Monday, March 23, 2015

RECORDS FALL IN LAS VEGAS

Star of the show: Steve McQueen's 1915 Cyclone - an $842,000 engine in a $10,000 Indian chassis...a new world record, now at the top of my 'Most Expensive Motorcycles' list
Two Vegas auctions in a year?  Apparently so, at least under extraordinary circumstances, and the sale of the legendary EJ Cole collection from Texas was indeed worth the trip.  With an approximately $13.5Million total sale (including fees) from 220 bikes, it was the highest-grossing motorcycle auction ever, and broke world records for the highest price ever paid at auction ($852,500) for a 1915 Cyclone engine in an Indian chassis, formerly owned by Steve McQueen, and the highest price ever paid for a Harley-Davidson ($715,000) for an incredible, original-paint 1907 'strap tank' model, perhaps the best early H-D in the world.
The 1907 H-D 'strap tank', from the 3rd year of H-D production, and in beautiful original condition, sold for $715,000, a world record for a Harley-Davidson, and now #2 on my 'Most Expensive Motorcycles' list...
Who is EJ Cole and how did this collection come about?  According to the man himself, he purchased 13 antique American motorcycles from a Seattle collector in 1979, along with a huge pile of spares, for $75,000, which was a lot of money for a bunch of old bikes at that date.  He had been advised by his nephew, Lonnie Isam Sr, to purchase this estate in order to 'flip' it at a profit.  Isam took possession of the collection with the intention of selling, but after a few days of no action, EJ Cole reconsidered the wisdom of a quick buck, and had the bikes delivered to his home in Texas. Cole felt that such rare machines would inevitably rise in value, and set about creating a very large collection of rare, early American bikes, under the tutelage of Isam and other old-bike brokers such as RL Jones.  How right his intuition proved to be.
Mecum's Ron Christensen with the man himself, EJ Cole
Cole collected well, and while 1/3 of his machines were 'ordinary' postwar Harley-Davidson twins (Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead), the bulk of the collection was at least very interesting, and at best some of the most remarkable early American motorcycles anywhere.  He had been pestered to sell the collection for many years, and every auction house and wealthy collector made inquiries and offers, although the action heated up last year between several parties interested.  EJ Cole was the obstacle, asking unrealistic and variable prices, and vexing all suitors.  Finally, he succeeded in driving everyone away, but ultimately had a change of heart, perhaps due to a combination of pressure from his heirs, his own advancing age (89), and the lure of many millions of dollars.
The 1911 Flying Merkel original-paint board tracker, which sold for $423,500
Mecum Auctions, via Ron Christenson, claim that 'no deal' and 'no guarantees' were made to EJ Cole in selling the collection, most of which was sold at no reserve last weekend.  Prices on the whole were 'retail', ie, what one would expect, although quite a few deals were had in the margins, like an lovely old-paint WW2 Indian Scout for $13k, and an OHV Reading Standard racer, which might have been a fantasy OHV, or a bitsa, but was certainly a bargain at $25k. 
Subject to a bidding fight between Australia's Peter Arundel (whose Indian 8-Valve was the subject of Machine Files #3) and board track expert Daniel Statnekov, who wanted it just a little more...
Behind the podium - I provided 'color' commentary on the bikes, while the auctioneers kept up the blistering pace, and Dana Mecum a close eye on the crowd...

You’ll note two of these record-setting machines still bore their manufacturer’s paint scheme, and the motorcycle market is far ahead of the collector’s car scene in recognizing the value of unmolested originality.  In common with the art and antiques markets, the old-bike world prefers its machinery to be ‘real’…perhaps because so many excellent replicas are scattered across the globe, with sheepish owners crossing fingers behind their backs, displaying their ‘racers’ with pride.  Nowadays you need a forensic scientist to sort if that Indian was built in 1912 or 2012; how many of its parts actually emerged from Springfield, or were merely created while watching The Simpsons?
Ready to push an original-paint 1925 Excelsior-Henderson across the ramp...
Trends?  Obviously, prices for blue-chip bikes are going up with no end in sight, but let's be clear - there are VERY FEW such machines on the planet.  There are a couple of hundred JAP-engined Brough Superior SS100s, 70-odd Crockers and Vincent Series A twins, a dozen Cyclones, and very few original-paint board track racers. A few exotic GP bikes and supercharged pre-WW2 racers should be added to the list, but by my reckoning that's still only 500ish really top-rank motorcycles in the world which are likely to fetch more than $250k at auction today.  The EJ Cole auction was an extraordinary collection, but most of the bikes on offer - even very rare, early American collectibles - sold for less than $50k.  
First year of production 1912 Henderson, sold for $225,500
Prices for old motorcycles are basically flat, as they have been for years.  I see no general trend for escalating prices, except select cases (notably Indian 4s at the Cole auction) which seem to be on the rise.  Motorcycles which were produced in the thousands are far more numerous than riders willing to use them, and as most collectors have ten or more motorcycles, it's clear demand for old machines is not high.  Which means we need to ride them a whole lot more.
Bargains?  Yes, this original 1943 Indian Scout went for $13k, and Roland Sands will no doubt do something fun with it...
'Riders not hiders' occupied a good number of seats at the auction, and probably 10 of the bikes sold will participate in the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball across-America rally. Cannonball veterans had a post-auction banquet which, like most things Cannonball, sold out early; 64 seats filled (and a dozen sadly turned away) by folks who'd ridden their old machines 4100 miles on a rally.  That was the most heartening statistic of all. 
A few of the many Cannonballers who showed up to buy, or merely enjoy the company


13 comments:

GreginAdelaide said...

Good report Paul.
Only one slight criticism... if I can call it that.
How about a slightly larger format and font for your blog, please!

The font size decreases near the bottom of the page and I found myself with my nose on the screen!! Ha!

Cheers mate and keep it up, I really enjoy your adventures.

Anonymous said...

A very well written summary Paul.
Nice to see the escalating 'Four values.
It was a privilege and very educational to have the chance to study & photograph these machines.
Thank you.
Brad K.

jerrykap said...

Heady times indeed, I'm not counting on seeing another auction of this money producing caliber in my lifetime? I hope some of those greenbacks rub off on you.

Ron Fellowes said...

Thanks Paul for giving us an update on the auction. Great reading and a good insight into what is happening in the old bike scene in the USA.

Cheers, Ron Fellowes

Greg Lew said...

Great auction, glad to be a part of history. Anyone who was there had a lot to talk about and see with this magnificent collection.

GuitarSlinger said...

Call me a cynic [ or a realist if you prefer ] but I get the funny feeling it was all the Hype & Hyperbole surrounding this collection [ and an unhealthy excess of alcohol ] that was driving the prices up ... and not the actual value of the bikes being sold . All bets being ... the new owners will never recoup their investment . To quote the bard Randy Newman ;

" I could be wrong now .... But I don't think so "

JOHN LANDSTROM said...

It would be interesting to know how many of the Coe bikes were bought by museums. It would be nice if some of the bikes were made available for public viewing. John Landstrom

The Vintagent said...

John, I believe the 1907 Harley Strap Tank will be on display at Legends Motorcycle Emporium in Springville Utah.

Chopper Dave said...

It would be really good to see JD putting around Springville

Anonymous said...

The H-D Museum would have bought something, but according to Paul's Twitter account, they are too cheap to step up.

The Vintagent said...

Ha! I discovered that the machine which is very likely the first production H-D, the legendary 100,000mile #1 motorcycle, was tracked down in Florida and purchased back in 1979. The current owner has spend the last decades documenting and backing up this machine, which according to my research pans out as the real deal, or at least, from the right place and the right family - where it 'should' have been found.
H-D knows the machine exists and who has it. Of course, the EJ Cole 1907 Strap Tank pales in comparison to the value of the Very First Harley Davidson. So maybe they're saving their pennies.

Murray Stapp said...

I have been watching Panhead prices for 2 years now. I went to the auction with the hope that I might secure one. I thought the prices for the high end bikes were way up there but moderate for all the ones in the middle. So I got mine, a 52 pan that's coming home to New Zealand and it will be ridden. Around me in the crowd were riders, enthusiasts, collectors and a HD dealer with plenty to spend. It was a great crowd and a fun two days. Murray (New Zealand)

roadboogers said...

Paul It was great to see you at this one of a kind auction.Iwas honored to be part of the crew there.I really enjoyed working with E,J.It was a pleasure to find a collector that had the forsight and the means to buy these machines before the whole world recognized their signifance.The auction was a great learning experience for everyone.I'm not sure we will ever see a collection with such diversity and quality.Thanks for your kind words AS ALWAYS R.L. JONES