Tuesday, September 09, 2008


A journalist for Spiegel magazine in Germany sent a query for the top 20 prices paid at auction for motorcycles; I'm scooping him as I did the research! Here they are, using the exchange rate on the day sold, and prices include the buyer's premium. Interesting that so many of these motorcycles have been sold in the last two years (but not all of them; the AJS 'Porcupine' and McEvoy-JAP were both sold more than 4 years ago). Higher prices for racing motorcycles have purportedly been realized in private sales, but as we have no way of confirming those transactions, this list will have to suffice as a reference.

The statistics: 12 of the top sellers are British, 6 are from the USA, 2 are from Germany. Six of these bikes were racing machines. 17 are large-capacity v-twins. 12 would have been called 'powerful luxury motorcycles' when new. All of them were extremely low production models, the sole exception being the Vincent 'White Shadow', which was an ultra-rare variant on a comparatively common machine (there being over 10,000 Vincent twins made). By decade; 2 from the 'teens, 6 from the 1920's, 5 from the '30's, 2 from the 40's, 2 from the 50's, 2 from the 60's. Thirteen of the top 20 machines were sold by Bonhams, 5 by MidAmerica, 1 by J.Woodand Co., 1 by HandH.

What the statistics tell me: Racing motorcycles from Italy and Japan must never come up for auction, although they do change hands! Provenance is extremely valuable, rarity more so. If you're looking to invest and don't have a connection with a former race shop employee, I'd start looking for obscure v-twins. But you're about 10 years too late. If you want my opinion on future trends, ask, but I'll probably write about it anyway. I was right about buying 1920's machines, though!
(All photos are from the auction house websites. Click on them to enlarge)

(as of September, 2008)

1. 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer - $551,200
July 2008, Monterey, MidAmerica

2. 1929 Brough Superior SS100, £286,000 $465,350
Oct.22, 2010, Sparkford, HandH Auctions

3. 1949 Vincent Black Lightning Supercharged £221,500 $383,400
October 2008, Stafford, Bonhams

4. 1939 Vincent-HRD 998cc Series-A Rapide £214,800 $378,757
September 2008, New Bond St, Bonhams

5. The ex-Roland Martin, Brooklands, 1927 Zenith-JAP 8/45hp Championship Motorcycle Combination £177,500 $312,986
September 2008, New Bond St, Bonhams

6. 1934 Brough Superior 996cc SS100 £166,500 $293.589
April 2008, Stafford, Bonhams

7. 1954 AJS Porcupine £163,600 $288.475
April 2000, Stafford, Bonhams

8. 1938 Brough Superior 982cc SS100 £163,200 $287,770
September 2008, New Bond St, Bonhams

9. 1941 Crocker Big Tank - $243,800
January 2007, Las Vegas, MidAmerica

10. 1939 Crocker V-Twin Big Twin - $233,200
January 2008, Las Vegas, MidAmerica

11. 1924 Montgomery-Anzani 8/38hp V-Twin £109,300 $192,702
April 2006, Stafford, Bonhams

12. 1973 Harley-Davisdon 750cc XRTT, ex-Cal Rayborn $185,500
January 2009, Las Vegas, MidAmerica

13. 1928 Coventry-Eagle 980cc Flying-8 £100,500 $177,182
April 2008, Stafford, Bonhams

14. 1928 Windhoff 746cc Four £100,500 $177,182
April 2008, Stafford, Bonhams

15. 1915 Harley-Davidson Twin, $169,600
January 10, 2009, Las Vegas, MidAmerica

16. 1968 Fath URS Double World Championship sidecar racer £102,700 $166,000
Oct 17th 2010 Stafford, Bonhams

17. 1925 Brough Superior 980cc SS80 De Luxe £85,200 $155,532
September 2008, New Bond St, Bonhams

18. 1954 Vincent 998cc White Shadow Series C £81,800 $144,246
April 2007, Stafford, Bonhams

19. 1937 Brough Superior SS-100 $137,000
November 2005, LA, Bonhams

20. 1913 Flying Merkel $130,000
October 2006, Barber Vintage Festival, J.Woodand Co.

[As a personal aside, I have been fortunate enough to own three 'siblings' of the motorcycles on this list - Brough Superiors SS100 and 680, and a Zenith-JAP KTOR. I purchased each of these machines when prices seemed high, and each involved a bit of personal sacrifice to own, yet as a middle-class, working individual, I could afford such legendary machines. I feel fortunate indeed to have 'got in the game' before prices reached six figures, and the average fellow was priced out of the market. Still, the motorcycles on the list are truly the creme de la creme, the finest machines available in the world. There are others yet to come, especially ex-works racing machines, which will undoubtedly fetch even higher prices (see the recent sale of the Helmut Fath URS racer for proof). I would argue that, as in other realms (fine art, important documents, etc), some cultural artifacts are necessarily beyond the reach of mere mortals, and will fall only into the hands of the truly wealthy and/or museums, to be preserved for future generations... and we will have more humble fare to ride and enjoy...for better or worse. Long live the Triumph Trophy, the Velocette Venom, the BMW R69S, the Honda CB750, the Ducati 750GT...]


Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,
I am covering all motorcycle stories for SPIEGEL Online (www.spiegel.de/auto/) here in Germany and had the pleasure to attend on of the latest Bonhams auctions. See
I am following your blog regulary - thanks, rss - and reading your coverage on the Verral auction

I come up with a question:

Do you know of a list of the ten most expensive motorbikes ever sold on auctions?
Best regards


a rider said...

Hiya Paul. The guys at the pre16 ride last week were talking about that Cyclone, and they said it was all repop, except the motor. I didn't spend enough time looking at it in person to confirm or deny that.

It is interesting to study the top 20 bikes, and to realize how much is new construction. It's then fun to think how easy it is to make a bike. Faking the provenance is a bit harder though, but not unknown, allegedly even for a few of these bikes. :) I'll let the next commentator leave their guesses.


Anonymous said...

Never mind the price give me the looks, and my votes are for the Anzani for old and its a toss up between the ajs and the benelli... okay my eye is a little reformed cafe racer lol dave

Anonymous said...

Hope all is well. I enjoyed y'days blog on auction price records, and it will be a helpful ongoing reference for many of us, so thanks for the service. I am sure you will get other additions, but one I think you missed was Cal Rayborn's HD that sold at Daytona a couple of years ago for $160,000 (plus commissions). I haven't checked the year of manufacture, but am guessing it fills the otherwise missing 60's from your list.
Keep up the great work.

Penny Auction Online said...

I am an auction lover. So every news related to the auction makes me very happy. Thanks for keeping us updated.