Wednesday, April 02, 2008


The Flint, Michigan Auction….20th and 21st October 1992.

by Dennis Quinlan

Extract from “The Flint Journal”, Thurs.22nd Oct.1992.
“The smell of leather and money was in the air
Wednesday at
Flint Indian Sales as hundreds of motorcyclists and dealers turned up for an estate auction at the N. Saginaw Street business. The event, billed as one of the largest auctions of rare and antique motorcycle parts in the U.S., included the sale of a 1941 four-cylinder Indian motorcycle, along with many other old motorcycles, some still in their original shipping crates. Herbert L. Kunze, who owned the combination bicycle/motorcycle dealership for decades, died Feb.26. His father opened the business in the 1920s.”
On October 12th, 1992, I received a fax from a UK supplier… "Was I going to the Flint Auction?”
"What auction" I faxed back.
By Sunday night (Sydney time) I had found out; there were literally tons of motorcycles and spares for sale, including motorcycle instruments (which was my business at the time). A telephone call to Bob Schanz (proprietor of Domiracer) asking if he’d bid on some items for me, elicited the reply that he was there to buy and I could in turn later buy off him…!
By late Monday I’d secured a flight from Sydney to LA, on to Chicago and then to Lansing, with a rental car booked, and arrangements made with my bank.
On the way to the airport Tuesday, I called at the school my where my wife taught and said 'see you in a week'… Flying into Chicago the weather looked ominous, and a further delay landing at Lansing due to Air Force One being on the ground (the President was in town for the great debates at Michigan State University), meant I was very late into a motel.
An eerie quietness the next morning turned out to be from a big dump of snow during the night; I was not prepared from this coming from Australia.
The auction site was an eye-opener…two large buildings, a shop and warehouse, were like a maze, which proved to be full of motorcycles…over 200 were on offer of which 60 were new & many still in their crates and parts... man, I’ve never seen so many motorcycles in boxes.
Inventories of Matchless/AJS parts, Norton, Indian, Moto Guzzi, Greeves, Zundapp, Sachs parts, shelves of Smiths, Lucas ( I’m pretty sure there were 2300 sets of ignition points for example…), Amal parts, bags of Metzeler tyres…the list went on.
There were whole rooms with used or partly dismantled motorcycles and parts.
The next surprise was having to pay US$500 to get into the auction, to be refunded when you bought something (?).
…..Some 200 bidders registered, eager for the 800+ lots listed plus the motorcycles mentioned..
Major players were British Only from Detroit and Domiracer Distributors Inc, from Cincinnati, with some UK dealers, myself from Australia and many smaller US dealers and individuals.
Many of the lots were large in quantity and this annoyed some smaller buyers…the AJS/Matchless inventory was in seven lots, but was actually auctioned off as one large lot…the auctioneer (Jerry Wood) commented, ”Whoever buys this will be the world’s largest Matchless distributor." The pile went for $110,000, to Domiracer.
One room was aptly called “The Indian Room", with heaps of pre-war Indian Parts, including new crankcases and parts for singles and the four-cylinder motorcycles…. lots of bidding activity there. The three damaged Corbin speedos I was interested in made $1300; my proposed maximum bid of $1000 was left in the dust. There were six new Norton Commandos, all but one had been riffled for some parts to sell in the past and were variously incomplete. The one complete bike went for $9750…a BIG price then.
AJS Motorcycles from the UK were present to purchase the stocks of late two-stroke AJS Stormer motocrossers (thirteen new ones, seven still in crates, for $26,500) and inventory ($15,000) . The Zundapp inventory went for $18,000; the Smiths inventory for $22,000; the Lucas electrical parts for $43,000; Amal carburetors and parts for $21,000; the Ducati parts for $21,000; Greeves inventory $1000; Norton inventory $57,000; Moto Guzzi parts $28,000;Ducati factory tools $2,100; Seven new Greeves motocrossers $13,700, and the list went on….
What was Flint Indian Sales….?
Seems Herb Kunze, the owner who had died the previous February, was a quiet man who operated the Flint dealership, which had been in operation since 1928, having been started by Herb’s father, “Speed” Kunze. Herb took over in the late 1960s. When Indian Motorcycles went out of business in 1953, the shop turned to selling Norton, Matchless, Zundapp, Penton, etc, but Kunze chose to keep the name Flint Indian Sales.
Herb was well known for sponsoring champion enduro riders. After buying Flint Indian from his father, he bought the entire building next door to sell Schwinn bicycles.
He remained in the buildings even while most of the North Saginaw Street businesses pulled out.
So did I justify the time and expense of the trip, which started out as a business venture?
The answer has to be yes…I’d never been to anything like this before, and I’d been to my share of auctions…
I spent $500 on a few items, made more friends & acquaintances, but the Smiths inventory for which I’d actually travelled, ended up with a twist….
Remember that I’d asked Domiracer to buy for me?…well soon after I arrived I met up with Bob Schanz…”You're here! " he exclaimed…. “You bet!" I answered. We drifted apart while amongst the many
items on view…but before the lot of Smiths instruments came up, his right hand man, Jonathan White, came up to me, pulled me aside, and in a quiet voice said…”Just what are you after?”…”I’ll settle for half” I replied ( fingers crossed)…. “Deal done…don’t bid against us…”. I didn’t & some months later we divvied up the Smiths instrument proceeds.
I made a brief visit to British Only, then was homeward bound; looking back now, I have a warm feeling inside to have been involved in this fascinating part of Motorcycle history.
Photos above show;- The front page of the auction catalogue; New 1950s Matchless frames wrapped in hessian sacking strips from the factory; Shelf of Dellorto carbs & parts;Boxes of new Norton Commando cylinders;Shelves of Smiths instruments;A shelf from the "Indian Room" with new 4 cyl.crankcases etc.


Surfer said...

My Father used to work for Herb, I remember playing there as a boy. We went to see him just before he died in 1991. I had not seen the place in over 20 years, it smelt and looked the same.

Anonymous said...

I had a Norton Commando that Herb worked on. I called it my thousand dollar bike. I paid a thousand dollars for it when I bought it used. Herb charged me a thousand dollars to rebuild the 850cc engine and another thousand dollars to rebuild the Isolastic suspension. I used to love hanging out at Flint Indian though. It was like a museum inside. The wodden floors creaked and groaned and when you asked Herb if the rumors were real that he had a brand new Indian somewhere in the building he would just smile a knowing smile. Outside, Flint was like a warzone but inside the place was like a museum for gearheads and greasemonkeys.

Anonymous said...

I first found Herb and his shop in 1970, shortly after purchasing a Norton Commando from a dealer in Pontiac. The shop was old school. The floors were oiled hardwood that creaked and groaned as you walked from room to room looking at bikes and parts. Herb's demeanor was the kindest, gentlest of sorts, and he always greeted you with a smile and an offer of a cup of coffee. If I drove from Ann Arbor by car, I entered through the front door. If I rode in, we would park in the back courtyard and shuffle in through the service doors. If I needed work done on a bike, he would arrange for me to ride in on a Saturday morning and the bike would be fixed that day, or left for service. And always some coffee. He became my only dealer to purchase bikes from. I purchsed several Ducatis, a Moto Guzzi, a second Norton, and a used Triumph 500 from him. Oh, a couple of Schwinn bikes, too. Several times when I came in for parts, he did not have in stock the part I needed, but not to worry. He would go into the basement or warehouse with some tools, and emerge a while later with the clutch parts, mufflers, or whatever part I needed which he had pulled off of a new bike. They did break the mold after God made him. I'm so glad he was a part of my life.