Picture this: You want a Van Gogh painting and find a totally original one for three times the going price. The seller tells you it is beautiful. The best one around, even. The kicker is that it is wrapped in protective brown paper, you can’t see it, you won’t be able to display it, and if you take the paper off you expose it to the elements and lose the cachet that you paid a premium for. Now what?
For art of the two-wheeled variety, there were original owners who scoffed at dealer prep fees, and so some motorcycles survive entombed in their original packaging. Today these age-old chrysalises are musty and mildew-ridden cardboard. Take this new-in-crate 2000 Honda RC51; the value is largely in the cardboard. You can’t even see much inside. Good-condition RC51s often sell for between $5500 and $6500, but this seller is asking 315 percent above at $25,000. Considering this new-in-crate 2007 Honda CR250 has an asking price close to 200 percent over a good-condition one, and it didn’t sell, shows that the seller might be a little ambitious.
No one is debating whether the RC51 is cool. The homologation RC51 was Honda’s response in the early 2000s to Ducati’s absolute dominance of World Superbike (WSBK) throughout the ‘90s. Soichiro Honda was a firm believer in “win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” and although the company’s remaining time in WSBK was short-lived, Honda certainly did win with the RC51. From the bike’s introduction to its withdrawal from World Superbike in 2003, Honda won two out of the three years. Homologation specials are some of the most collectible sport bikes because they are produced in limited numbers and uncompromising in their focus—win races.
And RC51s—CR250s also—are meant for racing. They are not meant to rot in a crate. But it seems that more and more of these untouched, unseen bikes are coming up on the market and commanding big premiums. I can’t fault anyone for speculating or looking at these as investments, but sometimes you look at investments and wonder why people pay what they do. Doesn’t a one-mile new-old-stock bike that you can put in your living room, admire the beauty, and see the condition hold more joy and value than something that you can’t see, admire, take to shows, or put anywhere but the corner of your garage until a guy comes along with a bigger wallet? As the saying goes, it is only worth what someone is willing to pay. Branded cardboard is worth a lot, apparently, as if originality really extends to the box. Like with an action figure.
So, what’s the move? Buy the Van Gogh you’ll never lay eyes on and pray that someone later on will pay you more for it, or do you buy the one that’s maybe changed hands a few times but you can proudly put it up in your private gallery? There’s no wrong approach, but if I’m shelling out for Vincent’s finest, I want to see the thick paint on that canvas.