Investing in precious metals

Bator International turns vintage bikes into classic collectibles

story by Paul Garson, Photograph by Paul Garson, Created Nov. 20, 2007
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As of this writing, the current price for an ounce of silver is about $13. An ounce of Crocker is going for about $42*. The silver comes in ingots, basically, boring rectangular bars, while a Crocker comes with wheels, spiffy paint and a ferocious V-twin engine. So if you’re investing in precious metals, take your pick.

Glenn Bator of Bator International, an enterprise that deals with a wide spectrum of vintage, classic and antique motorcycles, the likes of Flying Merkels, Cyclones, four-cylinder Aces and Reading-Standards, made his pick a few decades ago, his first “investment” being a 1957 Sportster. It was the 99th bike to come out of the Milwaukee factory. Today you can find that very same Sporty on display at the famous Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama.

No stranger to museum quality restoration work, Glenn would later find himself wrenching on bikes for the late Otis Chandler and his museum in Oxnard, CA. Over an eight year period as General Manager he was kept busy restoring or recreating famous motorcyclesRestoration is a full-time activity at Glenn’s Ojai, CA, workshop. In this case a 1930 Henderson KJ 4-cylinder engine.including replicas of “Capt. America” and the “Billy Bike” bike from the movie “Easy Riders,” as well as classics like Curtis, Excelsior and Indian.

In 1994 Glenn struck out on his own when he founded Bator International. “Basically I now do for myself what I did for the museum, dealing with high-end motorcycles. I was already established in the community so I utilized my knowledge and connections I had established to start Bator International. Last year (2005) we grossed $1.5 million in motorcycles sales, all from basically a little mom and pop operation.” Glenn’s customers are of the deep pocket variety, and include the National Motorcycle Museum, the Barber Museum and even Harley-Davidson to whom he supplied, among others, an all-original Two Cam factory road racer brought out of Switzerland. “They were very happy to get it back.”

Constantly keeping track of the comings and goings of the classic bike world, Bator International offers a wide range of motorcycles including this 1937 Excelsior Manxman.

Bator International operates –as the name implies– on an international basis shipping worldwide, as well as offering consulting and restoration work with 95% of those restored by Glenn being of American manufacture, primarily Harley-Davidsons. “As I moved away from the museum, I’ve been getting into some exotic restorations, for example a 1919 Reading-Standard Boardtrack racer along with a 1912 Excelsior single for a collector in New York. On the workbench I have a 1923 Harley Model W Sport Twin, a 1930 Henderson KJ Four-Cylinder, and I just took on an Ace from the Netherlands that needed attention. I’ve recently finished a 1970 Harley Boattail Sportster that went to an H-D dealership in Italy and then there’s a 1929 Harley JD “Cutdown” going to a customer in Japan.”

Occasionally Glenn will unearth something in totally original and running condition, but most require serious rehabilitation. Case in point, the Reading-Standard boardtrack racer. “The engine had been grenaded, the cranks broken in half, so I had to find another motor and rebuild it. But we brought it back to life and showroom condition.” Up until recently Glenn handled all the restoration work for each bike, though subcontracting the paint and chrome, but now is ably aided by Rick Krieger. “While I’m still hands on, for example currently rebuilding the motors for the Harley W Sport Twin and the Henderson KJ Four, Rick is working on the chassis and sub-assemblies although he’s capable of handling the mechanical work as well. But with his help we can now get the restorations completed sooner and increase our productivity.”

Glenn Bator’s Top Three Bikes
Glenn and Deni enjoy their 1965 R60 BMW sidecar combo.

About two years ago Glenn built a new 1800 sq. ft. facility on two acres of land in Ojai, CA,  plus an apartment for visiting clients so they could really spend some time getting to know their new bike under consideration. Many of his personal bikes were sold to finance the building process, so he sighed and pondered a moment when asked to pick his three favorite must-have bikes, “You got me against the wall; I love them all. Probably a really nice Indian Four for a gentleman’s bike. As for something sporty, a Cyclone. And I’d probably go with an early JDH Two Cam Harley. They’re very powerful, feel cool under your butt, and though not necessarily a big monetary consideration, they have the torque I love.”

Over the years Glenn has also been busy putting on the longstanding Hanford (Hanford, CA) and El Camino (El Camino College, Torrance, CA) vintage bike shows and swap meets. In other words, he lives, breathes, builds, restores, sells and promotes rare and historic motorcycles eight days a week. As far as his restorations, some 90% have been featured in hardback books, magazines, TV Specials, and cable channel documentaries. Several more were included in the history-making Guggenheim Museum's "Art of the Motorcycle" exhibit that appeared in New York, Bilbao, Spain and at the Venetian Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

When we last spoke with Glenn he was on his way to New Mexico to drop off several bikes and pick up more in Colorado for the return trip to California. Keeping his pulse on the action, he’s also at attendance at most of the major auctions around the country including the recent Otis Chandler and Steve McQueen events about which he comments, in his usual outspoken manner, “Between the two of them, they’ve left me scratching my head. I don’t have a clue in which direction the industry is going at the moment. I’m seeing stupid bikes bringing stupid money and I’m seeing very good motorcycles not getting the interest they deserve. I don’t know, maybe people were uneducated about the bikes and were just going for what was shiny and blew their skirt up. For example, a new, basically stock Triumph that Tom Cruise rode in a movie sold for something like $8,000 more than a recognized classic 1948 AJS 7R Boy Racer.”

Trophies are awarded in a variety of categories at the 31st Annual Bator International El Camino show and swap that for 2006 attracted 100 show bikes and 220 vendors.
The Bators with Beake, their blue ribbon winning Friesian.
As a caveat to potential bike investors, Glenn also addresses the matter of “replica” creations, or more to his liking, “fakes.” He advises that people read their history books; he sees the market as saturated to some degree due to the fact that some people are putting together cloned vintage bikes that have diluted the gene pool. “People don’t know what’s real and what’s not real, so the good stuff, the real stuff can get lost in the wake.”

Not lost in the wake is the Vincent Black Lightning now available from Bator International, a bike with significant history like many offered through the company. Currenlty being catalogued and up soon on the Bator Web site is everything from a Bimota Tesi to a brace of Boardtrack racers as well as a “brand new” 1976 Harley Superglide Bicentennial addition with only 17 original miles. For something ultra- exotic, there’s also an early 1900s Flying Merkel. Between his cache of bikes and the inventory of his two associates in England and Italy, there are usually 80 high-end bikes for sale to discerning collectors, and those just looking for something extra-ordinary to ride. Bator recently acquired a collection of 30 bikes yet to be assimilated into the line-up.

Today, if you’re visiting Glenn’s home in Ojai and take a walk through his dining room, you’ll notice some interesting “furniture,” for instance a 1927 Indian Police Special, while in the living room there’s a blue and white 1929 Harley JD “cut-down” sharing space with a G45 Matchless. When not restoring bikes in his workshop or traveling the country in search of bikes for his inventory of exceptional machines, Glenn enjoys some down-time with non-iron horses, flesh and blood Friesians, a horse of Dutch ancestry. He does occasionally go four-wheeling as well, taking a 1974 vintage Royale Continental Formula 2000 racecar to the track just for the grin-factor.

Insider Trading Tips
As far as collecting motorcycles as an investment, Glenn says, “I always make sure that if my clients wanted to turn around and sell their bike on the very same day they bought it from me, they could for the same price and then some. For example, a couple years ago a client paid $70,000 for a Flying Merkel. The bike today is worth in excess of $115,000. I don’t put any of my money into the stock market. Everything I do is buying iron. Even if the economy takes a downturn, with the right bike you always have a tangible product. Over the years I’ve never seen the right bikes decrease in value. You have to know your bike investments. Like an Indian Chief might seem a good investment, and they can be, but because of so many reproduction parts, there’s an abundance of Chiefs, so the prices are flat, prices lower than a couple years ago. You want to buy the best stuff, what I call the nuggets…a Crocker or Flying Merkel or Cyclone, along those lines. While mid-range bikes and buyers are holding back, the high-end bikes and the guys who collect them are basically impervious to the vagaries of the economy. There will always be the right money for the right motorcycle.”

You’ll seldom see an Ace Four for sale, but here’s Glenn’s An example of bikes offered by Bator International is this 1915 H-D 11 hp Model 16f originally sold in the UK and fitted with solid wheels and 1950 monochromatic gray paintjob.


*About that $42 an ounce for a Crocker, that’s based on the recent Bonhams & Butterfields auction at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles where a “small tank, hemi-head” model sold for a record $267,500, about $100,000 more than a year ago. If you’re looking to invest in precious metal, give Glenn a call at 805-646-9566 or visit his Web site http://www.batorinternational.com/.

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