LAS VEGAS, NEV., JAN. 10-12–For the past 22 years MidAmerica Auctions has managed to gather gearhead aficionados and fans together for a chance to buy and sell every mode of conveyance under the sun during their midwinter sale in the desert sprawl of Sin City. The company auctions off cars, motorcycles, memorabilia, parts and all things transportation related, but for the gathering at the South Point Spa and Resort this January, it was all about the motorcycle.
There were 600 motorcycles, to be exact, and the 780 registered bidders, which represented the highest attendance in the auction’s history, were definitely doing more than just kicking tires. With a reported $6 million in sales, the joint was jumping as motorcycles changed hands in record numbers, but the best part of the three-day event is just getting to run into friends and swap road stories. A good number of attendees this year were just regular Joes.
It’s certain that the serious business of swapping titles is center stage for the MidAmerica auction, but it’s also obvious that while visiting the city that’s known for over-the-top parties, one has to participate in some of the local culture. MidAmerica, however, knows their audience well and arranges a welcome dinner and benefit auction at the beginning of the event, as well as flat track races each of the following nights. There really is little reason to leave the well-appointed facility. The races are great fun to watch and have made us curious for years as to how the bikes manage to stay upright on the slick, indoor cement. Turns out they spray the surface with good old soda (as in Dr. Pepper, we’re told), which serves to provide some level of stickiness, even though some riders still find themselves sliding sideways into the hay bales at the course’s edge. In between the scheduled activities, there are always the gaming tables, stage shows and slot machines to capture one’s attention, as well as the several restaurants, bowling alley and movie theatre that are housed on premises.
However, we were focused on the motorcycles and as we settled into the task of watching the auction action, we noticed several museums had motorcycles for sale, which causes a reflexively raised eyebrow. When our motorcycle galleries start selling off stock, one has to wonder what’s going on, but this year the same museums were also buying. It appears it’s simply a matter of turning over their exhibitions, so keep an eye out for new items at some of your favorite local motorcycle museums.
We counted a whopping 71 MV Agustas listed in the catalogue. The comprehensive collection of the marque, owned by the Mecum Auctions out of Wisconsin, was originally offered for sale as one impressively huge lot, but was shown here in individual lots with all but six being sold—two of which were the modern-era motorcycles.
Prices seemed remarkably reasonable, and we found ourselves realizing that for the cost of a street bike one could own a respectable vintage motorcycle. Many were selling for about $10,000, though the median price seemed to be more in the $60,000 range for the older bikes.
Dale Walksler from the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, was on hand to do some swapping of his own and one of his purchases was a 2004 Sportster. Well known for his vintage collection, it was a surprise to both Dale and others when he bought the modern motorcycle.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Walksler told THUNDER PRESS. “I just had to have it.” The bike came crusted with a thick layer of crud after having been parked since its rider, Brett Donohue from Donohue Harley-Davidson in St. Cloud, Minnesota, rode it in the Iron Butt competition in both 2007 and 2009. As the only Sporty to ever compete in the Iron Butt, Brett took third in the competition and the bike has been on display ever since. The Sportster came complete with maps, helmet and assorted accessories from the trips. For $6,000 Dale was thrilled to take ownership.
The most exciting representation of a rare motorcycle was the 1912 Pierce Flat Belt Single offered for sale by a family that had owned the prestigious motorcycle for 100 years. The extraordinary machine was offered with its original paint and white knobby tires, as well as the tandem seat, headlight and horn. It was exciting to be able to inspect such a rare and impressive piece of history up close and not from behind the barriers of a closed-off exhibit in a museum.
The 1909 Pierce Motorcycle Company from Buffalo, New York, originated from the prestigious Pierce Arrow Motor Car Company that was known for its luxurious automobiles. After a limited production of their costly single- and four-cylinder motorcycles, the company went bankrupt in 1914, a scant five years after its inception. The machine on display for bidders had a hefty 590cc single-cylinder engine known as the “mountain climber,” with power transmitted to the extremely rare two-speed rear hub via a belt drive. The motorcycle sold for $133,000 and represented the highest sale price of the MidAmerica Auction. An older, restored example of a Pierce, a 1911 Pierce Single that was once displayed at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, was sold by its current owner for $40,000.
This auction calls to the collecting crowd, as well as the vintage-curious and the riders who are looking for a casual cruise on a piece of history. Represented in the latter group was a gathering of rider alumni who participated in both the 2010 and the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball. Some of the more than three-dozen Cannonball riders attending the auction took the opportunity to hold a sort of family reunion and caught up with each other throughout the course of the weekend.
During the Friday evening respite from the business of buying and selling, the road warriors shared their adventures over dinner at a restaurant directly below the amassed motorcycles offered for sale one floor up. Several of the riders had been anxiously bidding on motorcycles with an eye on what might make for a good Cannonball contender in the 2014 run, even though no one knows for sure if there actually will be a 2014 run or what the cutoff year for motorcycles might be since organizer Lonnie Isam has yet to commit to another Cannonball adventure. An announcement is expected in April, but that did not deter the prospective entrants from their goals of purchasing the perfect candidate.
Case in point would be Buck Carson, the youngest rider from the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball, who found himself the proud owner of a sexy little BSA with a future run in mind. The little “beeza” S29 Sloper (1929) model originally came from England, had only been in the U.S.A. for a few years and came complete with the original tool kit and period equipment. Carson won the little gal for a reasonable bid of $17,000. Buck grinned as he declared, “She’ll be a great bike for the next Motorcycle Cannonball, if she makes the cutoff year.” Carson rode an 85-year-old BSA in the 2012 Cannonball.
Mike Carson, Buck’s father and owner of Carson Classic Motors, was also on hand. Dedicated to the preservation and restoration of antique motorcycle history, Carson Classic Motors is a private collection of motorcycles that keeps both the Carson men busy. Not directly open to the public, the father-and-son team does restorations of their motorcycles and the senior Carson was thrilled to win top bid for a motorcycle that he admitted as having been on his bucket list of a number of years.
“This will be my daily rider,” Carson beamed, as he displayed the 1946 Indian Chief he won for a mere $23,000. “I’ve wanted one of these for a long time and other than the scratch that the shipping company put on it, it’s perfect.” There was, however, the issue of the key the seller had forgotten to include, which Mike did not consider a problem since the hand-written letter the seller had sent along describing the history of the bike more than made up for the key.
The matter of negligent shippers did seem to be an issue not just for MidAmerica, but also for Bonham, who held their third annual one-day auction down on the strip at the Bally’s hotel. We heard of a disgruntled seller from the Bonham auction who was demanding reimbursement for the damage done to his bike during shipping, and he issued a warning for owners to check out the small print and reputation with the shippers they chose before entrusting their prized antiques to any company.
We cruised the sales floor at Bally’s Thursday evening after the auction and found a highly coveted Bonham’s sales catalogue that had been abandoned by its owner. These beautifully illustrated catalogues are prized publications (we have several from past years). This year we were late to the party and were disappointed to discover all 200 issues had sold out early. Consequently, we were thrilled that the original owner had left one atop the rubbish pile for us find. Motorcycle sales were equally good for Bonham’s, with the highest price paid for a bike that sold shortly after the auction closed.
The 1939 BMW Rennsport 255 Kompressor, purchased by an American collector, sold for $480,000, thereby bringing Bonham’s total sales to just over $2.8 million. After a seriously tense volley of bidding, another of the marque was won for a closing bid of $167,800. A post-war era 1954 sidecar-racing model BMW Rennsport was also purchased by an American collector. Items at this auction included prestigious private collections from America, Asia and Europe, as well as pieces from the Springfield Museum and the DuPont family.
Not all motorcycles came with a vintage pedigree, however, but most were noteworthy just the same. An enthusiastic new owner who was quite smitten with her purchase pointed out one such example. Wendy Newton from California was sitting on, taking pictures of and absolutely in love with her newest acquisition: the Roland Sands-Sam Flores Custom 450F Super Single. The colorful bike was commissioned by Toyota for the “Artists of Inspiration” project at the IMS motorcycle show where we had seen it displayed in Northern California back in 2008. Black with flowers and a Japanese anime theme, the paint was done by a well-known graffiti artist who’s since gone legit.
“No one bid on it,” the incredulous Wendy told us, “because I believe no one there knew what it was due to interest and age of the bidders. Wrong venue to sell that bike so I scored! The art alone is worth more than I paid, not to mention the bike, which is an awesome race bike.” She also bought a 1962 Bultaco flat tracker. Turns out Newton is known for her racing in both modern and vintage classes and in 2010 was the first woman to compete in Catalina Grand Prix, a race that had not been run since 1958.
Meanwhile, back at the southernmost point of the city where MidAmerica was busily pushing motorcycles across the stage, there were remarkably fewer bikes being rolled into the “second change” area. After watching the trends here for the past several years, we noticed considerably more of the bright yellow “Sold” tags attached to the bullpen bikes than in the recent past, with a reported 88 percent of the motorcycles changing hands, but not all were given a new life with different owners.
One bike of note that did not go to a new home was renowned bronze sculptor Jeff Decker’s Vincent Lightning custom. With an asking price of $125,000, the spiffy little bike with the artist’s signature touch would return home with its creator.
Another bike that would be loaded up by its owner was the 1923 Harley-Davidson Factory Board Track Racer owned by restorer Michael Lange. Michael had several bikes from his collection offered and this model garnered a lot of interest. The bike came in as raced and running after having been run in the 2002 Syracuse New York Mile and taking first place with a whopping 105 mph on the radar. Originally raced for exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, the bike was raced until World War II and then acquired by John Giorno before Lange added it to his own collection. Lange raced and showed the bike with its original paint on the original Firestone racing tires, taking several awards across the United States until its rebuild in 2004. This bike was a true piece of history, but after a high bid of $205,000, did not sell.
By the end of the weekend, after the flat track races, bidding battles, adoption proceedings and parties, we found our heads spinning. We’d enjoyed the company of friends and heard dreams for the future as we contemplated what 2013 would bring for the motorcycle industry. If the sales in Las Vegas are any sort of an indicator, it appears that buyers are ready to spend money on motorcycles again. With happy buyers from around the world, we can only hope that history is being preserved as people invest in antique iron.