Miles south of the Vegas strip, the South Point Casino and Exhibition Hall rises from the desert like a giant sandstone monolith. At first sight, just one word, despite its constant misuse and triteness, comes to mind: Awesome.
Thus it was the perfect venue for the 24th annual Las Vegas Antique Motorcycle Auction. The anniversary tag is conferred by the recent merger of the Mecum classic car vendor with MidAmerica, its motorcycle counterpart. (The Antique descriptor is no longer accurate, although the same can’t be said for some of the sellers and bidders…) The new moniker is MidAmerica Motorcycles by Mecum Auctions. Welcome to the new mastodon in the gymnasium.
More than 800 motorcycles would cross the stage, flogged by the loud, staccato, non-stop hollering of the auctioneer before the final gavel sounded. Compared to the Bonhams’ Downton Abbey style of propriety, this is the genuine down-home American livestock auction format: DO I HEAR SIX, SIX, NOW! BLAMALAMA-RAMALANGA-DINGDONG! FIVE, FIVE THOUSAND! Most of the wise veterans in the audience were wearing earplugs.
2015 Bonhams Motorcycle Auction
The top-dollar award, $132,500, went to a 1952 Vincent C Rapide. Number two was a 1918 Henderson Four at $87,500. Given the voluminous inventory, the Mecum auction stretches from Thursday afternoon through Friday and into Saturday. By Saturday morning the fatigue is apparent among both buyers and sellers. Most of the good stuff is gone, but back-lot negotiations for unsold machines are underway. There were a number of bargains among Japanese bikes and older dirt machines. Scroll down to see some of the highlights. Complete auction results are available at Mecum.com.
The affordability scale, and range of machines, is considerably more broad at the Mecum show. This 1975 Yamaha RD350, with a claimed 3,000 miles, was bid to $5,000. But the owner passed.
Two 1952 Triumph TRW military models were on the block. This one sold for $4,750.
The second, from a Canadian collection, went for $7,000. The 500cc Twins never did see use in combat.
A 1920 Rudge-Whitworth Python with a J.A.P. 250 engine got to $5,000. No sale.
What appeared to be a nicely restored 1980 Honda C70 sold for $1,100. A key buy.
The bike your very reporter would have nabbed, given the funds and garage space. The low-mile 1998 Triumph Thunderbird Sport went for $3250. Well bought.
This well turned out 1974 Norton John Player Special was purchased for $16,000.
The 1000cc Excelsior V-Twin retailed for $310 in 1911, its first year of production. The Chicago brand featured an improved idler wheel for the belt drive, allowing the engine to idle freely. This restoration sold for $34,000.
Cristine Sommer Simmons, author of The American Motorcycle Girls, 1900 to 1950, and husband Pat of the Doobie band of brothers, flew in from Hawaii for the event.
Speaking of doobies: One can imagine the poor luckless gambler, awakening with a hangover and a bad case of post-table stress syndrome, who opens the hotel window curtain and sees this billboard across the street. Medication is just a phone call away.
Two! Count ’em, two Scott Flying Squirrels crossed the boards. This 1922 edition sold for $15,000.
The 1929 model of the water-cooled two-stroke Twin brought $10,000.
Bidding on the 1939 BMW R39 reached $100k. No sale.
A 1923 Hirsch Berlin was number five on the top-dollar list, selling for $76,000.
The 350cc opposed-Twin was a collaboration between Bosch and the British Douglas firm.
The tank badge, apparently added later, is dated 1928. A German translator was not readily available.
The fender plaque dates the engine at 1916.
Gourmet Interlude: Just about every other joint in Vegas “specializes” in prime rib, but for the real deal, you go to Lawry’s. Carnivores looking to celebrate their luck at the casino can expect first-rate service and their cut of choice carved at the table. And the seafood is good. The art deco motif is deluxe, the wine list impressive, and please, “Gentlemen are asked to remove their hats before entering the dining room.”
Few in attendance had ever heard of, let alone seen, a 1903 REX Belt Drive. But Englishman Steve Norton knew what it was, and that he wanted it, and won the bid at $66,000. Not only that, he plans to ride the 2.25-horsepower 344cc Single in this year’s Cannonball Rally. And having served as crew chief for Texans Mike and Buck Carson for two years, Norton is aware of the challenge. “It’s a really solid engine,” he said. “It will take it.” He says the engine will tell him what speed it wants to run. “We’ll find the sweet spot, maybe 25 to 30 mph.” He figures they have two chances. “Either it’ll go or it won’t.” British resolve.
Some days you feel like a NUT. For something more than the winning bid of $30,000, you might have a 1925 N.U.T. Powered by a J.A.P. 700cc V-Twin, the marque came from the Angus Sanderson Company in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England. Production ran from 1911 to 1933.
This was listed as a 1974 Ducati 750 Sport, but according to several veteran Ducatisti on hand, it was a 750 GT with a mixture of Sport and aftermarket pieces. The owner nonetheless insisted on its authenticity and declined an offer of $27,000. As one wag noted, even if Guido himself was at the end of the assembly line that day in Bologna, the bike wouldn’t have left the factory as a Sport.
The largely original and mostly correct 1973 Ducati 750 GT sold for $22,500.
Yet another obscure European racer was the 1913 Train V-Twin set up in board-track trim. The stylish machine went for $28,000.
The water-cooled Twin has interesting intake plumbing and stout looking heads.
The 1973 Triumph X-75 Hurricane, styled by Craig Vetter. One of 1100 made. No sale at $28,000.
Several of the various Italian machines created quite a twinkle in the eye of your roving correspondent. He even considered, briefly, hitting the craps table to try his luck. Listed as a Bimota Db5R, it was actually a Db6 Delirio Azzurro, and sold for $15,000.
At number three on the price chart, this 1927 BMW R47 was sold for $80,000.
The cute 1951 Cushman trike ice cream wagon brought $10,000.
The 1936 Crocker/Bigsby flat tracker fell short at $120,000.
The brilliant Paul Bigsby, who later teamed up with Leo Fender, embossed many of his parts.
The ex-Reg Pridmore/Udo Geitel F750 BMW racer went unsold at $25,000.
Not even Reg Pridmore’s autograph helped to push the BMW past $25,000.
The 1914 Comet racer was bid to $45,000. No sale.
The Spacke V-Twin found use in a number of early American machines.
The Moto Guzzi Falcone 500 Sport sold for $19,500.
A 1954 MV Agusta Disco Volante CSS sold for $13,000.
The MV tank displays its racing history and flying saucer derivation.
The Bimota Tesi with center-hub steering found a new home for $31,000.
The Indian V-Four “Twindian,” ostensibly built for Cannonball Baker, was no sale at $95,000.
A 1962 Victoria Variant 50cc went for $16,000.
The late Gary Nixon’s Triumph 250 short tracker sold for $38,000.