Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Marty Dickerson's 1948 Vincent Rapide Series B racer is coming up for auction at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA by Bonhams this weekend, and I'm very curious to see how it does, given that so many historic Vincents have been 'released' recently. This machine has a unique history, which should attract plenty of interest come Saturday.

Dickerson traded a Triumph Tiger 100 for this machine in 1948 (plus some cash no doubt), having been entranced by the publicity already generated in road, racing, and speed trials of this model. Shortly after purchasing the machine, Marty (already a familiar face at the Southern California Speed Trials) made several runs at Rosamund Dry Lake at over 120mph - clearly he had purchased 'a good one'. The Rapide was in full road trim, to boot.

During the summer of 1949, Vincent's West Coast distributor, Mickey Martin, hired Dickerson to make a 'tour' of potential Vincent dealerships in the Southwest. I'll quote the catalog here, as the writer (Somer Hooker?) has produced some fine prose:

"... his lengthy itinerary of both planned and unscheduled visits, calling by the stores of bemused dealers, unwittingly laid the foundations of Mary Dickersn's future reputation. Here's how. Inevitably, it seemed, when riding to a halt ouside the shop of a town's cycle trader, he'd almost certainly be shortly challenged to a drag contest by one or other of the community's 2- or 4- wheel Hot-Shoes. Almost invariably, of course, that town's mechanical mafia had failed to recognize or fully appreciate the machine on which Marty had ridden-into-town! In those days of course unofficial drag racing was a widely accepted pastime, often overlooked by tolerant authorities; suburban street drags were part of small city culture amongst the Under-25s. Throughout the hot, dusty southwest Marty became known as The Stranger. More importantly, while participating in these spontaneous sprints - irrespective of how tired or unprepared he and the Vincent may have been - he was never once outrun!"

Dickerson became a Vincent dealer himself, and set about modifying his Rapide for racing (see lower photo), and high speed runs on the Salt; changing the crankcases, porting the cylinder heads for larger carbs and 2" exhaust pipes, removing the road equipment, trading the original Brampton girders for Girdraulics, etc. In 1952, his efforts were rewarded with the AMA Class 'C' record (meaning - 'pump' fuel, comp. ratio limited to 8:1, upright sitting position) at 141.72mph, and the following year managed 147.56mph, a record which remained unbroken for the next 20 years.

Dickerson also raced and speed-trapped a 500cc Grey Flash, rode Joe Simpson's Black Lightning to 163.31mph at Bonneville in '63, and is a legend among Vincent aficionados. The 'Blue Bike' is claimed to be in 'as last raced' condition, with all timekeeper's seals etc intact.

Estimated sale price is $380,000 - 500,000. I predict it will fetch over $400k, but not $500k. I'll hazard a guess at $420,000, purely on past prices, but a few things have changed recently (see below), and the big question remains; who will be bidding? Probably not someone in the room... the supercharged Lightning which sold last week had only one serious bidder, and it was evident to onlookers at Stafford that the reserve was lowered during the course of the auction via phone call, as it was clear the Vinnie wasn't going to sell with the original reserve. I've been queried by one deep-pockets motorcycle collector - how many really big bidders are out there right now for top-notch motorcycles?

One x factor which has arisen this week is the value of the dollar - it's trading today at £1 = $1.60, and 1euro = $1.28. The dollar hasn't been this strong for a several years...which has to be a factor at the upper level of the market. It was only a few months ago that it took fully $2 to buy a pound - that's a big change.

Another x factor... has to be the 'holy grail' issue. There is ONE Vincent which is coveted above all others, one of the top 3 most famous motorcycles of all time (okay - the TE Lawrence Brough SS100, and the 'Captain America' Harley chopper), and that's the Rollie Free 'bathing suit' Vincent. I have heard rumors that this machine is available, and/or will be coming up for sale. If I'm hearing it, then the likely buyers are hearing it too, and may be hedging their bets this weekend.

Interestingly (as mentioned on the supercharged Vincent update), sales of collectible 'second-tier' machines in the 'under $100,000 range' continue to be strong, indicating general good health of the Vintage Motorcycle market.

I'll be visiting the bike in LA before it goes to a new home, and will post further photos.

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