I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Quail Motorcycle Gathering, a show and auction held May 9, 2009, in Monterey, Calif., and promoted as a “celebration of the history of the motorcycle.” It did not disappoint.
Located in the Carmel Valley, one of the most beautiful regions of California, the Quail Lodge comprises 850 gorgeous acres of rolling hills and features 97 well-appointed rooms, an 18-hole championship golf course, a luxurious spa and world- class cuisine. It was immediately obvious this would not be your usual hot parking lot and dusty fairgrounds show. This was more reminiscent of the Legend of the Motorcycle show, currently on hiatus and previously held just up the road in Half Moon Bay. And like the Legend show, the Quail gathering was a top notch event held at a fantastic facility.
The bikes at this event were also top notch. Crockers, Vincents, one-off customs and factory racers — just about any type of classic bike you could imagine was on display, including a healthy selection of Nortons. A concours was held on the immense lawn adjacent to the lodge, and surrounding the concours field were numerous vendors offering everything from bronze sculptures to hand-hammered aluminum gas tanks. Craig Vetter and Mert Lawwill were among the celebrity guests, and the Money Band played as we dined on a delicious BBQ dinner, all included in the $65 admission fee. The awards presentation concluded the show, and at 3:30 p.m. the part of the event I most looked forward to promptly began. The Bonhams & Butterfields auction was underway.
On the block
Headquartered in London, auction house Bonhams & Butterfields has a worldwide reputation for selling fine art, antiques, and collector automobiles and motorcycles. They reach an international audience via Internet and printed catalog, and the catalog for the Quail auction was a collector’s item in its own right — each lot was treated to a full page feature with glossy photos and glowing description.
Compared to the typical U.S. motorcycle auctions held in Las Vegas and Daytona, where bright lights, shouting, hoopla and auctioneer patter set the mood, a Bonhams’ auction is reserved and subdued. The motorcycles speak for themselves while the auctioneer methodically takes bids in a low key, controlled manner. One reason the Bonhams’ auctions require a more refrained auctioneer is because they get a greater number of foreign buyers bidding by telephone than their American counterparts. However, this doesn’t mean the auction moves slowly; each lot is described briefly then sold quickly, so the lots-per-hour rate is quite efficient.
Of 115 lots offered, 81 sold, roughly 70 percent of the total and a perfectly respectable percentage for a first time auction at an inaugural event. The 34 lots that did not sell could also be a reflection of sellers’ expectations not being in sync with the depressed economic conditions. In general, motorcycles just aren’t bringing what they did two years ago. In spite of that, it’s clear that good bikes still bring good money, as evidenced by the 1950 red Vincent Series C White Shadow, one of 15 made, that sold for $111,150 or the 1977 Ducati 900SS that fetched a healthy $29,500.
There was also plenty of memorabilia, and anything with Steve McQueen’s name attached to it brought big bucks from frenzied bidders. The first sign the McQueen affiliation is still good as gold was when lot number 39, Steve McQueen’s international driver’s license for ISDT competition, sold for $42,700! That same frenzy undoubtably drove up the price for the ex-McQueen 1963 Triumph desert sled ($82,240) and 1929 Harley DL ($39,780), although the Triumph did benefit from the McQueen (owner)/Bud Ekins (builder)/Von Dutch (painter) connection. The Holy Trinity of California Cool, the trio unwittingly conspired to turn a bread and butter Triumph into filet mignon.
Cheapest bike of the day was a 1987 BMW R65 with 62,000 miles on the clock, which sold for a reasonable $1,755. You can view full details on the Bonhams’ site (www.bonhams.com). The listed prices include a 17 percent buyer’s premium.