Thursday, January 22, 2015


Bonhams' Malcolm Barber discusses the 'Shadowized' Vincent Rapide which sold for $47k inclusive of fees
The Las Vegas collector motorcycle auctions every January are the biggest vintage bike sale anywhere, with 1000 bikes going under the hammer this year.  Yet with this huge spread of machinery on offer, some of it at no reserve, I muse on why there aren't more 'ordinary bikers' attending these auctions - this year's event was a strangely mixed bag, with the Thursday Bonhams auction very successful for high-end collectors, while the 3-day Mecum auction was a benefit for dealers who'd come from around the globe. 
Ron Christensen, who sold his MidAmerica Auctions to Mecum, was still touting the herd as it crossed the podium 
In past years, some of these dealers have gone home empty handed, but they reaped a haul at Mecum, with '60s Triumphs going for $5-8k, Harley Panheads for $13-18k, and lots else going cheap or not selling at all.  Several familiar dealers from the USA and Europe looked pleased as cats with tweety bellies, having scored dozens of nice old bikes, which are currently en route to their respective salerooms.  
Bench and Loom's Jared Zaugg aboard the Brough Superior SS100 with sold, then didn't, at $285k...
The Herb Harris collection of fascinating cutaway engine included this ex-factory BSA Gold Star from the 1955 Earls Court show
Cool stuff at Mecum - a Norton Model 50 Featherbed in original paint, and a Harley KRTT
Alan Stulberg of Revival Cycles with the -unwashed- '33 Brough Superior 11-50 we rode in the 2014 Cannonball, on the Sinless Cycles display of Broughs and Vincents.  Good company!
No sale today...the 'Bigsby Special' replica Crocker at Mecum, cataloged with a story that was indeed a crocker something...
Bonhams starts off the week, and as in years past, there are buyers who go to one auction or the other, but not both.  Bonhams attracts the bankroll boys, and really knocked it outta the park this year, with a $4.2M total, and four world record prices set.  A 1950 Vincent 'White Shadow' sold at over $200k, and another 7 hit the century mark.  Records were set for a Matchless-Brough SS80 ($115k), Vincent models 'white' Shadow ($224k) and Rapide ($126k), and Matchless G50 ($115k).  Even with an approx. 75% sale rate, their total sales figure was remarkable, and the high rollers really made the auction.
Artist Jeff Decker shared the Sinless booth, and showed off his white-pencil technique for drawing Sprouts Elder
As usual, Malcolm Barber, now Co-Chairman of Bonhams, used his dry wit to keep things rolling, nudging indecisive bidders by making fun of them with good humor.  A huge selection of Herb Harris' 'cutaway' motors and even a full cutaway BSA Gold Star mostly failed to sell, with very high reserves; in the case of the Goldie, something like 10 times the value of the complete machine!  Clearly, it's passed into the realm of art, but art collectors aren't ready for a cutaway.
A fully race-kitted '53 Triumph Tiger 100 was truly mouthwatering at only $16k
It's hard to imagine a greater contrast to Bonhams than the Mecum auction, which is very fast-paced, averaging only 90 seconds per bike...understandable with 750 bikes to push through.  There's little 'color' at the auction (a job I used to do for MidAmerica), and the sheer volume of the event, in all senses, can be overwhelming, and challenging to sit through for more than a few hours.  Still, the results at the Mecum auction were astounding - 83% sold, with a total $7.3M changing hands. That makes a total sale for the weekend around $10.5M...which ain't chicken feed! The visiting crowd at Mecum must have numbered over 3000, and people milled around the bike lineups, getting a close look at the bikes; it's a terrific social scene, and a great place to hang out with friends from across the country or around the globe.
Hanging out at the AMCA booth - it's only fair I post them, as they made me the poster boy for membership renewals!
For whatever reason, the Mecum auction didn't draw out the high bidders, and the top price realized was $132k for an original-paint 1952 Vincent 'Touring' Rapide in rare Chinese Red, surely one of the finest original paint Vincents to be found anywhere, with an exquisite patina, which knocked off the Bonhams world-record mark for Rapides set two only days prior.  That's the auction biz!  Clearly, Vincents in original paint, or Shadows, are very hot again, although a lovely Rapide in 'riding' condition, with full documentation and history, went for only $43k at Bonhams.  Choose the Vincent you like - the same model can be had for $100k more if you prefer!  With over 11,000 postwar Vincents produced, the very top prices are clearly collector-driven, and not about rarity per se...
A super-rare machine with a great back story; in 1925, Indian bought a new Velocette K OHC bike, and set about copying it in its entirety!  The chassis and gearbox is nearly identical, and the engine is pretty close too, but Indian-style.  This 1 of 6 motor was installed in a SV Prince chassis.

Mecum has the benefit of TV coverage via NBC Sports Network, and full disclosure – while I recently resigned as a consultant for Bonhams, I enjoyed sitting in with the NBCSN ‘car guys’ as a commentator for the show this year, their first motorcycle auction broadcast.  Hopefully they'll continue to cover the motorcycle auction scene, as it's long overdue.


jerrykap said...

I've got your broadcast saved on my DVR...It's fun to see so many there that I know briefly on the tube. All in all it was a GREAT year for the Vegas auctions and your TV commentary was appreciated.

Vincent said...

Hello Paul, With regard to your remark "where are all the ordinary bikers?" For me as (what I presume) a ordinary biker, Auctions are a no go area. Why? I think 'ordinary bikers' want a bike for riding. At a auction there's no way to know if the bike is as good as it looks or said to be. You could be buying a tank slapping neurotic oil spilling monster. You need to RIDE it to make sure that it is what you want and spend your hard earned cash on.
Ordinary bikers are relying on their own circuit of friends and relatives to find/buy/trade a (classic) bike.
Keep on having good fun and keep making your reports and make me smile. regards, Vincent.

The Vintagent said...

Vincent, I understand your trepidation, but I've bought many motorcycles without the pleasure of a pre-ride, from auctions (I got my Triumph TR5T at Bonhams), and dealers/private sales abroad. Dozens actually - and the only times I've felt burned were from local private sellers!

The other benefit of a gigantic auction is selection; you'll see stuff in Vegas you'd wait a long time to find elsewhere, like an OHC 1930 AJS R7 at Bonhams this year, which sold for $17k. Needed work, but so what - a very cool project.

It helps to assume you're going to work on any motorcycle you buy, even if it's completely restored. That's the 'getting to know you' process, which has the combined benefit of gaining mechanical familiarity before you ride a machine, and also feeling personally connected to a machine.

We have a very intimate riding relationship with motorcycles, which is only enhanced by an appreciation for the genius of their mechanical function. I'm more curious than fearful when I need to get inside a beats watching TV.

GuitarSlinger said...

As to the MSNBC coverage which I watched ... the broadcast would of been much better served had your on microphone colleagues stood aside and let you do the majority of the talking . Fact is 90% of their commentary was vapid verging on the uninformed/ignorant !

As to where were all the ' ordinary ' bikers ? Perhaps following the advice of Jay Leno to buy direct from the owners and NOT from any auction house ?

Cause to be honest thats my stand ! Especially now what with all the auction house incidents of late along with the over inflated , alcohol fueled , ego driven prices that auctions create .

Kraut said...

I know with myself and a lot of other ordinary bikers I know, the issues with stuff like this are time and cost. Sure, there may be deals to be had, but factor in the time taken off from work, travel costs, lodging, buyers premiums, and then shipping costs and it just isn't worth it for the average Joe.

Anonymous said...

13K post war Vincent twins? That is way off.

The Vintagent said...

You're right; it's 11,134 total Vincents produced postwar - the text has been corrected. Still, Vincent twins are hardly rare!

Alyn Vincent said...

Paul, I have been following your blog, comments and observations for sometime. They used to be informative, entertaining, illustrative and insightful. I am saddened to say this is no longer the case. With notable exceptions, I am reading what I have read elsewhere, seeing what I have seen elsewhere and worst of all, reading erroneous and misleading information. You say there were 11,134 post war Vincents and that Vincent twins are hardly rare. Out of the 11,134 post war Vincents, how many were twins? How many survive, how many survive as built ex factory, how many fakes????? They are not as rare as Woolers or EMCs. Does rarity mean expensive? They were the fastest road registered vehicle on the planet for the best part of 3 decades THAT is part of the reason they are collectable.

The Vintagent said...

Alyn, I'm sorry to disappoint you.

What I hear from your note is; 'I no longer enjoy this thing you've provided me for free for 9 years.' I could respond in many, understandable ways to that sentiment.

Instead, you bring up an interesting point, but not the Vincent one - I stand by my opinion that Vincent twins are not rare, and have lived through two cycles of 'bubble burst' on the twins - '89 and '09 - when their value dropped dramatically. I predict this will happen again in the near future.

The 'I can find it elsewhere' statement is interesting, and reflects huge changes in the Internet over these 9 years. There are dozens of well-produced and professional blogs/webzines about old/custom/interesting motorcycles today - readers are very lucky! I even mentored some of your favorites no doubt, as I believe in spreading the word about motorcycles, and supporting others who do the same.

How The Vintagent has changed represents changes in my career as a writer; the research/writing done for print (magazines and books) tends to stay there, as those paying for my work stipulate such. This takes time away from original research for The Vintagent...but leaves me free to express my opinion on my own website, and direct readers to what I find interesting.

In the meantime, I'll carry on as an Editor at Cycle World, a columnist/essayist for 6 magazines worldwide, an author of books, a photographer, the host of the Motorcycle Film Festival, a Concours judge and event host, and most importantly of all, an arch-enthusiast of old motorcycles, and a staunch friend of that odd breed, the vintagents (and vintaladies...must coin a better word for them).

Anonymous said...


I for one have enjoyed benefitting from your knowledge, hearing your opinions and observations, and watching you grow from strength to strength over the years.

Thank you. And keep up the great work.

- JZ

Oh, the match for vintagent could be vintagal.

The Vintagent said...

Or Vintagentle? Is that Yiddish?
Thanks JZ, give my love to Beyoncé...