Bud Ekins Frenzy at Petersen Museum Auction
More than 100 Ekins items were up for grabs
Everybody knows Bud Ekins as the guy who achieved probably the most famous motorcycle jump in film history during Steve McQueen’s 1963 classic “The Great Escape.” Others remember him as a daring-do racer, others as a restorer’s restorer. Ekins definitely enjoyed tinkering with time machines, as in collecting old stuff.
On Oct. 6, 2007 Ekins passed on to the wide open racetrack in the sky, but his stuff remained where he’d left it. Cool stuff. Stuff that a couple hundred people showed up to bid on at the recent Bonhams and Butterfields auction held Nov. 13 at the famous Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
The Petersen has been the site of many a benchmark auction featuring the crème de la crème of historic, vintage, classic and celebrity vehicles and memorabilia. The latter list includes auctions of collectibles once belonging to the likes of Steve McQueen, Von Dutch and now Ekins.
What Ekins would have thought of such proceedings is up to speculation, but his achievements and contributions to the sport are beyond doubt. A true pioneer, he competed, and frequently won, competitions in desert and mountain endurance races as well scrambles and motocross including a run at the 1950s World Championship Motocross Grand Prix circuit. His many accolades included gold medals won in the International Six Trial events.
After his racing exploits, the next step in Ekins’ career found him acting in the capacity as a premier Hollywood stuntman, which in part enabled him to accumulate a collection of 150 rare and most valuable motorcycles. Ekins was also a founder, in the 1960s, of the famous Baja 1000.
He rode hard and fast on a variety of bikes including Matchless and Triumph models, eventually opening his own Hollywood Triumph dealership. One of his customers happened to be a young actor named Steve McQueen who developed his own riding skills thanks in part to Ekins’ mentorship.
Ekins would continue working in films into his 60s, then opened a small shop in Hollywood which I was privileged to visit many years ago, ogling at the dusty rafters filled with a forest of vintage bikes, some 54 different American makes, mostly pre-1914.
Inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, Ekins followed his bike passion to the end of his ride.
Now the passion that went into his collecting activities had drawn fellow fans and me to the Petersen Museum, perchance to take home a memento from Bud’s life and times.
In addition to Ekins motorcycles, the auction included his cars, personal photographs, trophies, posters, memorabilia, tools and racing jackets, as well as items connected to Ekins’ fellow go-fast fan McQueen.
Also, as Von Dutch was at one point employed by Ekins as a painter, several of those bikes as well as bikes that appeared in The Wild One, The Great Escape and Pearl Harbor were in the line-up including a 1905 REO Roadster, a 1908 REO Roadster, a 1915 H-D 11F sidecar rig, a 1918 Cleveland Single, a 1925 H-D JD, a 1936 H-D VL Police model and a 1937 H-D UL.
Non-Ekins-related bikes sold at the auction included a 1956 Manx Norton, a reported “barn find” possibly once owned by well-known automotive writer Harry Manley III that even in untidy, non-running condition went for $30,000. At the other end of bidding scale, an original and very clean 1968 Honda 350SL Scrambler, another “barn find,” sold for $2,000, a relative bargain.
Along with the Ekins bikes and memorabilia, the auction also offered several vehicles from other collections as well as a group of modern bikes. Some of the highlights of the bidding included $117,000 paid for “The Deco-Liner,” a radical, bright purple custom 1939 Lincoln delivery van equipped to haul a color-matched custom Harley Sportster.
There was also a restored 1967 “21-window” Volkswagen van – aka the ultimate surfing vehicle – that went for $67,500. Yes, that would be for a VW van and not even Scooby Doo’s. That high number comes close to tying for a bid at a previous Petersen auction that netted $73,000 for a pair of sunglasses that McQueen “might have worn” in the film The Thomas Crown Affair. As always, beauty and value is in the eye of the beholder.
“We were very, very pleased with the final outcome,” summarized Bonhams’ Nick Smith. “Total sales for the day including the Bud Ekins items and the additional automobiles and motorcycles reached over $1,500, 000. Of the over 100 Bud Ekins properties, they did very well, interest very high. Final tally with premiums amounted to some $350,000.”
Some of the Bud Ekins memorabilia highlights included McQueen's original dirtbike toolbox given to Ekins that sold for $13,420; two trophies won by Ekins with photographs of Ekins and McQueen going for $4,575; and a five-page handwritten letter from McQueen to Ekins for $3,050.
Of Bud’s cars, the two REOs sold for twice their estimates. The 1908 REO Tourer, painted by Von Dutch, had a pre-sale estimated at $15,000-20,000, but sold for $54,990. Of his bikes, the 1915 Harley-Davidson 11F with sidecar, once belonging to McQueen, was bid to $49,140. The two ex-police Harleys, the VL and UL, went for about $30,000. The JD was a relative bargain at about $10,000.
Bonhams’ next motor auction takes place on Jan. 6, 2011 in Las Vegas at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino. The 150 bikes going up on the block include a super rare 1894/95 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller, the first production motorcycle, and with a projected sale value of $130,000-150,000. There will also be a selection of some one hundred ‘60s and ‘70s Hondas, all in great shape and offered at no reserve, so it will be interesting to see what they bring.