Las Vegas, Nev., Jan. 25–28—The west coast had been under deluge for weeks and the radar offered no signs of relief while making plans to ride out for the annual Mecum bike auction in Las Vegas. I held my breath for the entire week before as the desert warmth held out, despite the surrounding storms but, sure enough, just as the bags were going on the Beast, the temperatures dropped. It was destined to be a cold ride. Snow had dusted the mountain peaks and as I chased the sunset into the horizon I discovered a fondness for the heated grips and battery-powered jacket liner I had cranked up to max. By the time I rolled into the South Point Hotel & Casino on the south end of the sprawling desert mecca, the Beast read 32 degrees.
After shivering through the thawing process while checking in, I set about getting bivouacked for the next five days of fun and frivolity. Once settled, there’s no need to ever leave the cushy digs at South Point since the place is really its own little oasis. With multiple dining options, shows, a theater, spa amenities and even a bowling alley there’s no end of stuff to keep you busy, just in case the Vegas-typical gambling and drinking aren’t on your personal to-do list. For us, the Wednesday through Saturday motorcycle auction was just about all we had time for. Unless you count catching up with friends from around the world, of course, because we had plenty of that planned for our extended weekend since people fly in from all corners of the globe to scope out the offerings at the famous Mecum bike auction. With almost 1,000 machines ready to roll across the stage and a variety of vendors to visit, we knew we’d have to be on our toes if we wanted to find the Motorcycle Cannonball riders that we knew would be on hand and keep up with the nonstop activities.
There was a bit of rearranging this year and the auction was moved to South Point’s equestrian arena, which came with some good and bad discoveries. On the cool list was the fact that the new room has a stage in an auditorium layout so attendees can easily watch the action from the top tier and keep an eye on the several screens suspended throughout the building. The saloon proved to be a great place to sit and watch from afar while sipping sarsaparilla, or something with a bit more kick, but the arena stands seating was also comfortable if you wanted to be closer to the action. Bidders seating was on the ground floor directly in front of the stage and overall, there seems to be more room for previewing the bikes that sat displayed in the warehouse area away from the bidding action, which alleviated the usual traffic congestion of bikes being shuttled to and from the staging area. But therein lay another problem: vendors were also set up in the preview warehouse, away from the auction, which made for a disjointed feeling since vendors were somewhat isolated. We understand that plans are underway to address that and future events will probably have vendors on the top tier, closer to the party and more easily accessible.
Despite the layout issue, the new format was well received and attendees spent the weekend happily perusing the almost 1,000 machines that Mecum had gathered together, resulting in the biggest motorcycle auction on record. The family-run Mecum auctions have been known as the world leader in car collector sales for more than 30 years and since the acquisition of MidAmerica auctions three years ago, have taken over the antique motorcycle world as well. Known as a reputable company that offers over 20,000 car lots per year, the 2017 Vegas auction saw 868 out of 949 motorcycles sold, which represented a 92-percent sell rate. Not too shabby for a bunch of old motorcycles and related memorabilia. One of the cool niceties of the auction was that for those who couldn’t make it out to hang with the cool kids in Sin City, the auction was televised. Buyers could call in their bids from anywhere in the world.
But, for those who did make it out to Glitter Gulch and the wild, wild west, they discovered that Mecum’s wasn’t the only game in town. On Thursday Bonhams set up at the Rio across town and held their typically understated sale as buyers and sellers tried to negotiate the small, cramped room. Most we spoke to didn’t stick around too long. Dale Walksler, owner of the well-known Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, was one attendee who toughed it out and was sorry for the experience. “Bonhams was the worst auction I have ever been to,” said the man who makes his living negotiating in the antique motorcycle world. As an avid historian, Dale knows his product like the back of his hand. “From opening gavel to the last sale, there was chaos and disorganization. The sale rate was low as were the number of bikes sold. There was no justice to a buyer or seller but, most importantly, there was no justice for the motorcycles on the stage. It was a sham. And if you want a quote from me, here it is: ‘I will never attend another Bonham auction, even as a spectator.’” A quick look at the results from the one-day sale showed that Bonham, auctioneers since 1793 known to specialize in art and collectibles, had some 345 lots up for bid. The top machine for the day appeared to be a 1914 Feilbach that sold for $195,000 including premiums.
Meanwhile, back at the southern end of Vegas, Mecum was busy banging the gavel on more than $13.7 million dollars worth of antique machinery and memorabilia that represented a 53-percent increase in sales over the 2016 event. The top sale of the four-day Mecum auction crossed the stage on Friday afternoon and was the last-known example of an original Henderson Four left in America. The first-year 1912 Henderson had original paint and tires, was unrestored and was estimated to bring between $450,000 and $550,000. Attendees and staff alike cheered as the gavel came down on the $490,000 sales price and the graceful old lady was carefully wheeled off to meet her new family.
In between sales were daily charity auctions to raise money for Curing Kids Cancer, an organization whose mission is to fund innovative research and treatments to find cures for childhood cancers. Milwaukee artist Mathew Hintz had donated one of his original paintings for the charity. In a booth set up with easel and paints, Mathew worked his magic to paint more original “gas-n-oil” works over the course of the weekend as spectators looked on. Mathew’s painting of a 1938 Indian Model Four brought in $3,250 of the almost $16,000 in total donations to the CKC foundation.
As an off year for the now-famous Motorcycle Cannonball Run, registered riders were on hand to see what could be purchased for the next race. The close-knit and ever-growing family of adrenalin junkie daredevils roamed about the property for the entire four days, meeting up in small groups and at the Cannonball booth to find new and old friends, riders, hopefuls and hang-arounds. The group tends to turn the auction into their own private family reunion and the energy of the clan adds a layer of excitement to the whole event. Motorcycle Cannonball owner, Jason Sims and his wife LeeAnn could be found throughout the weekend mingling with friends and rehashing the summer fun of traversing the country from sea to sea with their riding buddies, but in between all the socializing, Jason was busy doing business. Pulling into Vegas with a goal of reducing his inventory, he arrived with 12 motorcycles to sell. Somehow focus was lost and the South Dakota resident rolled home with 16 bikes in tow. But for those who couldn’t quite find their perfect mate among the offered machines, there is still time. Shoppers looking for the perfect bike to make the 2018 Motorcycle Cannonball trip planned from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, are in luck. Mecum has arranged for another bike-buying binge. A summer auction is planned back at the South Point in Las Vegas June 1–3, so there’s still time to find that special machine to get a Cannonball hopeful across the country. Mark your calendar and we’ll see you there! If you’re not a Cannonballer, that’s OK, too. It’s all about the love of the motorcycle and there is plenty to love at Mecum’s.
Top 10 sales at the Mecum Las Vegas 2017 auction
1. 1912 Henderson Four (Lot F129) at $490,000
2. 1913 Henderson Four (Lot S163) at $150,000
3. 1913 Henderson 4-Cylinder Deluxe (Lot S108) at $127,500
4. 1928 Excelsior Big Bertha Hillclimber (Lot S 162) at $117,500
5. 1949 Vincent Black Shadow (Lot F180) at $110,000
6. 1923 Indian Chief with Princess Side Car (Lot S 179) at $100,000
7. 1914 Flanders Model D Twin (Lot S 111) at $95,000
8. 1931 Henderson Four (Lot S151) at $95,000
9. 1929 Cleveland Tornado (Lot T183) at $91,000
10. 1941 Indian Four (Lot S201) at $90,000