it in Wisconsin for the next 66 years before Paul Freehill of Fort Wayne, Indiana expertly restored the machine. Freehill referenced an ’08 Strap Tank in the Harley-Davidson Museum for accuracy and overhauled the engine while replacing the gas tank, wheel rims, muffler and a few other parts (all of which are included in the sale). The motorcycle is finished in the Renault Gray and Carmine Red coachlining that led to the coolest ‘Silent Gray Fellow’ nickname.

Lot S46 1947 Doodlebug w/sidecar

Big fun in a small package: when was the last time you saw a Doodlebug with a factory sidecar? [Mecum]

Okay, how cute is this outfit? Here is a diminutive 1947 Doodle Bug scooter complete with factory-produced sidecar. After the Second World War, relatively inexpensive transportation options aimed at a burgeoning teen market were produced and sold, from Cushman scooters to Whizzer-powered bicycles. Doodle Bug scooters fit right in and were built by the Beam Mfg. Company of Webster City, Iowa from 1946 to 1948. Doodle Bugs were badged Hiawatha and sold in Gambles department stores. According to the Doodle Bug Club of America, there were four production runs of these scooters, with each run incorporating approximately 10,000 scooters – for a total of some 40,000. Some of the earliest scooters were powered by Clinton engines, while the majority of production Doodle Bugs all received Briggs & Stratton NP 1-1/2 horsepower powerplants. This example doesn’t appear to be expertly restored, and there are some aspects of it (such as the horseshoe-shaped lower side panels with an external fuel shut off on the tank) that don’t jive with DBCA details regarding production details. But all that aside, with the factory-made sidecar, this little outfit deserves some love.

Lot T69 In-the-crate 1999 Excelsior-Henderson Super X

Rare and unusual is typical at the big Vegas auctions, and every year a ‘mint and boxed’ bike comes up for sale. This year it’s a super rare revival Excelsior-Henderson. [Mecum]

The American motorcycle industry is full of dreamers, and in the early 1990s one of them was Dan Hanlon. What started with a conversation around the kitchen table with his brothers about motorcycles, led Hanlon and his family to resurrect the Excelsior-Henderson name, design a machine, build a production facility in Belle Plain, Minnesota and, for a very brief moment of time, literally just 1999, build the Super X. All of the Super X was proprietary, from the frame with leading link, anti-dive forks to the fuel-injected, 85 cubic-inch engine with unit-construction cassette-style transmission. In the American cruiser market, the Super X stood out for some of its advances but was criticized by some. The machine was a good start, and any flaws could have been improved in future models but by the end of 1999, Excelsior-Henderson was strapped for cash and filed for bankruptcy. Just less than 2,000 E-Hs were built, and this Super X in the crate is one of them. Excelsior-Henderson factory employees signed each crate as a machine left the floor, and the ends of this crate bear such witness. Definitely not as rare or likely as desirable as many other early American machines in the auction, but it’s one to watch. Included with the lot are E-H factory banners. Leave it in the crate, or uncrate it and ride it?

Lot R194 1948 Triumph T100 GP

If you dig patina, here’s your huckleberry. Plus, it’s a real Triumph GP. [Mecum]

Seeming almost competition shy, Triumph didn’t get too involved in racing activities. However, its T100 GP model is a rare exception. The machine can trace its history back to 1946, when Triumph placed the square alloy barrel and cylinder head of a wartime generator set on the bottom end of its 500cc T100. With a few modifications to the company’s rigid frame, in the hands of Ernie Lyons, a prototype machine won the 1946 Manx Grand Prix. In 1947, Triumph began limited production of the T100 GP, and the factory-built bikes incorporated the square barrel and head of the generator set making them rather unique to the marque. All other Triumph models of that era employed splayed exhaust ports, and in 1951, the all-alloy T100 became so equipped. This machine, in as-last-raced condition, purportedly spent its life in Tasmania and appears unmolested, complete with its dual Amal racing carburetors and larger-capacity 1-gallon oil tank, rear set foot controls and open megaphones. This one should be left as found, or sympathetically resurrected; definitely not restored.

Lot T279 1957 Vincent Firefly

The littlest Vincent! And one most collectors miss: the Firefly. [Mecum]

Not every Vincent is a road-burner, as evidenced by this Vincent-manufactured 2-stroke, 48cc clip-on Firefly cycle engine fitted to a Norman bicycle. Vincent was essentially an engineering firm and alongside its vaunted 500cc single-cylinder Comet and 1,000cc V-twin powered Black Shadows and Rapides, designed and manufactured a number of different products including engines for unmanned aircraft, watercraft and lawnmowers. And bicycle engines. The Firefly cycle motor was originally designed and built in 1952 by Miller (the other British provider of motorcycle electrical products such as dynamos and lights). But Vincent took on its production and built the power unit from 1953 to 1956. Not only was the Firefly sold as a separate engine, but in 1954 and ’55 Vincent built its own machine called the Power Cycle with the engine installed on a purpose-built Sun bike, and then in 1956, a Phillips. “Add POWER to your cycle…” a period Vincent ad proclaims. “No need to pedal up hills. The ‘Firefly’ takes you to the top – without effort.” The Firefly engine weighs 24 pounds, makes a single horsepower, and drives the rear wheel via friction roller. Now somewhat rare, the Firefly has become a must-have accessory for Vincent enthusiasts.

Lot S313 1940 Ariel Square Four Bobber

An OG bob-job in original patina. Very cool to find any early Square Four. [Mecum]

Not a usual candidate for a bob job, this pre-war Ariel Square Four is something of a curiosity. However, it looks terrific in its barn-find state and is era-appropriate with its twin ram horn open pipes, tall bars and stripped down rear fender sans removable tail section. This is one of the 61 machines being sold out of Mike Wolfe’s ‘As Found’ collection – and there are many tantalizing motorcycles on offer from Wolfe, including a 1950 BMW bobber, 1931 Henderson KJ and a number of Harley-Davidsons and Indians. As a fan of Edward Turner’s particular skill at the drawing table to execute a pretty motorcycle, however, the Ariel is my pick of the bunch. And the original customizer has done a good job, keeping the girder fork front end, complete with its two-year only (1939 and 1940) auxiliary check springs, relatively intact while dispensing with the fender. This Ariel is being sold with no reserve, and in the right hands, it could be made a stunner and road legal runner with the addition of the missing footrests and some period-correct lights.

Lot R232 1967 Honda CL77 (R108, R109)

The Honda Scrambler is an iconic machine, and gaining in popularity for its seminal influence on the whole industry. [Mecum]

Honda’s CL77 Scrambler was the dual-purpose variant of its popular 305cc Super Hawk model, but the machine was initially built from 1962 to 1965 as the 250cc CL72, and then the larger CL77 from 1965 to 1968. More than 90,000 Scramblers were sold in the U.S., and the bikes were popular mounts for enthusiasts looking for a reliable rider both on the street and in (somewhat mild) off-road conditions. That doesn’t mean they weren’t put to hard use, however, and as evidence, two early ’62 CL72s raced 1,000 miles across Baja in the hands of Dave Ekins and Bill Robertson, Jr. In 1965 for the CL77, Honda constructed a new frame that saw tubes running under the engine, instead of using the engine as a stressed member such as it was in the Super Hawk. This offered some protection for the crankcase and increased ground clearance, although front and rear suspension only offered about 3 to 4-inches of max travel. The last 50 CL77s were available in Candy Blue (like this largely as found one) or Orange, and it is just one of seven CL77s on offer with no reserve at Mecum this year. Will they remain affordable classic Hondas?

Lot R472 1984 Kawasaki Ninja pre-production 

A pre-production Ninja that was meant for destruction, but mysteriously survived! [Mecum]

No question, Tom Cruise’s character Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell helped put the Kawasaki GPz900R Ninja on everyone’s radar when he zoomed across the screen aboard the model in the 1986 release of Top Gun. And here’s a rare pre-production, one-owner Ninja that’s never been dealer-serviced, having spent 39 years on display with former Kawasaki executive John Hoover. Kawasaki introduced the Ninja late in 1983 for the ’84 model year, and the machine was powered by a transverse-mounted, liquid-cooled, double-overhead cam,16-valve, 4-cylinder engine. Horsepower was a claimed 113 at 9,500 rpm. This particular example was part of 1998’s ‘The Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibit at The Guggenheim Museum and has been displayed in six other museums. All of that pushing has added 5.8 miles to the odometer, and the Ninja is sold with all documentation, brochures and museum books.

Lot R210.1 1925 BMW R37

So very rare, and for many, the ultimate collectible BMW roadster: the R37 was BMW’s first sports motorcycle. [Mecum]

One of 13 Bavarian machines being auctioned as part of the BMW Centennial Collection, this 1925 R37 is number 125 of only 152 that were produced over a two-year production run from 1925 to 1926. Restored by master craftsman Hubert Fehrenbach, this R37 has a known history having been purchased out of Germany’s Marxzelle Museum. Fehrenbach bought the R37 some 25 years ago in original, last used condition and proceeded to restore it with an exceptional level of quality and eye to originality. The R37 was BMW’s first racing machine and was largely based on the company’s original production machine, the 1923 R32. While the frame might have been the same, the M36a flat-twin engine gained improvements such as light alloy OHV cylinder heads and a much stronger built-up crankshaft incorporating one-piece connecting rods. So equipped, the R37 produced 16 horsepower at 4,000 rpm, nearly three times the power of the R32. The machines proved capable racers, and won many early victories for the brand, helping to solidify a corporate culture dedicated to engineering some of the finest road and race motorcycles, then and now.

Lot R216.1 1961 DKW 115 Sputnik

From a lost era of sci-fi grooviness! The DKW/Victoria Sputnik/Hummel. [Mecum]

Good things, and exceptionally fantastically designed things, do come in small packages. Consider this 1961 DKW Sputnik. Released in 1961 alongside its badge-engineered sibling, the Victoria 155, it’s simply stunning in its sartorial appeal. A pressed-steel frame is adorned with tinware that sets the Sputnik apart from absolutely anything else in the small-bore segment of the early 1960s. Powered by a 4-horsepower, 50cc 2-stroke single-cylinder engine, the entire package including the deeply padded Denfeld seat and pannier-looking side panels, weighed only 163 lb. With a left-foot shift pedal, a rider could row through the Sputnik’s 3-speed transmission and could ultimately achieve a top speed of 30 mph. Suspension up front is courtesy of an Earles fork, topped by a shapely headlight nacelle that flows back into the gas tank. A rare sight anywhere, as few as 200 Sputniks ever left the Zweirad Union factory, and only a handful have ever likely made their way to America. Be the first on the block!



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He’s 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





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