Friday, April 04, 2014


Motoring journalist Christopher Head recently interviewed me on the subject of the mysterious factors which really bumps a motorcycle's value on the auction circuit.  It's been published all over the Internet; below is the article as found on
Still the most expensive motorcycle sold at auction: this 1915 Cyclone bitsa fetched $520k at a MidAmerica Auction in 2008
"What Really Makes a Motorbike Collectible?
by Christoper Head 2014

Vintage motorcycle connoisseur Paul d’Orléans talks about what really makes a classic bike desirable, how the Steve McQueen factor influences auction prices, and his fear that demand and prices for collectable bikes could be about to rocket thanks to growing interest from speculators priced out of the classic car market.
This 1939 BMW RS255 Kompressor sold for $480k at the Bonhams Las Vegas sale in 2013
Paul d’Orléans laughs at the suggestion that because a bike’s old or rare it is going to be collectable or desirable: “No! That’s never enough. Just because a painting is old doesn’t mean it’s valuable,” begins the author, journalist, Bonhams auction house consultant and all-round classic motorcycle expert. Indeed, just like their classic four-wheel counterparts, what gets collectors falling over themselves and pushes auctions into bidding frenzies is legacy and luxury.
“If a particular model did something at the racetrack in any one of many kinds of races that motorcycles do — grand prix racing, road racing, flat track, dirt, speedway, whatever — if a bike was considered an important, successful racer that makes it valuable,” he explains.
The famous Brough Superior sprinter 'Old Bill' was used by George Brough himself to win 51 out of 52 races entered - and Old Bill crossed that 52nd finish line ahead of rival George Dance on his Sunbeam, but George wasn't on it at the time!  Sold by H+H in 2012 for $469,800
As for the second criterion, luxury, if a bike was the epitome of premium in its day, so not just refined, but exotic and desirable too, then it will be even more so today. But then there’s the noise it makes too, by which d’Orléans isn’t referring to engines or exhaust systems. “Probably the biggest factor of all is the buzz,” he says. “If it is something that has a lot of press and a lot of folklore or mythology around it, or popular songs, or has been seen in movies or television shows or with movie stars that definitely does something. And that can be a huge factor.”
This 1929 Brough Superior SS100 sold for $465,000 at H+H in 2010
That’s why the top 20 and indeed top 30 lists of the most expensive bikes ever sold at auction features more Brough Superiors than any other make of motorcycle. Considered by many as the Holy Grail, the British brand, which produced bikes for just 21 years between 1919 and 1940 was known as the Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles in its day and with an asking price greater than the average British home at the time, they were similarly priced.
This fantastic 1926 Brough SS100 with JAP KTOR engine sold for $453,000 at the RM Battersea auction in 2012
Fast forward 70 years and it’s common for an SS100 model to go for upwards of £200,000 ($330,000) at auction and its less powerful SS80 sibling for £100,000 ($165,000) or more.
The demand for the Brough Superior has also been helped by the fact that it was the transport of choice for a number of celebrities of the day, including T.E. Lawrence and if a bike is associated with one famous name in particular, it can go from being interesting to desirable to threatening to set a new auction record.
The fame factor: this Von Dutch-painted, ex-Steve McQueen 1926 Scott sold for a phenomenal $276,000 in 2009, at an Antiquorum watch sale!
“The Steve McQueen factor can be a real wildcard. You know it can bump something up by ten times its normal price. There’s no rationality to it with McQueen, it’s all about desire,” says d’Orléans.
The Pope's 2013 Harley-Davidson Dyna sold for $327,000 at the Bonhams Paris auction this year
But does that make him unique among automotive collecting circles? “I don’t think anyone would care about a Bruce Willis or Peter Fonda or Arnold Schwarzenegger bike,” d’Orléans responds, “But the Pope! That was a big one!”
Crocker big twins occupy 25% of my Top 20 Auction Price slots...
The current Pontiff’s 2013 Harley Davidson Dyna Super Glide is the 14th most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction. It went under the hammer in Paris this February for a scarcely believable $327,000. As such, it is one of only three bikes built in the 21st century to make it into the all-time top 30 list. The other two were incredibly rare, genuine factory racing Ducatis.
The sale of the Pope’s two-wheeler underlines that “It’s like any marketplace, whether wittingly or unwittingly, if desire is generated then you have price bumps,” says d’Orléans, who thinks that perhaps the only other living celebrity or sportsman that could add such a huge premium to a modern bike would be Valentino Rossi. If a bike that he had actually ridden to one of his nine MotoGP World Championships came up for sale, it could make the list. “A real Rossi world championship bike would go way up. But that hasn’t happened yet,” he says.
The 2010 Ducatis GP2 CS1 which sold for $320,000 in 2012 at RM Monaco
Unlike the classic car market, where the record price paid for a vehicle at auction stands at $29.65 million (€22.7 million) for Fangio’s 1954 F1 race-winning Mercedes-Benz, a lot at a classic bike sale is yet to come close to $1 million. The record is currently held by a 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer which fetched $520,000 at auction in July 2008 in Monterey or $551,200 when adjusted for 2014.
This 1907 Harley-Davidson 'Strap Tank' single sold for $352,000 at a Gooding sale in 2006
Nevertheless, there are fears that as speculators and investors are priced out of the car market that they will all decamp, en masse, to the closest bike show and start driving prices up. As d’Orléans explains: “When you consider what a really nice classic Ferrari is costing now, you can pick up the equivalent motorcycle in terms of historical scale of importance in its genre for a pittance in comparison. You could spend $100,000 to $200,000 this year and pick up what anyone would consider one of the top 100 motorcycles of all time.”
This spectacular, original-paint ex-Daytona BMW 1938 R51RS sold for $132,000 at the Bonhams Las Vegas sale in 2010.
And if someone were to switch allegiance from four wheels to two, would they be able to ride it on a daily basis or would it have to be mothballed indefinitely to protect its value?
“I don’t think too many people use them as daily riders, but for pleasure, why not? You wouldn’t want to commute in downtown New York or LA but I know lots of people that use them for rallies and small tours. I’m riding a Brough Superior in this year’s [Motorcycle] Cannonball which is from Daytona Florida to Tacoma, Washington,” d’Orléans answers with a laugh that signals he’s aware of what he might be letting himself in for; that the course is over 4150 miles (6678 km) and will take 16 days to complete on a bike that uses technology that dates back to the 1930s and has no suspension other than a sprung seat."



David Blasco said...

The point is well taken. The Brough might be a costly buy now, but consider what a not especially special new Rolls-Royce, with no real heritage, costs today. Motorcycles really are underpriced.

Grandpa Jimbo said...

P d'O:
Jim's economics IOI: Suppose you spend an extra $100,000 to snag a rideable collector that you just have to have. Don't worry, in 5 years it will be worth the extra 100K and you will have had 5 extra years to enjoy riding it.

Motorradbekleidung said...

Wow!! It was really great attempt of gathering all these great motorcycles in a single place. Keep this good work.. :)

GuitarSlinger said...

If I may .. to borrow/paraphrase the words of the late great art critic : Robert Hughes ;

What makes anything 'collectable ' is a select group of extremely high profile , influential and excessively well heeled collectors saying something is ' collectable ' . With the market subject to what ever whims and fancies that select group may be on at any given moment in time .

e.g. It is .... cause ' they ' say it is .... and if five years later they say it aint ... it aint .. End of story .

Or as a very successful friend in the Antiques business says ... " There are never any guarantees when it comes to the investment potential of any collectable of any kind " Adding to that as a warning to perspective collectors ; " The moment any item becomes valuable enough : that item immediately becomes subject to forgery ... many of which even the so called experts cannot distinguish from the originals " [ e.g. the current Art Market ]

His advice being " Buy what you buy because you love it and can afford it ..forgetting any pretense of it being an investment .. If t works out in your favor in the end ... you've enjoyed your purchase and later made a profit on it . If not .. you enjoyed it anyway.. so be happy "

In summation ; There IS no magic formula for determining what may or may not become a collectable down the road or even what will still be a collectable tomorrow

As to Valentino Rossi's bikes ever reaching the status of Steve McQueens former machines ? Never gonna happen ! Fact is 90% of the world [ especially the collectors world ] haven't got a clue who the ___ Rossi even is ... never mind why he might be important .

flight of the navigator said...

The muscle car ripoff in australia is an example to consider what makes for a sought after object in the world of investment. Back in the early 1990s the car was popular because of its role in a few well known Aussie films. They were a poor mans 'achievable' goal and the potential were there to set the market on fire with the stunning untamed carefree attitude of the day in the late 60s and early 70s.
A few brothers and friends got together to conspire toward making their car, the GT Falcon 69-71 the most desirable of all Australian cars, but how?... the plan was to buy as many GT's as possible making it hard for the average 'Joe' to aquire and evidently push up prices on the vehicle's prestige. This was done in a time line of 15 years making it impossible for 'Joe' to buy an original GT again. Up until the year 2000 at least anyway. This is the real story behind GT price hike. Now that very car myself and friends drove around in the 80s iare lost in garages morbidly awaiting a time when people come to their senses and stop hoarding 'things' for an exchange of profit, a form of self harm,round Australia never to see the fun of youth again. It is very sad to see a shiny machine do nothing in somones shitty home museum.