By James Ron Christenson, the director of operations for MidAmerica Auctions, hesitates to…
30 Jul 2013
Ron Christenson, the director of operations for MidAmerica Auctions, hesitates to acknowledge that a vintage motorcycle market exists. He associates the term “market” with traditional arenas of financial investment and strongly believes that a motorcycle purchase should be dictated only by a passion for the machine, not the monetary value or potential that the machine represents. Nevertheless, Christenson recognizes that not all vintage motorcycle customers approach the industry that way, and his advice to that audience is simple: don’t project one ground-breaking sale as the precursor of things to come. “Any little bump makes a big wave because it travels so quickly,” he says, explaining that the vintage motorcycle community is much smaller than the community associated with classic automobiles. “But it [market value] comes back very quickly because people find out it was a blip on the screen. It adjusts more quickly than the car market does.”
Early Indian motorcycles like this 1930 Indian 4 routinely sell between $80000 and $110000.
That being said, Christenson can predict that certain marques (Vincent and Brough Superior) and general bike categories, like early-American, non-mass-produced motorcycles, will always be valuable. He also says that early-American Indian and Harley-Davidson bikes can sell for several hundred thousand dollars, but only in their original condition. “The real collectors stopped [over-restoring] about five years ago, when they realized that they were damaging the market or the investment grade of the bike,” he says. “There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes that never should have been restored.”
This 1910 Flying Merkel belt drive v twin is a perfect example of the type of early american motorcycle that continues to go up in value.
Herb Harris, a leading dealer of Vincent motorcycles, hasn’t seen evidence that original bikes are worth more than their restored counterparts, but he has heard musings that unrestored motorcycles are growing more valuable. Harris has always made a profit selling bikes once he’s completed the necessary restorations, though he says that newcomers to the vintage motorcycle scene—particularly those with classic car collecting backgrounds—often incorrectly evaluate the significance of a classic bike. “For car guys, the chassis number is the car; the engine just fits in there,” he explains. “In motorcycles, the motor is the main piece. We’re using a different measuring stick with motorcycles.”
According to Herb Harris, a properly restored Vincent motorcycle will never lose value.
In other words, Harris says that it’s uncommon for a vintage motorcycle to be a matching-numbers model, since bikes are more susceptible to damage. That doesn’t mean that matching-number examples don’t exist, it only suggests that they’re extremely rare and must be approached with caution and a critical eye.
Harris made history in 2011 when, through his company, the Harris Vincent Gallery, he sold the first $1 million motorcycle—the Vincent Black Lightning that Rollie Free piloted when he set a new speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1948. Harris is tight-lipped about what he paid for the bike when he bought it two decades ago, and will only say that he paid less than what he sold it for. “I don’t recall every losing money on a Vincent,” he says, “and I don’t recall hearing about anyone else losing money on a Vincent.”
Though Harley Davidson mass produced bikes, early examples like this original 1923 two cam 8 valve factory board track racer can sell for more than $500,000.
Glenn Bator, the proprietor of Bator International, a company specializing in motorcycle and automobile sales, also sees Vincent bikes as a safe investment. “If you can buy a good Vincent, you’re never going to lose money,” he says.
But there are plenty of other bikes and marques that he says are surging in value. According to Bator, many Crockers are selling for between $250,000 and $500,000 (he believes they soon could approach $1 million in value), Indian 4 Cylinders continue to hold their values, and he says that the sky is the limit for a perfectly restored 1927 Indian Upside Down 4.
A 1939 Crocker big tank 61ci
Bator also acknowledges that there are areas of the market that seem poised for future appreciation, namely BMW R60s and Ariel Square 4 Mark IIs. “They should be trading in the area that Vincents are trading, but you can buy a very nice one for about $25,000,” he says. “They made more Ariel Square 4s than Vincents; that’s why those bikes are less valuable, but it’s everything that a Vincent is. It’s a good place to put your money.”