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Motorcycle Authentication

Motorcycle historian and Ducati expert Ian Falloon shares his tips on motorcycle authentication.

| May/June 2016

  • 1974 Ducati 750SS “Green Frame”
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • Original decals (shown) and the blue paint mark on the cylinder head of this Ducati 750SS help identify it as original.
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • Original decals and the blue paint mark on the cylinder head (shown) of this Ducati 750SS help identify it as original.
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • The National Motorcycle Museum’s display of the Captain America bike, circa 2011.
    Motorcycle Classics archive
  • Font type on the frame and engine can be important clues to originality.
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • Rim-type and instruments can also help in authentication.
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • Rim-type and instruments can also help in authentication.
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • Taillight bracket on a Ducati 750SS shows original black under a thin coat of silver paint applied only for this model.
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • Original Scarab brakes are another clue.
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • Circa-1957 MV Agusta may or may not have been ridden by John Surtees.
    Photo by Ian Falloon
  • NCR900 is an original survivor.
    Photo by Ian Falloon

Driven by nostalgia and a desire to own something unique, the collecting game has become a big business, with buyers facing big risks when a bike isn’t all it seems.

A combination of increased affluence and more disposable income has seen the prices of rare, older artifacts skyrocket in price in recent years. With many high-end collector cars now out of reach for all but the wealthiest, certain motorcycles are now attracting attention from serious collectors and investors. Motorcycle collecting may still be on the periphery for many, but there are plenty of seriously cashed up collectors fueling this phenomenon.

The collecting game

Motorcycle collecting mirrors that of cars, but on a much smaller scale. Just as American car collectors favor Detroit muscle cars, much of the U.S. motorcycle collecting business centers on American motorcycles, ranging from extremely rare Crockers to Harley-Davidsons, Hendersons, Indians and the like. And just as in car collecting, there is a smaller, but extremely high-end market for rare Italian products. While certain Ferraris are now amongst the most coveted of all classic cars, on a lesser scale some Ducatis, MV Agustas and Laverdas have become the two-wheeled equivalent. As many collectors don’t even ride motorcycles, these machines have moved beyond leisure products and into the realm of works of art.

In the world of Ducati collecting the Holy Grail is the 1974 750 Super Sport “Green Frame.” Built for one year only as a replica of Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola 200-winning racer, the 750SS has all the credentials that make something desirable for a collector; rarity — only 401 made — and the mystique of being a hand-built factory production racer. As collectors became more aware of their rarity and status in the Ducati world, these bikes have gradually risen in value over the past decade. At the 2014 Bonhams Las Vegas motorcycle auction, a 1974 model Ducati 750SS “Green Frame” sold for a healthy $137,000, and they have increased significantly since, with reports of extremely original examples hitting $200,000.

Ducati 750 Super Sports are really heavily modified 750GTs, and fabrication has been going on for years. But no one really cared too much when an SS cost $10,000 and a 750GT was $5,000. With the prices now at previously unheard of, almost stratospheric levels, the notion of fabrication is making some collectors nervous, and when the engine and frame numbers don’t appear in any of the published indexes, even more questions are asked. This is leading some collectors to wonder, is their expensive SS genuine, or a fake?

To underscore this, awhile back I was contacted by Claudio Scalise, a serious collector based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, regarding a 1974 Ducati 750 Super Sport he was looking at buying. Although the provenance seemed secure, Claudio was concerned that the bike with the engine and frame numbers it bore did not appear in any indexes. I assured him that not every 750 Super Sport ever built was listed even in my own database, only those I knew about when I published my book on the 750 Super Sport, this numbering 239 of the 401 manufactured. After a thorough examination of a series of photographs it was obvious this bike was the real deal, it was simply one I didn’t have in my database.

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