January brings crappy weather and a grey funk to motorcyclists across the nation as we collectively peer out the windows at our less-than-motorcycle-friendly climates. By this time cabin fever has usually set in and the wind in our hair has become a distant memory and a nagging desire. It can be downright depressing if wrangling a snow blower becomes the closest thing to an outdoor activity one can look forward to. So for many of us, there’s no better time to plan a great escape to the warm sunshine and hot action of Las Vegas, Nevada.
The City of Neon inherently has that 24-hour party glow that serves to put a little spunk in your funk, and for bikers from across the States, the annual action at the southernmost end of the city means tons of fun that doesn’t require adding any layers of protective gear. Unless you’re a flat-tracker, that is. The South Point Hotel Casino invites us all to a huge motorcycle auction, bike races and party that, just like every year, is a veritable Vegas smorgasbord of who’s who in the motorcycle world, and the merging of man and machine is something many us look forward to all year long.
For 23 years, MidAmerica Auctions has played host to motorcycle buyers and sellers alike at the annual auction, but this year’s event included an announcement of an internal change for the company. Mecum Auctions, an auction house that has specialized in collectible cars and road art for 27 years, will spend the next three years collaborating in the transition of MidAmerica’s motorcycle auctions. The company has taken over the financial and marketing responsibilities of MidAmerica Auctions, and Ron Christiansen will continue to serve as president of the new division. According to the company’s press information, Christiansen’s partner, Sandy Doll, plans to spend more time with her grandchildren.
For their first presentation as Las Vegas hosts, Mecum proudly witnessed a record turnout. More than 1,100 bidders registered to get in on the action as participants from 48 states and more than 30 countries gathered to watch 557 motorcycles cross the stage as fervent buyers vied for ownership of some remarkable and rare vintage steel. By the time the gavel came down on the three-day event, a whopping $7,475,155 had changed hands—the highest-grossing auction on record. Many attendees took the brisk sales to be an indication that the market is finally coming out of its anemic state.
Viva Las Vegas compadres
Lonnie Isam, promoter of the classic Motorcycle Cannonball Run, would be one such attendee. “You know, there were a lot of really nice bikes and a really good selection of bikes, too. And a lot of bikes sold for more than they were worth, which is the sign of a healthy market considering the dollar isn’t really worth much. Bonhams had some nice bikes, too, they always do, but this is the place to be. It’s a really good crowd, a great place to go to see people and that’s what it’s really all about, getting to meet up with everyone. It’s a great time.”
An example of some of those “really nice bikes” was the George Pardos collection. As the headliner of the auction, dubbed “The Evolution of the Harley-Davidson,” the 20-piece collection ranged from 1911 to 1965 and included belt-driven singles right on up to the Electra Glide. Pardos spent some 20 years collecting the impressive array of machinery and simply decided it was time to change directions and collect something else. Mecum handed out a very nice catalogue of photographs and text covering the extensive and well-maintained collection to registered bidders, making it well worth the registration fee. We felt the catalogue itself was worth collecting. By auction’s end, 18 of the 20 motorcycles had sold and five of those were ranked in the top-10 highest in the event’s total sales, including the 1911 H-D 7D Twin that brought in $260,000.
For those who like to keep score, six of the 10 top sales were Harley-Davidsons ranging in years from 1909 to 1936. We saw a lot of really nice Triumphs on the floor as well. The other four top-selling bikes included a 1925 BMW R37 that sold for $200,000, a very nice 1955 Vincent Black Prince that garnered $125,000, a 1972 Truimph/BSA TRX 7502 for $95,000, and a 1938 Brough Superior SS80 that also sold for $95,000. A total of 441 bikes were sold, producing an 82-percent sell rate. Not a bad ratio in the auction world.
One of the pleasures of the event was getting to meet Jean Davidson and her son Jon Davidson Oeflein as they greeted attendees and signed their newest Harley-Davidson Family Memories book. Jean is the Davidson family historian, and she’s composed the work around a compilation of photographs in a format that includes Jon’s input. The gracious duo had crowds of fans three deep around their table all weekend to shake their hands and scoop up a copy of the popular book.
In continuing with the six-year tradition of the MidAmerica auctions, Gene Romero again presented the West Coast Flat Track Motorcycle Races that consisted of three classes of fast action set out on a slick, concrete indoor rack. While it’s true there was neither dust nor dirt as advertised, we found the ventilation system still left something to be desired and the fumes made it tough to hang out for more than a few heats before we were dizzy, and it wasn’t from the sheer thrill of the action, though there was plenty of that, too. The aggressive, bar-banging (and often-crashing) races are a must-see part of the total weekend bike immersion.
Of course, no trip to Vegas is complete without venturing to Old Town. The weekend Fremont Experience is not to be missed, and in an attempt to broaden our education a bit, the THUNDER PRESS crew decided to add a dash of culture to our itinerary and headed out to cruise through a couple of museums. First on the list was the recently opened Mob Museum, based, of course, on the city’s infamous underworld ancestry. Within walking distance of the Golden Nugget and the rest of the Old Town action, the Mob Museum is a lot of fun.
Housed, ironically, in the former federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office, the museum was opened in 2012 and displays the historic events that actually unfolded inside of it. Exhibits accurately depict Mafia history, dispelling the legendary “myth of the Mob,” and provide details on the significant role law enforcement played in ending the Mob’s reign in Las Vegas and nationwide. The 1933 building is listed on both the Nevada and National Registers of Historic Places, and nowadays houses presentations on such characters as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Alphonse Capone and John Gotti, right alongside the good guys who tried to take them down such as legendary agents Donnie Brasco, Jack Garcia and Joe Pistone.
We had a great time checking out gangster history through a variety of displays that included interactive touch screens, authentic artifacts and audio. We got to shoot a pretend Tommy gun and posed for photos in an electric chair, which was among our favorite props. Through the creative displays, we were pretty tripped out by the things we learned. I mean, who would have imagined that the bad guys used to smuggle drugs in processed tomato cans? There was a display of a section of the bullet-riddled wall, complete with bloodstains, from the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago where Al Capone’s thugs killed seven men, and we got a legal experience by sitting on a courtroom bench as a virtual trial and news bits flickered on the wall behind the judge’s chair. We also got to take part in FBI weapons training. You’re welcome to roam about at will, so we went back to take a second look at things that intrigued us such as the booking room where we took our own mug shots. The three-story museum is chock full of interesting exhibits and we discovered we would have enjoyed another couple of hours to just soak it all in, but we had a date with the sunset just down the street.
The Neon Museum and Boneyard is a short cab ride from Old Town and is a fun, romantic way to spend an evening soaking up some interesting history on the famous Sin City from ground level. The guided tours are offered throughout the day and early evening, but we thought the displays would best lend themselves to the nighttime sky. Spread out over six acres with more than 150 old neon signs, the boneyard has less than 10 signs that are actually lit up and can be difficult to photograph, but it was a nice evening for a stroll under the neon that did glow. Tour guides are informative as they lead the groups through the maze of electric corpses that make up the magic of the city’s past. We let our imaginations run wild as we wandered through sculptures and signage that is normally only experienced from afar. It’s suggested that you purchase tickets in advance and take along a jacket if you book your tours at night. Also, they’re pretty fussy about photos for some reason and will only allow one lens, so we suggest a wide angle.
By the time we closed the books on the extended weekend, we’d managed to thoroughly shake off the winter doldrums and tide ourselves over to spring. With an eye to an escape plan for 2015, we already booked our rooms for the next auction. Meet you there.
To book your tour with the Neon Museum, go to www.neonmuseum.org/book-a-tour. Information on the Mob Museum can be found at www.themobmuseum.org, and future motorcycle auction information can be found by going to www.mecum.com or www.midamericaauctions.com.