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2012 Las Vegas Classic Bike Auctions – Big Money and Big Bargains

by Richard Backus


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1982 Honda CBX 
This 1982 Honda CBX was one of three at Auctions America by RM's inaugural Las Vegas auction. It sold for $5,040 including buyer's premium. 

Las Vegas is all about living large, and this year’s classic bike auctions – yes, auctions, as in three of them – proved there are still plenty of people with money to spend on classic motorcycles. Top money at Auctions America by RM’s inaugural Vegas auction at the Rio Casino was $86,800 for a restored 1910 Flying Merkel. Down on the strip at the Imperial Palace, Bonhams’ second Vegas auction drew a winning bid of $120,500 for an original 1953 Vincent Series C Black Shadow with just 3,000 miles on the clock, while at the South Point Casino, Vegas motorcycle auction pioneer MidAmerica was rolling the bikes through in classic style.

We don’t have results yet for the MidAmerica auction, but if the level of activity at this year’s auction was any hint, we expect final results for MidAmerica to meet or exceed last year’s $4.7 million. Bonhams say their sale netted $2.5 million-plus (roughly the same as their inaugural 2011 sale), and newcomer Auctions America by RM posted sales of $4.1 million, with 82 percent of all bikes sold. When MidAmerica’s numbers come in, we fully expect total sales for the Jan. 12-14, 2012 auctions to break $10 million, more than double the money that rolled through when it was just Auctions America in 2010.

While there was plenty of big money changing hands, there were also some great bargains for classic bike enthusiasts looking for something to ride. Examples included a 1974 BMW R90/6 that went for $1,426 at Auctions America. Non-stock paint job aside, it was a complete bike that looked fit for road duty. Want something older? How about $3,920 for a 1934 Triumph 150 XO “Sloper” single? Too old? How about $2,128 for a nicely prepared 1973 H-D/Aermacchi 350 Sprint? A lovely bike, I wish I’d bid on it.

We’re not quite sure what to make of prices paid for parts at the Bonhams auction, including the $35,000 someone shelled out for a claimed unused, NOS 1924 Ace 4-cylinder engine or the $3,250 for a carburetor off an early Indian.

1924 ACE engine 
1924 Ace 4-cylinder engine was claimed unused and sold for $35,000 at the Bonhams auction. 

Against this backdrop it’s almost surprising that bidding at MidAmerica's auction for Steve McQueen’s 1971 Husky 400, said to be the bike that McQueen famously rode shirtless for a cover photo on an August 1971 issue of Sports Illustrated, stopped at $137,000, far short of the $160,000 reserve. That was less than another, identical McQueen Husky drew recently, selling for $144,500 at Bonhams' spring sale in Carmel, Calif.. MidAmerica’s Ron Christenson said the bike they were selling at Vegas was the real deal and the Sports Illustrated cover date.

A new – and welcome – addition to the action was Auctions America’s Saturday morning panel discussion, moderated by motorsports commentator Dave Despain, who queried a panel of industry insiders (Cycle World editor-in-chief Mark Hoyer, auto and now bike collector Joe Bortz, Buzz Walneck – yes, that Buzz – and photographer, book author and sometimes Motorcycle Classics contributor Doug Mitchel) for their take on collecting classic bikes. Look for a full report on the event in a future issue of Motorcycle Classics. – Richard Backus 

 

richard backus
2/2/2012 6:15:11 PM

There were some amazing deals there. Wish I'd gone with cash in my pocket!


adam rocketmoto
1/19/2012 2:17:09 PM

I attended and bid on items at all three auctions. Bonhams had the day to themselves, as their auction was on Thursday. At the start of the automobilia auction, there, items were selling for peanuts. The crowd was sparse for maybe the first hour. By noon, the room was full up. Aside from the rarities, prices were on the low side, I think. The big surprise to me was the number of 'no reserve' bikes at the Auctions America venue. Lots of nice bikes going for short money. So many times, we were shaking our heads at the low final bids. There were a lot of bargains, there. I think there'll be lots of disappointed sellers. At Mid America, it was all over the map - crazy money for some things, and give away prices on others. Nicely restored Indian Chief's well under $20K, while a truly gorgeous gem of a '60 Royal Enfield that my buddy bid on went for an astounding $18.5K plus commission. All in all, a good time, and it's nice to be immersed in motorcycles as a break from the winter's deep freeze.