After the flurry of car auctions in Kissimmee, Florida, and Scottsdale, Arizona, last month, Mecum and Bonhams held their annual motorcycle auctions in Las Vegas. Hundreds of bikes of all sizes, eras and price ranges crossed the block. Also offered were the rights to build Excelsior-Henderson motorcycles, although that lot didn’t meet its reserve of $1.9 million. Several historic and highly collectible bikes went for huge prices at both auctions, and a significant Vincent at Bonhams even broke the all-time record auction price for a motorcycle. Here are the seven bikes that broke into six figures in Las Vegas this year.
Indian’s four-cylinder motorcycle of 1927–42 was a technical marvel. It’s beautiful to look at, to boot. The later ones with the swoopy art deco fenders are especially cool. When it was new, this Indian Four cost as much as a new Pontiac and could hit 100 mph. The Fours also offer a smoother ride than the thumpier V-twin Indians. Really solid restored Fours can command prices in the low $100K range, and this one, restored in the 1980s but more recently taken apart and reassembled, certainly qualifies.
Described when it came out as a “two-wheeled Bentley,” the Black Prince is essentially an enclosed version of the famous Black Shadow. Vincent also made an enclosed version of the Rapide called the Black Knight, but the faster Black Prince is definitely the one to have. The enclosed bikes were also Vincent’s final new models before the company ceased production. Bonhams sold another Black Prince for about $150,000 in the UK four years ago, so the result for this all-original 840-mile Black Prince wasn’t all that strong.
When Indian decided to produce its four-cylinder bike in the late 1920s, the engine design was largely descended from these earlier Hendersons, which began production way back in 1912. This one was owned by Steve McQueen and bought from his estate sale in the 1980s, but there are no specific claims about how long McQueen owned it or how long he used it. Hendersons have sold for more money in the past, including a first-year 1912 model that Mecum sold in Vegas last year for half a million dollars, so this is one of those rare instances where a McQueen connection doesn’t translate to big bucks.
The Brough Superior was the great British bike of the prewar years, and while the SS100 (named for its 100-mph speed) became the marque's most famous model, the earlier SS80 was an amazing bike in its own right. Brough Superiors always featured top-notch fit and finish, and had performance to match. T.E. Lawrence (as in, Lawrence of Arabia) had seven of them. The result for this late-production Matchless-engined SS80 is at the high end for SS80 prices, but these bikes don’t often come to market.
Rarely are there two Brough Superiors to choose from in the same place, but that’s the appeal of large bike auctions like this. This is an earlier JAP-engined example with a more recent restoration. It similarly sold at the high end for an SS80. For reference, this price would be at the low end for the faster and more famous SS100.
Harley-Davidson has been sticking with the good-old V-twin engine for well over 100 years now, and the early examples of the V-twin Harley are highly sought after. This one actually dates from the very first year of V-twin production, which makes it one of the most collectible early American motorcycles. This wasn’t quite the oldest bike at Mecum’s Vegas auction, since there were actually four dating from 1910, but it was the most expensive.
This near-million-dollar result is the highest price ever paid for a motorcycle at auction, dwarfing the $775,000 paid for an ex-Steve McQueen 1915 Cyclone three years ago. The bike, which is a factory-modified Black Shadow with lighter construction and a more powerful engine, was already one of the most valuable motorcycles in the world given its incredible performance and the fact that only 33 were made. In 1953, this very Black Lightning set Australia’s land speed record at 141.5 mph. That record, numerous race victories, and its mostly unrestored condition made it even more enticing to collectors. Plus, there’s no telling when the next one will come up for sale.