This year has already brought us a nice shake up of the most expensive vintage motorcycles ever sold at auction, with the Vincent Black Lightning making history in Las Vegas.
There are some bikes that are ridiculously expensive when they’re brand new, but some of these vintage motorcycles have aged like fine wine, with their price tags swelling to astronomical figures so insane that you’ve got to wonder whether the buyers are of sound mind when the raise their auction paddles. Some vintage bike models are considered worthless junk, while others become considered collectors’ items. Some man’s trash is another guy’s treasure, right? Here we’re going to take a look at some of the most expensive vintage motorcycles ever sold at auction. And before we start, we’d like to just mention that we don’t consider any of these beautiful collector’s items as junk – we just can’t help but wonder why hopeful bidders are so desperate to spend a king’s ransom on stationary vintage bike paperweights. Beautiful, marvelous paperweights for sure, but glorious machinery that will never be ridden again. Something about that seems sad in a way.
Now, if it’s going to sit in a public museum where we can all take a good look at it and learn a bit about motorcycling history, that’s no problem. But when a rare, hard to find vintage motorcycle is snapped up by a wealthier bidder in order to languish in a private collection…now something about that seems a little unjust. It’s worse when the buyer has no interest in vintage motorcycles either and purchases old and rare motorcycles as nothing more than a financial investment. But that’s enough bitterness, because someone has to win an auction at the end of the day, and who knows – perhaps that 2008 GSX-R1000 or Harley Davidson Iron 883 will be an ultra-rare vintage motorcycle in fifty years or so? Here’s to hoping, but we rather doubt it. So, let’s take a look at the few vintage motorcycle models that managed to attain cult status in the world of motorcycle auctions.
Some of these entries are verified purchases but there are a couple in there that are based on rumor and hearsay but we’ll point those out when we get to them. When it comes to rare items and the largest motorcycle price tags you’ve always got to be vigilant because a lot of misinformation tends to fly around. Oh yeah, we’ve also omitted some entries like multiple Brough Superior models, because it could make for frustratingly repetitive reading – but even with the omitted results, the list has more diversity than you’d think, and some of the models you’d expect to be there aren’t.
For example, we expected to see a ton of Triumph Bonneville T100s, or old MV Agusta and Moto Guzzi models, a Royal Enfield or two, and perhaps a few select vintage dirt bike pieces. But no! It seems like the Triumph Bonneville isn’t good enough, that Royal Enfield Bullet’s aren’t rare enough, old school cafe racer customs don’t have any fans, and that your average MV Agusta and Moto Guzzi isn’t worth a dime or best scrapped for spare motorcycle parts. In fact, we’re quite surprised by what made the cut. Now, let’s take a look at the top 10 most expensive vintage motorcycle models ever sold at auction!
10 Vintage Motorcycles That Sold For Outrageously High Prices!
#10. The 1942 Crocker V-Twin Big Tank – $385,000
It’s no surprise that the vintage motorcycles club was out in full force when this exquisite motorcycle went to auction at the EJ Cole Collection sale back in March of 2015. Crocker, a company based in California, only produced 72 V-twin motorcycles and this example was one of them. Interestingly, this model was lucky to exist at all, since Crocker was actually limited to wartime restrictions and was unable to manufacturer any more models thanks to the war effort. As fate would have it, Crocker decided not to continue with their motorcycle line after the war, making this model a particularly special one. Prior to the auction, valuation experts estimated that the Crocker V-Twin would likely sell at somewhere between $300,000 and $350,000, which was a pretty ambitious price – but as luck would have it, it sold for a whopping $385,000 on the day, surpassing all expectations. It’s also the highest price that a Crocker motorcycle has ever commanded.
#09. The 1911 Flying Merkel Board Track Racer – $423,000
It was widely believed that there were no Flying Merkel motorcycles left in the world until one surfaced at auction a few years ago. Joseph Merkel only manufactured motorcycles for a mere 15 years and traded under three different names: Merkel, Merkel Light, and most famously Flying Merkel. Production numbers were low, but fortunately one managed to survive the test of time. The model that went to auction was a Board Track Racer that was owned by the Suttle family and regularly raced in the years before World War One…but after the onset of war, the bike was put in storage where it stayed for 70 long years. Eventually, it was unearthed – and remarkably, it still ran! The bike was auctioned at the Mecum Auctions in Las Vegas back in 2015, where it sold for a staggering $423,000. It’s was of the most notable auction lots in the vintage motorcycles class seen in the last few years.
#08. The 1951 Vincent White Shadow – $434,000
The up and down nature of exchange rates often makes lists like these tricky, but unstable variables or none, we like the 1951 Vincent White Shadow and think it deserves a place on the list. It sold for a huge amount of money no matter what the final total came to anyway, and it’s too handsome a machine to ignore. While everyone always waxes lyrical about the rare Black Shadow, the White Shadow is rarer still, with only 15 having ever been made between the years 1949 and 1952. The main difference from the White and Black is the bare metal engine cases on the White compared with the blacked out versions on the Black. And what makes this example even more special is that it is the one of its kind to be finished in Chinese Red – a color that is usually only found on the Vincent Rapide. Selling for a magnificent sum of $434,000, the Vincent White Shadow is one of the rarest vintage motorcycles out there.
#07. The 1958 Ariel Cyclone 650 – $450,000
Vintage motorcycles attached to celebrity names often sell for remarkably high auction prices, but when you’ve got a motorcycle that’s also a rare limited edition at the same time, you can expect record breaking bids. This beautiful 1958 Ariel Cyclone 650 was once owned by Buddy Holly who purchased it when the star and his band mates decided to skip a flight and ride home instead. The model that caught Holly’s eye just happened to be a limited edition Ariel Cyclone 650, one of only 172 ever made. Tragically, Buddy Holly lost his life in a place crash a year later. The motorcycle eventually fell into the hands of country music legend Waylon Jennings, who was a close friend of Buddy Hollys. Fast forward to 2014 and the bike was on the block at the Guernsey Auctions in Phoenix, Arizona. It eventually sold for an incredible sum of $450,000 making it one of the most expensive vintage motorcycles ever sold at auction.
#06. The 1926 Brough Superior SS100 ‘Alpine Grand Sports’ – $452,234
Next up we’ve got the first of many an expensive Brough Superior motorcycle. This particular example arrived at auction in pristine condition with the correct engine and frame numbers, a record card from the factory, and a full and well-documented ownership history too. Brough Superior machines are legendary vintage motorcycles and to find one like this in such amazing condition was incredible. Boasting a 980cc JAP OHV V-twin engine a two jet sports carb from Binks, Harley-Davidson front forks and cable operated brakes, this Brough Superior is more or less original. Specialist restorers returned a few minor modifications back to their original state, with everything fully documented and available for inspection for any potential buyers. And there were plenty of those. When it went to auction in London back in 2012, this amazing example sold for a staggering $452,234.
#05. The 1922 Brough Superior SS80 – $463,847
Since Brough Superiors are some of the most sought after vintage motorcycles in the world, it’s hardly surprising that there’s another one on this list – in fact there should be more, but we’ve cut a few for the sake of diversity. This particular Brough Superior was a model that nicknamed “Old Bill” and it’s one of the more significant Broughs to ever go to auction. You see, Old Bill here was ridden by George Brough himself, and together they managed to win over 50 races. The bike was sold to journalist, war despatch rider, veteran dirt bike and road rider, and president of the Vintage Motorcycles Club, “Titch” Allen, which gave the motorcycle even more collectible value. It was eventually sold at auction in Duxford, England for the huge sum of $463,234. While other Brough Superiors have gone to auction and sold for staggeringly high sums, we’re limiting our list to two entries only: one in incredible condition, and one dear to the man himself.
#04. The 1939 BMW RS255 Kompressor – $480,000
We’re putting this one in the vintage motorcycles category despite the fact that it was technically assembled in the 1980s…but uses an original 1939 BMW RS255 engine that has been partnered with a 1951 Rennsport plunger style frame and features a whole host of other minor modifications. It’s most notable mods include a twin-leading shoe front brake and a recreated front fork. While it’s not an original motorcycle, this odd 1939 BMW RS55 Kompressor custom is the brainchild of former BMW Works rider Walter Zeller, who managed to cobble together a more or less authentic RS255 Kompressor that takes inspiration from a wide range of models rather than just one. It’s not one stunning example of a model, but a stunning example of a lot of vintage motorcycles dating from before and after the Second World War. When Bonhams put it up for auction in 2013, it defied expectations by selling for an amazing $480,000. Not bad for a motorcycle going through an identity crisis.
#N/A. The 1910 Winchester 6 HP – $580,000 – But…
This whole story is a bit of an enigma, but one worth telling. Here’s a brief introduction. This is the 1910 Winchester 6 HP, one of only 200 6 HPs manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and one of only two thought to still be in existence. It’s a rare motorcycle that reportedly sold for a staggering $580,000 to an anonymous gun collector but it’s a controversial listing. Long after the auction (which took place back in 2013) reports emerged suggesting that the bike was never officially sold at the auction, and that the amount that was paid for it differed greatly from what the original news story suggested, and now the whole story has become a bizarre conspiracy theory. No one knows whether how to the bike was sold or how much was paid for it. It seems like someone has gone through a lot of effort to stop the truth from emerging. But why? No one knows what’s going on here, and it’s one of the biggest mysteries in the realm of vintage motorcycles to date. Either way, we’re not giving it an official position on this list.
#03. The 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank – $715,000
The amazing thing about this 1907 Harley Davidson Strap Tank model is that it managed to become one of the most expensive motorcycles ever sold at auction and still sell for under the auction house’s estimate. This model is special for a number of reasons. The first is that it was the 94th Harley Davidson motorcycle to ever be made and the 37th model to be built by the company in 1907 alone. But what really stood out to buyers and collectors was the bike’s un-tampered with nature. Unlike many vintage motorcycles seen at auctions, this little 440cc machine has not been restored at all. It comes with an elegant patina that takes a good 100 years to perfect, and all of its parts are original and in fantastic condition for a motorcycle of its age. Sadly, it didn’t manage to make it’s estimated $800,000 – $1,000,000 estimate but it still sold for an incredible sum of $715,000 at the Mecum Auctions back in March of 2015, making it the most expensive Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company product ever sold.
#02. The 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer – $852,500
March 2015 was a very important time for vintage motorcycles because all kinds of records were being broken…and back then we thought that we were looking at the most expensive vintage motorcycle of all time, but then 2018 happened. This is the former most expensive, sadly. This is the 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer – one of only twelve models thought to exist – and when it went to auction at the Mecum Auctions in Las Vegas, it was expected to break the million dollar marker. Not only is it a rare motorcycle in fantastic condition, it was also owned by Steve McQueen too! As fate would have it, this amazing belt-drive V-twin that’s capable of flying to an almighty speed of 111 mph managed to miss out on the million dollars, but it did sell for a ground breaking $775,000. And once you add the all-important auction fees and all that jazz, puts it at a final sale price of an incredible $852,000.
#01. The 1951 Vincent Black Lightning – $929,000
2018 kicked off to an amazing start for fans of vintage motorcycles. While we thought that the Cyclone Board Track Racer would sit as the undisputed king of the auction for a few more years, something quite alarming happened: a 1951 Vincent Black Lightning managed to turn up on the auction block at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, and a telephone bidder from Australia bid an out of this world sum of money: $929,000. Details are thin at the moment, but we can tell you that the bike was sold in its original form and is completely unrestored but is a healthy running condition. It’s said that this model was actually imported to Australia by Tony McAlpine and raced against well-known Vincent called “Gunga Din” back in the day, and in one contest managed to best the Gunga Din by over thirty yards, attaining speeds of up to and over 130 mph. It’s reported that the bike will be returning to Australia permanently. This incredible Vincent Black Lightning is now the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction officially. What about the Captain America, you ask? Well, read below for that interesting story…
#N/A. The 1976 Captain America Harley-Davidson – $1,620,000…Or So They Say
The Captain America bike is a controversial one. We all know the motorcycle, the one made famous by Peter Fonda in the legendary Easy Rider movie – it’s one of the most iconic motorcycles in the history of motorcycles. The thing is, of the two real Captain America machines thought to exist, and in among the thousands of replicas, no one is entirely sure which one is the real deal. When the “real” one was set to go to auction back in 2014, plenty of people called into question its authenticity. During the auction, a telephone bidder reportedly put down a bid of $1,620,000 and that was the end of the story. Or was it? Rumors circulated that the deal fell through because of the lack of the bikes authenticity – and if you try to get in touch the auction runners Profiles In History and ask for details about it, you’re given a swift brush off. With no-one willing to verify whether the bike sold or not, we can’t call it the most expensive vintage motorcycle ever sold at auction. So we won’t.