When I worked for Sotheby’s back in the 1990s, the annual auction of motorcycles held by the house at the Stafford bike show was a somewhat rum affair staged in a large and draughty shed. The buyers were almost exclusively enthusiasts or dealers, and it was generally considered worthy of celebration if a machine fetched more than £10,000, with only the real gems breaking the £20,000 barrier. Essentially, as far as collectability was concerned, bikes were regarded as the (very) poor relations of cars.
A large gap still remains between the most valuable classic motorcycles and the most valuable classic automobiles (the current auction record for the latter was set last year at £19.6m for the Mercedes-Benz W196 grand prix car previewed in How To Spend It, while the most expensive bike is a 1915 Cyclone board track racer that fetched around £340,000 in 2008) – but that doesn’t alter the fact that the collectable status of motorcycles has risen hugely.
As a result, there are more classic-bike auctions than ever before, with many of the leading houses opening their motoring sales with a selection of motorcycles, which, now that the values of most classic cars have soared, are being targeted by wealthy investors.
Buying opportunities abound on Friday July 11 at 1pm when long-established classic-car auctioneer Coys returns to the two-wheeled game with its first major motorcycle sale for many years. It takes place at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, where no fewer than 90 machines will come under the hammer at estimates to suit a range of pockets. For those keen to have a nosey around, pre-sale viewing is at 4pm to 7pm on Thursday July 10 and 9am to 1pm on Friday July 11.
At the lower end, there’s a 1923 Douglas “basket case”, which is expected to fetch bids of up to £3,000 from brave-hearted restorers, while a host of “Japanese classics” from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s ranges from quintessential Honda four-cylinder machines such as the CB500 and CB400 (also at around £3,000 apiece) to a raucously fast 1974 Kawasaki H2 750 two-stroke triple (£8,000-£9,000).
Classic British iron includes a 1954 BSA Gold Star 350 “Clubman’s” racer at £11,500-£13,500, with a mighty Vincent Rapide Series C v-twin from the same era being expected to top £50,000.
American marques, meanwhile, are represented by a magnificent 1931 four-cylinder Indian (first picture), which could be one of the stars of the auction, carrying a pre-sale estimate of up to £70,000. A similar sum is expected for a Henderson (second picture), made by the American firm that also specialised in four-cylinder bikes. Unusually, this particular example ended up in Italy, where it was fitted with a sidecar (built in the Ferrari factory!) and used as a taxi.
More typical Italian machinery on offer includes a 1951 Moto Guzzi 500cc, single-cylinder race bike (£55,000-£70,000), a 1949 125cc Mondial based on Nello Pagani’s world championship-winning machine (£58,000-£65,000) and a fine example of a 1974 Ducati 750SS, which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Italian road bikes ever built. This one is presented in the best colour scheme of silver and blue and described as “perfect and original”. It could be yours for an estimated £28,000-£34,000.