Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Top of the World, Ma!  The highlight of the Vegas scene, the BMW Kompressor Rennsport, sold for $480,000 after auction.
No records were set, nothing was added to my 'Top 20' list of top auction sales, and only one machine broke the $200k barrier... but this year's Las Vegas auctions at Bonhams and MidAmerica proved the resounding good health of the old motorcycle market, with the return of the most important sector of buyers; ordinary motorcyclists.
A sleeper in the mix; this 1903 Alldays and Onions at Bonhams was original, unrestored, in excellent condition, and 110 years old, sold for $28,750, which seems a bargain compared to an American machine of the same vintage and condition...
With little to lure the 'car guys' into the tent (no Broughs, no 'Series A' Vincents), the crowds at Vegas seemed mostly comprised of curious and bike-hungry rider/collectors, who bought up nearly everything on offer, to the tune of over $7.8M total at both auction houses, and around 700 machines sold.  That averages out to ~$11,000 per machine...basically the price of a new motorcycle, which should quiet the Chicken Littles who think the price of a good classic has gone out of reach.  I saw dozens of well-restored machines of all capacities sell for around that figure, and wonder how professionals restorers like Randy Baxter and Jim Hiddleston, who each bring a dozen bikes each year, can make any money at that price?  But apparently they do, and both seemed happy for selling every one their bikes.
Malcolm Barber in his usual dry and witty style.  The Steve McQueen Husqvarna failed to sell - same story at MidAmerica with their McQueen '38 Triumph Speed Twin.
'The bidding seemed very robust this year; the prices were very good, and it seems people are spending money,' was Malcolm Barber's assessment immediately post-sale at Bonhams' Bally's hotel auction, on the Vegas strip.  This was a new and much-improved venue after two years at the Imperial Palace, and while the carpet gave a few bidders flashbacks (and ruined photographs), the room was spacious, easy to find (!), and offered excellent back-door access to ship the bikes out, which buyers appreciated.  The highlight of the Bonhams sale were 4 BMW Rennsports racers, only one of which sold at auction (the sidecar machine at $167,000, to a well-known East Coast BMW specialist), while the star of the weekend, the Kompressor racer built by Walter Zeller, sold post-auction for a healthy $480,000, to a prominent West Coast collector....where it will soon keep company with a Moto Guzzi V8 and other amazing machines, at the Solvang Museum.
One of the MV collection at Midamerica; a rare 1972 350cc street scrambler, which sold for $13k+...which seemed a bargain in these days of $11k Honda CL77 scramblers... 
'People came to buy, and they spent their money....this was a rare year in which both buyers and sellers were happy' was Ron Christenson's opinion of his $6.2M three-day sale.  'We had 780 registered bidders this year, more than ever, and 310 of these were first-time bidders.  Over 500 bidders registered in the week before the auction, and over 200 were people we'd never heard of. There might have been a bit of a follow-up from last year's RM presence.' Indeed, the stock in MidAmerica's 'second chance corral' of unsold machines was the slimmest I've seen in 5 years.  MidAmerica's star attraction this year was the 71-strong MV Agusta collection owned by Mecum Auctions, who had reportedly guaranteed Gary Kohs over $1M for consigning his collection entier...and who suddenly owned a lot of MVs when they failed to sell at Pebble Beach last year.  While the average collector might have despaired at losing 20-30% on such an investment, interest generated by the MV collection was rumored to have brought consignments of over 20 expensive Italian sports cars to the Mecum fold, which will more than compensate for the loss.  And the big wheel goes 'round...
This 1920 Mars is en route to Birmingham, AL, and the Barber Museum...
A few choice machines were left unsold at both auctions, like a pair of unrestored Board Track racers, an MV Bialbero racer, and the Jeff Decker 'Lightning' at MidAmerica, plus a pair of BMW Rennsports at Bonhams, all of which needed well over $100k to trade hands.  These machines were perfect for the 'I need a motorcycle next to my Ferrari' crowd, who seemed mostly absent this year, or were simply busy buying MV 4s at MidAmerica... at any rate, the top selling bikes from both houses went to well-heeled super-enthusiasts, most of whom have private motorcycle museums, so look for excellent new exhibits at the Barber, Wheels Thru Time, Solvang, Nettesheim, and Blue Moon collections.
The 1923 Douglas 750cc ohv racer which sold for $32,200. Guaranteed 100mph!
My favorites?  One machine went completely under the radar at Bonhams; a 1923 Douglas 750cc OHV racer, guaranteed to do 100mph by the Douglas factory long before George Brough thought of doing the same, which very likely had significant Brooklands racing history.  One of two known examples, this machine was far in advance of anything else offered for the road or track, anywhere in the world at that date, with a proper 3-speed gearbox and fantastic performance.  As expected, the machine sold to Europe, for $32,200 total, while the eventual buyer 'was prepared to pay far more'... but it takes two bidders to reach such a price, and the buyer got lucky!
Got $125k?  The Jeff Decker Vincent 'Lightning' custom...
The original-paint 1929 Harley Peashooter at Bonhams had excellent documentation from the factory, and was the Australian Speedway Champion in 1930.  Included in the catalog were photos of this bike being raced, and letters from the current owner discussing the family's relationship with this machine dating back to 1930.  The condition was tantalizing - a minimal layer of oxidization, but the original factory pinstripes and paint were clearly visible.  Oil it up and ride it!  Very rare too being a 500cc machine; most Peashooters were 350cc... you'll have to search Utah to see this one in person.
Compare and contrast; two ca.1910 Pierce single-cylinders.  The left machine was original and unrestored, and fetched $130k+, while the right machine, an older restoration, remained unsold with a $40k price tag.  Motorcycle buyers 'get it' that original paint bikes are the future of collecting...
At MidAmerica, one couldn't help but gaze in wonder at the 71 MV Agustas for sale...who knew so many mopeds and lightweights came from the famous factory - most models were never sold in the USA, and we generally see the big four-cylinder machines, and the racers, plus a few road bikes like the sexy 'Disco Volante' (flying saucer).  Seeing such an extensive collection from a single factory was an education in itself, and almost every one of them sold.  What didn't?  The new ones from the revived MV a racing Bialbero (double OHC), which was the best racing machine of the collection, albeit the most expensive, needing $125k to change hands.
Trying on a Norton outfit for size... John Landstrom and owner Jerry Kaplan
The best part of Vegas is bumping into so many friends and acquaintances, catching up and talking bikes, making business, keeping tabs. I missed a few good dinner dates due to other obligations, but that's all part of a busy week.  Like I've said, I'm no fan of the town, but I'll keep coming back as long as there are bikes for sale, and the scene is stronger than ever.  The good news takeaway; motorcyclists are buying motorcycles again.


Anonymous said...

Very nice piece on the auctions on your website Paul. You are a talent of the highest order.

jerrykap said...

Paul, other than getting my last name wrong you nailed it. The money was certainly there in spades. Bike after bike brought a nice dividend for it's seller. 11K for a Honda GB500? Pinch me quick. On the other hand, if you had something that was a bit too specialized or not original, the money went elsewhere. As per Vegas, it's always a crap shoot. For me as well as you, I can't think of a better place to catch up with the motorbike many friends and so little time. For a few days in the January winter doldrums we're wheeling & dealing bikes. YEAH BABY.

GuitarSlinger said...

Jeff Decker's Vincent not selling was no surprise . As nice a bike as it is ... as well built as it may be its still a very modified non-numbers matching Vincent basket of very well assembled bits with no collectable credibility what so ever . Would I shell out say $50k for the bike as a custom ? Absolutely . But $100k plus for a bike with zero provenance , next to zero collectable value and who's builder has ( unfortunately ) even less cred amongst the Vincent community ? Not a chance . For a lot less than that $100k I can have the Vincent of ' My ' dreams built to my exact specs by at least two builders I know personally ... one of which has more cred in the Vincent community than Jeff does among the Harley crowd . Methinks both Jeff and the auction house were more than just a bit overly optimistic on that one .

Don't get me wrong though . I absolutely love Jeff's ( as well as Simon Mills ) custom Vincent . Would love to own it . But a dollar is still a dollar regardless and at that price ..... no thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the nice Vegas auction report. It looks like it was an interesting trip!

- Corey

BMW HACKER said...

Thanks for the great photos and narrative.
We missed the MA auction this year.

T. O'Day said...

Excellent reporting with stellar pictures. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great report Paul!
- David Morrill

Anonymous said...

Some beautiful bikes, jealous of whoever got the Panther. Ha, now I'm going to go watch White Heat.

- Jack Greenman

Anonymous said...

Ah si j'étais riche .......!!!!!

- Alain Barriol

Anonymous said...

Paul, great report, you summed up the auctions very well and even though I didn't come home with a new bike, I enjoy going every year.

- Jim Dickerson

Anonymous said...

Was good to see you at Vegas!

- Doug Wothke

Anonymous said...

Great report ! Nothing less to expect from a real Pro and Connoisseur !

- Anibal Martinez

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,did you buy the machine you were after? was it the Norton in last photo?.
Rob Dawson.

Anonymous said...

The Norton "kneeler" looks interesting.

Whose Shovelhead-powered streamliner was that?

The styling of the Norton rotary sure looks dated, these days. It resembles a Honda Hurricane compared to current sport bikes like the '13 S 1000 R.


Anonymous said...

My two cents:

BMW Works Kompressor: A steal at under $500k. After all, what's the nearest comparison? There's not one and that's why it's worth every penny.

Decker Custom Vincent: If Egli Vincents go for $50k-$75K, then that's where the price should fall. No reason it should be much different.

MV Agusta Bialbero: $125K seems very reasonable. I've always thought they were under appreciated. If a similar Ducati existed (which it doesn't) it'd go for much more. MV certainly earned its world titles.

RM Auctions: Thank heavens that cock of the rock only crowed once!