2011 Classic Motorcycle Auctions in Las Vegas

A look at the Bonhams and MidAmerica Vegas auctions.

| May/June 2011

Every January for the past 20 years, Las Vegas has played host to the world’s largest classic motorcycle auction as MidAmerica Auctions puts some 500 (mostly) classic and vintage motorcycles under the hammer. And for the first time, in 2011, auctioneers Bonhams & Butterfields decided to join the party, adding another 200-plus classic bikes for sale.

To minimize conflict and overlap, Bonhams held their auction on Thursday afternoon, January 6, at the Imperial Palace, while MidAmerica commenced selling over dinner the same evening at the South Point, continuing into Friday and Saturday. In a pinch, and with a fast motorcycle, you could just about get to both. And you’d be glad you did.

Bonhams Vegas debut

Anchoring the Bonhams sale were the 53 Hondas from the Kenneth Klem collection, all offered with no reserve. The collection netted more than $94,000, for an average of around $1,700 a bike. Included in the collection were nine CB750s from 1970-1976, mostly in fair condition (though some missing stock mufflers) and selling for an average of $2,900, the older machines typically attracting more money. Bargains included a nice 1966 S90 sport that sold for $1,800, and a rare 1964 C55 step-through at just $650.

The top grossing lot was an original circa-1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller, the world’s first production motorcycle, at $140,000, while a 1901 Indian F-head “camelback” single made $115,000 and the ex-Rody Rodenberg BMW R51RS racer from 1939 pulled $112,000. Other sales at $100,000-plus were an unrestored 1913 Flying Merkel and a 1929 ex-factory H-D Peashooter race bike.

There were some excellent deals for bargain hunters. Included in the Klem collection was a 1974 Yamaha TX750, unloved at the time (the oiling problems had been overcome by 1974) and now slowly becoming collectible. In overall nice original condition and with period saddle bags, the winning bid was just $1,100. Similarly, a beautifully restored British classic, a four-valve Rudge 250 Sports from 1935, made just $4,800.

Perhaps the rarest lot on offer was the 1919 Australian-built GCS, named for its builder, George Cyril Stilwell, and fitted with a MAG V-twin engine. Immaculately refinished, just $45,000 took it. A barn-fresh China Red Vincent series C Rapide sold for $85,000. 2011 could be the year to buy a Vincent, as three series B Rapides sold between $35,000-$36,000 each, less than estimated and $5,000-$10,000 less than just a few years ago.

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