Las Vegas Auctions 2016

Bonhams and Mecum pull in record crowds, and Vincent command top prices at the Las Vegas auctions.

Las Vegas Auctions 2016

Top money at Bonhams was $434,000 for this one-of-one 1951 red Vincent White Shadow.

Photo by Richard Backus

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Vincents, including Egli-Vincents, continue to command top prices, with 12 sold at Bonhams’ Las Vegas auction for an average of $129,856 and six at Mecum’s auction for an average of $80,583.

It was a good event for Mecum and Bonhams, with combined total sales for both auction houses coming in at $13,854,965 in 2016 against $11,800,000 in 2015, an increase of almost 17.5 percent. Mecum had total sales of $9,054,965 in 2016 against $7,300,000 in 2015, an increase of more than 24 percent. Of 646 bikes offered, 516 sold for an 80 percent sell-through. The average price at Mecum in 2016 was $17,000, $5,000 more than 2015.

Bonhams saw a smaller increase, with total sales of $4,800,000 in 2016 against $4,500,000 in 2015, an increase of almost 7 percent. Of 241 bikes offered, 198 sold for an 82 percent sell-through. The average price paid at Bonhams in 2016 was $24,242, $4,343 more than 2015. Mecum charges a 10 percent buyer’s premium on bikes sold with a reserve and a 7 percent buyer’s premium on bikes sold without a reserve. At Bonhams, the premium is 15 percent on the first $100,000 and 10 percent on any amount over $100,000. Bonhams prices reported here include the buyer’s premium while the Mecum prices do not unless noted.

The bikes

So what’s the market looking like, and are vintage bikes continuing to increase in value? Generally speaking, yes, but the evidence, as usual, is somewhat mixed.

Viewed through the Vegas lens, Vincents are, to no one’s surprise, still rising to the top of the collecting heap, as are rare pre-World War I and World War II American machines. At Bonhams, a one-of-one 1951 Vincent Series C “Red” White Shadow cost its new owner a staggering $434,000. That’s the most ever paid for a Vincent at auction, beating out the $418,940 paid for a 1939 Series A Rapide at Bonhams’ annual Stafford, England, auction in 2015. In both cases, rarity was the determining factor; only 80 Series A Rapides were built between 1937-1939 and this particular 1951 Series C was truly a one-of-a-kind, powered by an unpainted Black Shadow-spec engine and wearing red paint on both frame and sheet metal, the only bike ever to leave the Vincent factory so equipped.

Over at Mecum, top money went for a 1912 Henderson Four, which hammered at $165,000, or $181,500 with the buyer’s 10 percent premium added. That makes it the third-most expensive Henderson ever sold, but in a weird twist that underscores the market’s unpredictability, that same bike also holds the title of most expensive Henderson ever sold, having hammered at $225,500 at the E.J. Cole Collection auction in 2015. 

Looking at other high-end collectibles, prices for Brough Superiors have been on the rise for years, making the $120,500 achieved at Bonhams for an immaculate 1938 SS80 seem a bargain of sorts compared to the $425,943 a 1939 SS100 commanded at Bonhams’ 2014 Stafford auction. Lovely bikes, SS80s have forever been overshadowed by the faster and more elegant SS100.

It’s not really a fair comparison, however, as this particular SS80 was fitted with an incorrect but more powerful SS100 engine, making it a Brough bitsa, if you will. While still not exactly cheap, if you have that kind of coin the bitsa Brough represented sensible entry into Brough ownership. It was a beautifully prepared machine, one you might actually ride instead of mothballing in a glass case, the sad fate of too many high-end collectibles.

The best bargain in British exotica at Mecum was an immaculately prepared replica Vincent Black Lightning that sold for just $38,000. Built by Max Lambky, famous for his twin-engined, Vincent-powered Lambky Liner Bonneville streamliner, it was a lot of motorcycle for the money.

Bread and butter

Looking lower in the food chain, prices for popular, more affordable British bikes were mixed. At Mecum, the average price for unit-twin 1963-1970 Triumphs dropped in 2016, with 37 bikes hammering for an average of $10,392 versus 41 bikes hammering for an average of $12,229 in 2015. Likewise, prices for 1971-1982 oil-in-frame Triumphs also dropped, with six bikes hammering for an average of $5,875 in 2016 versus nine hammering for an average of $6,556 in 2015. More precipitous perhaps was the drop in value for the semi-hotrod 1963-1967 T120C Bonneville TT, with five bikes crossing the stage at an average of $9,500 in 2016 versus six selling for an average of $14,292 in 2015. Interest in pre-unit twins remains strong and apparently growing, however, with 27 pre-unit Triumphs selling at Mecum for an average of $13,222 in 2016 versus four at an average of $8,313 in 2015.

Triumph buyers at Bonhams had some interesting options, with more than a few bargains in the mix including the $3,680 someone paid for a 1959 T100 Tiger. Although wearing the wrong gas tank and sporting a maroon painted frame and a 2-into-1 exhaust system, it was a nice, presentable bike and cheap entry into pre-unit Triumph ownership, as was the 1954 T100 Tiger that sold for $4,370, even nicer than the ’59 and suffering mostly from a non-stock exhaust system. Bonhams also sold the most expensive Triumph at Vegas, realizing $103,500 for the ex-Steve McQueen/Bud Ekins/Von Dutch 1963 Triumph Bonneville desert sled, proof positive that the McQueen connection still sells — big.

Nortons didn’t seem to be as plentiful at either auction this year, with Mecum selling a total of 10 in 2016 versus 27 in 2015, and Bonhams selling five compared to only two in 2015. That makes it hard to establish any benchmarks, but the five Commandos sold at Mecum went for an average of $9,800, a healthy increase from the $9,000 averaged from 22 sold in 2015. If you were looking for a rider, the best deal was probably the $4,370 paid at Bonhams for a 1963 Norton Atlas. Wearing not unattractive but clearly non-stock tan paint, the bike was also equipped with a later 750cc engine from a P11 Ranger. Both issues limited its value, as they should, but neither detracted from the bike’s appeal as an affordable, rideable classic.

Italian exotica continues to increase in value, with 10 Ducatis crossing the block at Mecum for an average of $13,350 in 2016 versus the $12,288 average paid for 13 bikes in 2015. Bonhams saw an even sharper increase, although on a much smaller number of bikes, with nine Ducatis selling for an average of $24,389 in 2016 versus the $15,554 average paid for 23 bikes in 2015.

At Bonhams, a stunning 1977 MV Agusta 750S America with only 41 miles on it sold for a heart-stopping $120,500, the second-highest amount ever paid at auction for an MV. Bonhams also realized $56,350 for a 1975 Ducati 900SS and $29,900 for a sandcast 1972 Ducati 750GT, the 196th production V-twin Ducati.

Top Ducati money at Mecum was for a 1975 750 Sport that went to its new owner for $43,000, while a lovely, sensibly upgraded and imminently rideable MV Agusta 750 America punched out to 912cc went for $52,500. Although billed as a 1974 model, the MV was more than likely a 1975 model, sporting that year’s new bodywork.

Japanese classics continue to draw strong interest, with a very nice 1979 Honda CBX hammering for $17,000 at Mecum and an immaculately restored 1960 Honda CA77 going for an even $10,000. A very nice fully restored 1969 Kawasaki H1 went for $14,000 at Mecum while an unrestored 1972 Kawasaki H2 with 15,536 miles showing on the clock went for $9,000.

Japanese exotica was a bit thinner on the ground at Bonhams, where a fantastic twin port 1955 Honda Dream 4E sold for $26,450 and a fully restored 1971 Honda CB750 K1 took $8,625. Bargains of the day included the $2,875 someone paid at Bonhams for a beautiful 1978 Honda CB750 Super Sport showing only 12,888 miles and the $6,000 someone paid at Mecum for a 1985 Honda VF1000R. The 45th made and in beautiful original condition, it was well bought.

Once again, Vegas underscores that high-end rarity still equals ultimate collectibility. Prices are generally up, yet many of the bread and butter bikes we once bought to ride are still in reach — for now. MC