Sin City sell-a-thon
LAS VEGAS, NEV., JAN. 22-26—If you’re familiar with names like Flying Squirrels, American Eagles, Gray Ghosts and Rajas, you just might be an antique motorcycle junkie. If so, you were probably front row and drooling recently as these and other rare and mostly unheard-of machines were waltzed across the stage during one of the biggest motorcycle auctions in history.
Held each January, Mecum Auctions touts their annual shindig in Sin City as the biggest antique motorcycle auction in the world, but one could easily go a step farther in declaring it the biggest bike auction anywhere. Ever. Advertised to have an anticipated 1,750 lots to sell, attendees from both sides of the buyer/seller aisle were joined by hordes of looky-loos and tire-kickers as the five-day bike and road art sale kicked off in Las Vegas on an exciting Tuesday afternoon. By the time the dust settled on the whole thing, a record-setting $26.3 million in sales had heard the slam of the gavel. Held at the South Point Hotel and Casino, the sale put some 1,340 machines in the hands of new owners as attendees partied like rock stars at the vast facility that turns the whole place into a biker’s heaven, complete with immaculate motorcycles strategically parked at doorways.
Machines as old as 116 years were rolled across the red carpet and a good number weren’t even functional, but the ones that held the interest of the majority of the bidders came from half a world away. Collector Christer R. Christensson from Stockholm, Sweden, brought 230 pristine machines from his museum and offered the impeccably restored collection for sale at no reserve. From the 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Replica, a 1905 Camelback Indian to the impressive 1939 Crocker Big Tank, the array of interesting and rare marques was a joy to behold. An eye-catching board track exhibition was built onsite at the South Point to exactly duplicate the museum display in Sweden and served well to add a certain panache to the already impressive collection. The biggest sale of the week came from this collection, the 1939 Crocker that earned a jaw-dropping $704,000.
Also presented for sale were 15 Indians that could technically be considered barn finds since the motorcycles and hundreds of pieces of the marque’s memorabilia were discovered stashed at hoarder Rickey Jensen’s scrap metal property. As the operator of RJ and C Metal Fabricators in Phoenix, Arizona, Jensen had plenty of space for collecting and after his death it was discovered that Rickey had spent decades gathering up interesting pieces of Indian products, including an original and well-used 1947 Indian Papoose. The rustic collection was a stark juxtaposition to the immaculate Stockholm anthology since the Jensen collection was sold, with no reserve, just as it was found in the padlocked barn: dusty and crusty.
Mecum’s five-day sell-a-thon wasn’t just about patina and poise. Bicycles, battered little mini-bikes and even an ice cream wagon were offered up in between the high-end collectibles. A couple of our favorites were the 1946 Hiawatha Doodlebug that sold for $2,000 and a 1918 Shaw Princeton bicycle, which sold for an impressive $7,500. We watched in awe as a 1948 Harley-Davidson Panhead sold for $43,000, while across town at the quietly understated Bonham auction at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, prices on Harley-Davidsons were topping out at under $20,000. The 1974 Münch Mammoth TTS-E 1200, however, gleaned a tidy $112,000, including the “juice,” which is slang for the premium charged by the auction house for those of you who aren’t hip to the jive of auction speak. The Bonham sale was a one-day offering with just 128 lots so some bidders sprinted over to catch the collections there before bombing back to Mecum for the fast ‘n’ furious fervor that makes up the South Point fun.
Also fun was when seven custom balance bikes took over the Mecum stage. The cute and custom bikes were built in 2018 through the Flying Piston Benefit program that supports new ridership and career-path jobs for veterans. The program, in conjunction with Strider Sports International, sent Strider bikes to builders to be customized and sold. The bikes were jazzed up by biker artisans like Rick Fairless of Strokers Dallas, Paul Yaffee from Yaffee’s Bagger Nation, Pat Patterson of Led Sled Customs, Kirk Taylor from Custom Design Studios, Jody Perewitz of Perewitz Cycle Fabrications, and Bryan Fuller of Fuller Moto Shop. Also involved was Motorcycle Missions, a charity that benefits U.S. military veterans. The bikes brought in a tidy $9,000 to be added to the Buffalo Chip charities in Sturgis.
By the time Mecum called it a wrap, folks from around the world had witnessed the sale of some very rare and unique motorcycles televised through the NBC Sports Network and we wondered how the Mecum team could consistently come up with these hidden gems. Ron Christianson, president of Mecum’s motorcycle division, explained that it’s not as hard as one might think. “You know, trying to keep a collection of 300 cars secret is a pretty difficult thing, but stashing 300 motorcycles is actually pretty easy. There are still lots of these barn-find kinds of collections out there and you will be amazed at what we’ve come up with. Stay tuned!”
The complete top 10 motorcycle sales at the 28th annual Vintage and Antique Motorcycle Auction include:
- 1939 Crocker Big Tank at $704,000
- 1937 Crocker Small Tank 61-25 at $423,500
- 1925 Brough Superior SS100 Alpine Grand Sport at $357,500
- 1912 Henderson Model A at $302,500
- 1975 Ducati 750SS Green Frame at $247,500
- 1925 BMW R37 at $220,000
- 1913 Pierce T Four at $192,500
- 1992 Honda NR 750 at $181,500
- 1923 Ace Four Cylinder Sporting Solo at $176,000
- 1915 Henderson Four Model D at $170,500