Joe’s Garage Vintage Auction Wrap-up

$2,000,000 Cars, $300,000 Bikes and an $8 Sandwich

Two “silverbeards” in the fifth row were obviously longtime buddies, aka “friendly competitors.” They were tossing around $300,000 bids like it was chump change and a game of one-upsmanship.

Up on the podium, big screens flashed the latest item to come up for bid at the Joe’s Garage/MacPherson Collection auction held recently in Tustin, CA. The RM Auction guys were loving it as the two deep-pocket collectors fired salvo after salvo up at the guy holding the gavel. When the smoke cleared the two guys took home several motorized “toys” after spending some seven figures like it was their lunch money. Meanwhile I was at the sandwich bar counting my nickels to see if I could afford the turkey sandwich at eight bucks.

Yes, it was a humbling experience. Make that a dumbling experience, as I was pretty feeling pretty dumb. Why couldn’t I afford one of the bikes or cars, or even a piece of the memorabilia now on the auction block? Beyond the $500 cans of vintage oil, there were some bargains, at least relatively speaking. Like the restored 1948 H-D Daytona factory racer that sold for about $25K and the professionally rebuilt Jaguar XJS with the Corvette motor and Porsche rear-end that sold for $8,000 which was less than the cost of the leather interior. Only 8 grand and here I was whining over an $8 sandwich. Then I realized why. I was the guy with the camera and the notepad who would be writing about the event. Journalists by some cosmic rule are supposed to eke out an existence making other people famous. It was some Karmic payback. Maybe I had worked for the IRS in a previous life or been a divorce lawyer or, worse yet, a politician.

'Several hundred people flocked to the event, most of them apparently car guys, some with wallets the size of Texas.'

So much for the sniveling. At least my press credentials by-passed the $150 bidder’s registration fee and the $80 spectator’s fee and I could walk around and snap photos with immunity and impunity. Up for grabs, or at least a Platinum American Express Card, were some 40 cars and 23 motorcycles, an eclectic smorgasbord of antique, vintage and custom machines, both street and pure racers. Readers of might have caught the first article concerning Joe’s Garage and the portending auction about which we speak. For those who didn’t read that outstanding piece of moto-journalism, here’s the history of the place in a nutshell.

All the stuff belonged to Joe MacPherson, a flamboyant self-made entrepreneur who loved motorized vehicles and the Southern California car culture, who set about buying stuff he liked or, if need be, had it made. He could do that since he owned several cal dealerships around Southern California and was the guy who created the automobile mega-mall concept. He made tons of money but also gave back to the community, aiding various charities and institutions.

Joe passed away in May 2007 at age 78. He lived large and did a lot of good and left an indelible impression  on those that knew him, many of who showed up for the auction conducted by well-known international auction house of  RM Auctions.

RM did up the Joe’s Garage facility in style. Already a cavernous space, they set up the cars and bikes in strategic displays and even mounted the piece de resistance, the 1923 supercharged Miller racer at center stage as it sat atop a central island that also served as the event’s bar. Meanwhile, the auction’s two-wheeled star, the 1939 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin, sat under a spotlight up front right next to the auctioneer’s podium.

Several hundred people flocked to the event, most of them apparently car guys, some with wallets the size of Texas. A bank of phone and Internet operators also fielded bids coming in from around the planet. While there had been a pre-event party/schmoozer the day before, the Saturday auction started with registration and preview of the items at 9 a.m. with the bidding starting promptly as scheduled at 3 p.m. and then set to end around 8 p.m. that evening. It seemed to run like clockwork.

Jim MacPherson, son of late Joe McPherson and an accomplished racer himself, gave an introduction to the collection attesting to the decades of history involved and the legacy left by his father. Bidding got underway with the memorabilia, everything from three cans of Blakely oil ($500) to a 2000 Chevy ZZ430 hi-po crate engine ($8500) to a vintage Rene Vincent Peugeot poster ($15,000) to a set of  new NOS Ardun OHV flathead cylinder heads ($25,000). Remember all prices get bumped up by a bidder’s premium of an additional 10%. When you spend $500,000 or more, as some people did, you’re talking an additional $50K, so it adds up.

In the four-wheeled category, the big ticket items included the 1966 Dan Gurney Indy race car at $480,000, the Watson Indy Roadster at $425,000, the 1954 Chrisman Bonneville Coupe (beautifully restored) at $600,000 and the top-draw car, the 1923 Miller 122 Supercharged that brought, with premium, $2,000,000!

Now these were all cars with substantial race history. On the other hand some of the custom, one-off “hotrods” broke the sound barrier as well. For example, a 1956 Ford F-100 pick-up that with premium sold for over $400,000! Some relative bargains included the 1929 Q29 Infiniti Flyer, a mega-winner at the famous national Oakland Roadster show, an incredible handcrafted car that went for a fraction of its value at $115,000. A cherry 1961 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II went for about $35,000. Then there was the 1950 Fire Truck, one of the last items of the long day that only fetched $11,000.

Switching to the two-wheelers, and we’re talking 23 bikes, there were some stunners, both in looks as well as low and high prices paid. Several of the bikes were single-cylinder, belt-drive icons of the motorcycle world, nearly 100 years old. There were some surprises; for example, the 1948 Indian Big Base racer A estimated at a max of $70,000 went for a total of $165,000, while the 1948 H-D WR Daytona factory racer estimated at $60,000 only drew $25,000, a veritable steal. The Crocker, estimated at a high of $250k, sold for $275, no doubt helped by its ownership by ex-Boozefighter co-founder Jack Lilly. The complete list includes the following with their winning bids. For final cost add the 10% premium.

The Bikes (in chronological order)

1908 Indian “Camelback” belt-drive Single

1910 Excelsior belt-drive single-cylinder

1911 Flying Merkel Single

1911 Pierce-Arrow Belt-drive Single

1911 Wagner Belt-drive Single

1912 Flanders Belt-drive Single

1912 Yale “4P” Belt-drive Single

1913 Harley-Davidson racer

1915 Indian Big Twin

1916 H-D Boardtrack racer
$27, 500

1921 H-D racer
$47, 500

1931 H-D OHV “Peashooter” Hillclimber

1937 H-D Knucklehead (red - stock)

1937 H-D Knucklehead (black - custom)

1937 Indian Sport Scout

1939 Big Tank Crocker (Jack Lilly bike)

1940 Indian 10E Four Cylinder

1941 Indian Dispatch Tow

1948 H-D WR Daytona racer
$22, 500

1948 Indian 648 Big Base

1953 Indian Roadmaster Chief

1999 H-D Springer Softail (less than 100 mi)

Total $1,227,500

After the last vehicle had gone to a new owner, the long day done, RM’s Ian Kelleher thanked the audience and wished them well with their new purchases.

“There was magic in the air,” Kelleher told “It was an awesome day. I don’t even know how many world records were set. Everybody had a great time. You could see it in their eyes and all our expectations were exceeded.”

Yeah, me, too. I went home with beautiful cars and bikes swimming in my head and tucked away neatly in my camera. Indelible images, like the $8 turkey sandwich, yet another fond moto-journalism memory to be filed away.
Thanks, Joe.

Related Reading
Historic Vintage Bike Auction Preview
2008 “Legend of the Motorcycle” Concours d'Elegance
The 2006 Monterey Classic Bike Auction

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