2020 Las Vegas Motorcycle Auctions

Brough Superiors dominated this year’s Mecum and Bonhams classic motorcycle auctions in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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by Robert Smith
Motorcycles from the Buzz Kanter collection at Bonhams, including the 1941 Indian 45ci Big Base Scout (right).

In recent years, American motorcycle auction goers have seen a speed-record Vincent Black Lightning and a Crocker “Big Tank” both edge toward the million-dollar mark. There were no such stratospheric prices achieved at the annual Mecum and Bonhams motorcycle auctions in Las Vegas, Jan. 21-26, 2020.

But after six years in which American iron mostly topped the big money charts, Broughs are back. A super-rare 1922 Brough Superior Mark 1 with a JAP “90 bore” engine gained the top price of $308,000 at Mecum, including buyer’s premium, while the number two spot went to a 1930 SS100 at $239,250.

Meanwhile at Bonhams, the top price seller wasn’t a complete motorcycle at all, but a Brough project, which, when re-assembled, would be a 1929 680 with a JAP overhead-valve engine — essentially a scaled-down SS100. The project sold for $126,500.

Most of the top values, though, were achieved at Mecums, with a 1940 Harley-Davidson EL bringing $220,000, the same amount gained by the late Indian Larry’s Grease Monkey custom. A 4-cylinder Militaire, which, despite its French-sounding name was one of around 200 made in Buffalo, New York, achieved $214,500. Four green-frame Ducati 750SS’s were offered at Mecum, with one selling for $198,000 (and another passed on at $195,000), while a Vincent “C” Black Shadow fetched $143,000.

Minibikes at Mecum

A notable feature of the Mecum auction was the number of minibikes on offer. In all, more than 100 went across the block with a total value of close to half a million dollars, and an average price of $4,855 including premium. Many of the minibikes were from the Northwest 100 Honda collection. There may have been a “halo” effect operating here. Minibike values have been rising in recent years, and that may have encouraged sellers to liquidate. The halo effect may also explain why five Honda RC30s were on offer in Vegas this year after one (with zero miles) sold for a record price of over $100,000 in 2019. None of the five came close to six figures this year.

Several other collections were being sold, which included a number of rare Italian motorcycles from the Musee L’Epopee de la Moto in Quebec, Canada. Among the lots offered were 1980s Bimotas, Moto Guzzis and Laverdas — still in their delivery crates!

In total, the 26 collections offered at Mecum yielded 704 lots, or 41% of the total number of bikes across the block. Bonhams also offered two significant motorcycle collections for sale: Ten from the MotoDoffo Collection in California; and 15 from legendary racer and publisher Buzz Kanter. Perhaps most intriguing was Marcelo Doffo’s 2006 Ducati Paul Smart replica still in its delivery crate that failed to sell at $22,000. Also at Bonhams, a pair of 1938 Triumph Speed Twins were offered: one restored, the other with original patina — and a Bud Ekins provenance. Neither sold — but the Bud Ekins connection added $17,000 to the high bid.

On the subject of provenance … while most auction buyers do their own fastidious research before bidding, a couple of motorcycles were offered — one Mecum, one Bonhams — that according to marque specialists, may not have been quite what they claimed (though neither sold). The problem with provenance is that, if it’s fundamental to the value of the item, the incentive to fake it is especially strong. Caveat emptor!

Bellwethers and Bonhams

In the latter part of the 2010s, the biggest ticket motorcycle make at auction has been Crocker. In 2019, a 1939 “Big Tank” sold for over $700,000, and others have sold in recent years for more than half a million. Only one was on offer this year, at Bonhams. It was bid up to $380,000 but failed to meet reserve.

Vincent prices can be indicative of market stability. Typically, Rapides expect to sell in the $50,000 range and Shadows around $100,000. Four Rapides (of six offered) sold at Mecum for an average of $50,600 including premium, while five Shadows (four at Mecum, one at Bonhams) sold for an average $106,700.

In the “volume” market, Honda sales are a good bellwether, simply because of the numbers offered. With 406 Hondas for sale at Mecum (208 in 2018 and 225 in 2019), more than 91% were sold for an average value of around $7,000 (even including the large number of minibikes), a figure that has remained steady over the last three years.

Similarly, the high volume of Harley-Davidsons offered at Mecum (296 in 2020, up from 167 in 2019 and 203 in 2018) should also be a fair indicator. This year, 86% of H-D lots offered were sold, for an average of $21,500 each (versus $23,900 in 2019, and $18,800 in 2018). And 109 Indians were for sale at Mecum with 81% sold for an average of almost $26,000 each (versus 2019, which saw 70 Indians across the block with 93% sold for an average of $31,900, and 2018 sold 83% of the 48 Indians offered at an average of $32,000).

Motorcycle maverick Craig Vetter created just 10 Kawasaki-powered Mystery Ships before a hang-gliding accident called a halt to production. Only two were fitted with the RC Engineering Z1-TC turbocharged engine: one for Russ Collins of RC; and the other offered for sale at Bonhams. It sold for $55,200 including premium. MC


By The Numbers

Mecum

  • Mecum offered 1,758 motorcycles for sale in 2020 at Las Vegas, of which 1,515 were sold, or 86%. (In 2019, 1,276 of 1,438 were sold for 89%.)
  • The total value of lots sold was $19,663,000 without premium, or $21,629,000 with premium. ($22,790,000 without premium in 2019.)
  • Average price per lot sold was $12,979 without premium, a 27% drop over 2019, but 13% up on 2018.

Bonhams

  • Bonhams offered 110 bikes, of which 52 were sold.
  • Total value sold was $1,259,600 with premium, or $833,750 without.
  • Average price per lot sold was $16,034 without premium. (Information is provided in good faith but may be subject to recording or calculation errors. E&OE. Your results may vary.)
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