$20,000 carburetors and what we learned from a farm auction
VanDerBrink Auctions hosted a sale last weekend in a barn in Michigan, but don’t be confused, this was no simple farm auction. There was big money shelled out on everything from motorcycles to vintage speed parts. So what is the story behind a $20,000 carburetor and a $33,000 non-running motorcycle?
We first talked about the JAB sale back in April when VanDerBrink announced the lot lists. The collection was assembled by Jeff Begg, an engineer and inventor who had an affinity for English motorcycles and vintage race cars—and it shows. The VanDerBrink website featured photographs of most all of the vehicles to be sold, but there was more to the story than some old vehicles sitting in an abandoned building.
James Hewitt attended the auction and told us that the backstory of the collection is a bit of a mystery. Begg was well known in the community—he even had a park named after him—but yet even the business next to the large industrial building he purchased had no idea what was lurking behind the doors. The workers of the business were there for the sale Saturday for the same reason as everyone else, curiosity. One worker claimed they’d never seen anything go in or out of the building over the years.
According to Hewitt, all the items photographed better than they presented in person but perusing the final sale prices made me wonder what I was missing. It turns out what was stashed there was a veritable goldmine. Begg didn’t simply own a lot of old stuff, he owned the right old stuff, and it drew the right crowd.
“The people who knew what they were looking at were the ones who showed up on Saturday. Serious buyers. I heard at least a couple international accents,” said Hewitt after the sale. “I saw a lot of folks with flashlights and a folder full of reference material as they were viewing motorcycles and cars during the preview.”
For example, carburetors are not typically an expensive affair. Yet a pair of Winfield Model E carburetors realized $20,000 plus 5% buyers premium. They are the perfect period-correct race parts plucked right from the mind of Gene Winfield himself. His carefully crafted carburetion was all the rage for Indianapolis racers in the 1930s. If the price still sounds insane, you might not be far off.
Cameron Neveu is a race enthusiast, and when I reached out to him to explain, he counted with “they’re like hen’s teeth. One alone is rare, a set of two forget about it. That price was likely a bit high though.”
It was a theme Hewitt echoed. It seemed as though the bidders who travelled from near and far did not want to leave empty handed. While a good example of a 1952 Vincent Series C Rapide motorcycle brought in $33,000 plus 5% premium, there was also a 1962 Matchless G2 Competition Scrambler that hammered for a humble $400. Missing parts or not, that is a decent bargain for a vintage motorcycle.
The main take away from this sale though, is that with the power of the internet and a bit of word of mouth, VanDerBrink brought a sizeable number of bidders to a small town in the middle of Michigan. Does this mean there are no deals to be had? No. It means that for an enthusiast in search of the cool cornerstone piece for their garage collection, it has never been easier to locate and acquire whatever it may be—just be prepared to bid against the other folks who are on the same hunt.