Historic Vintage Bike Auction Preview

Bidding on the Keys to Joe's Garage

The May 1, 1911 Sunday morning edition of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette featured an interview with Fred Willis, president of the Federation of American Motorcyclists, discussing the airplane vs. the motorcycle in which he said, "I wonder how many understand how nearly motorcycling comes to being a real substitute for flying. Give me a motorcycle for thrills, speed, safety and comfort. Someday, perhaps, we'll all be riding in aeroplanes, but just now the motorcycle gives all of the aeroplane's pleasure, with none of its expense or dangers.”

Little did Mr. Willis imagine that 100 years in the future people would be flying in jumbo jets to Los Angeles, some maybe even from Fort Worth, to enjoy the pleasures of motorcycles. And in the process leave some big chunks of change and return home with some even larger hunks of precious metal. Case in point, the upcoming June 12, 2008 auction of some 20 antique and vintage American motorcycles (not to mention another 50 radical automobiles and several dozen items of memorable memorabilia). The event takes place at a facility in Tustin, CA called Joe’s Garage, a combination garage/museum/event center built by Orange County car dealership magnate Joe MacPherson who passed away last year, his garage closing its doors this past January and now preparing to send its contents to other garages around the country and probably around the world.

You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restau... er, um... Joe's Garage. Well, almost anything.

Joe, in addition to devoting half a century to building one of the most successful automotive “empires” in the country was also a commercial real estate investor and believed in giving back to the community in which he prospered. For example, he donated more than $2 million to Orange County schools and was a big supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County. He was an easy guy to remember, describing himself as a “short guy with red hair and a big mouth.” His business ethic and his “secret” formula for success was a simple one. "It comes down to how you treat people,'' he said."You've got to be honest. It's that simple.’ Joe passed away in May 2007 at age 78.

Joe had collected some good stuff over the years and was happy to share it with the public, as his building also hosted numerous weddings, bar mitzvahs, political gatherings and family parties. Stepping inside the museum you find yourself immersed in color, chrome, aluminum and history. No less than 270 feet of its interior walls are covered with a mural titled “The California Scene” as painted by artist Bill Hueg, and that dynamically captures a century of automotive evolution and revolution.

Housed in the spacious environs are an eclectic assortment of some 50 automobiles and a focus on some two dozen antique American motorcycles. Most are going up on the auction block this June 12. It should be pretty exciting since the list will include machines estimated to be worth over $100,000, over $200,000 and even higher, both of the two-wheeled and four-wheeled species. Best yet, this is a “no reserve” auction, so whoever bids the highest takes home the bacon. Could there be some awesome bargains? You never know.

Bikes, cars... Joe's has it.

The cars up for auction (conducted by the world class RM Auctions house) range from mint ’54 and ’63 Corvettes to a Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s NASCAR Winston Cup 1994 Chevy racecar to an 811-horsepower ’32 Ford custom roadster to a 1923 Supercharged Miller to a cherry 1937 Ford Woody Station wagon. There’s also a ton of automotive artifacts, vintage shop signs, racing helmets, posters, artwork, model cars and trucks, complete high performance Ford and Chevy engines, car parts, and even display cases to put it all in.

The Bikes (in chronological order)

-1908 Indian “Camelback” Belt-drive Single
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 8 Valve Boardtrack racer
1921 H-D racer
1931 H-D OHV “Peashooter” Hillclimber
1937 H-D Knucklehead (red)
1937 H-D Knucklehead (black)
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
1948 Indian 648 Big Base
1953 Indian Roadmaster Chief
1999 H-D Springer Softail (as new)

1911 Flying Merkel. This beauty is sure to fly out the door at auction!

And as for the collection of bikes, here’s the list. If you’re interested in investing, or just learning about, vintage American iron, you can check out the auction in person. Just log into the website and press the right keys. A very cool catalog comes with the price of attendance. And remember there’s no reserve on any of these bikes or cars, so high bid wins. And yes, while it’s most fun being there in person, there will be Internet access to the action as well. Check that out via http://www.rmauctions.com/.

Now here’s a few of the bikes we’ll spotlight to give you a taste of what you’ll find at Joe’s Garage, aka The MacPherson Collection Auction. Happy bidding and good luck!

1911 Flying Merkel
Serial #: WS No. 5484

Its name alone is probably one of the most unusual and whimsical in the lexicon of motorcycling. As for Merkel, there’s no mystery there, as it belongs to the machine’s creator, one Joseph Merkel who founded the company in 1902. His advanced designs included a patented spring fork that was the forerunner of the modern telescopic fork, monoshock rear suspension, a cam-actuated intake valve, and a throttle-controlled engine oiling system. Few bike builders of the era could account for so many innovations.

The “Flying” part was allegedly based on a comment by a spectator when watching a Merkel fly by the competition at a racing event. Certainly its bright orange paint job, large script lettering emblazoned on the beautifully sculpted tank and set off by the white tires makes for one of the most dramatic and appealing motorcycling “personalities.” And there is plenty of beast beneath the beauty to add depth to its charms.

'...the Merkel has left an indelible impression on American motorcycle technology and history.'

Racing improves the breed (plus sales), and this was the case when a Merkel was placed in the hands of the legendary Maldwyn Jones who first joined the company as a mechanic in 1910 and then as a young test rider for Merkel, as he bested the likes of the undefeated Cannonball Baker at the 10-mile Ohio race. Many more wins for the Merkel banner were scored by Jones, bringing both motorcycle and rider to national attention. (Maldwyn Jones would later join the famous post-war factory Harley-Davidson ‘Wrecking crew” and add more wins to his long list, often while aboard his own special racer built around a Merkel frame.)

A slew of engineering innovations, high quality, racing successes and high visual impact were not enough to sustain this highly individualistic vision of motorcycling. The onset of WWI and a declining American motorcycle market took its toll on the Flying Merkel, with its last production flight taking place in 1917. Yet given its relatively short span, the Merkel has left an indelible impression on American motorcycle technology and history.


Engine: IOE Single/500 cc/3 HP
Wheelbase: 54 inches
Weight: 150 lb.
Top speed: 40 mph

How much will go for? It’s estimated at $40,000-50,000, but it’s not over until the Fat Gavel thumps.


The Wagner was the first motorcycle built in Minnesota, specifically in the city of St. Paul. Wagner's daughter, Clara, would put the machine's name on the map in 1910.

1911 Wagner Belt-Drive Single
Serial # 5493

The Wagner was the first motorcycle built in Minnesota, specifically in the city of St. Paul. George Wagner was the person behind the name on the gas tank, but it was his lovely daughter, Clara, who would bring fame, even notoriety, to the motorcycle’s place in history. In 1907 at age 15, she was already a registered member of the FAM (Federation of American Motorcyclists, the forerunner of the AMA). Three years later she would ride one of her father’s motorcycles to earn a perfect score while braving foul weather and potholed roads on the 360-mile FAM Chicago to Indianapolis Endurance Run. As a result she earned the title one of the first documented woman motorcycle riders. The year was 1910 and she was 18. When officials took away her award because she was a woman, her fellow race competitors responded by taking up a collection for a pendant honoring her achievement.

The Wagner benefited from George’s bicycle design savvy since he recognized the quality of the diamond frame but also realized that a loop frame helped with weight distribution as well as increased strength. To that end, he designed a hybrid frame for his motorcycle by grafting a forward loop onto a modified diamond frame. Another innovative feature was the routing of the exhaust through the frame’s front downtube and then exiting the frame tube aft the engine. The merger produced a stout frame into which was mounted a 442cc single-cylinder capable of carrying a rider, man or woman, to speeds of 40 mph. Wagner advertised their machines as the strongest, quietest, cleanest bikes available.

The Wagner, a true pioneer of the industry, was built from 1901-1914. This rare 1911 model was meticulously restored from an original machine by Ojai, CA, master craftsman Jeff Slobodian.


Engine: 442 cc Single Cylinder/3.5 HP
Wheelbase: 53.5 inches
Weight: 215 lb.
Top Speed: 40 mph
Estimated: $30,000-50,000


The Indian Dispatch-Tow was spotlighted in automotive journals often in company with luxurious Pierce-Arrow cars and thereby adding to its luster.
Though nearly 70 years old, the dash on the Indian Dispatch-Tow still looks stylish, like an antique pocket watch.

1941 Indian Dispatch-Tow
Serial No. FDA 566

Indian’s venture into three-wheeled territory, as the story goes, began in 1939 when Indian and a local Springfield, MA, Packard dealership teamed up to find a way to have one person instead of two retrieve a car in need of servicing. It was Indian’s Charles Franklin who took pen to paper, and within a scant few weeks, a prototype three-wheeler was being taken through its R&D paces.

Via a yoke-type towing device carried by the Dispatch-Tow, its driver could attach his Indian to the car in question, climb into the auto and drive both back to the dealership. When work on the car was complete, once more they hook up, the driver returning the car, unhooking his three-wheeler and returning via his Indian. The Dispatch-Tow was spotlighted in automotive journals often in company with luxurious Pierce-Arrow cars and thereby adding to its luster. You could even purchase a very snappy chauffeur’s outfit to be donned by the Tow operator. The car dealerships’ manpower problem was solved to the tune of some 400 sold around the country in its first year of introduction, 1932.

Pulled by a 45-cubic inch motor, its forward section was basically a Sport Scout with an automotive-style rear end with a fully enclosed differential beefy enough to tow cars. You had a choice of a standard and larger capacity cargo box to stow tools, gear or whatever you were hauling. Earning a reputation as very reliable and requiring minimal maintenance, the Indian Sport Scout three- legged workhorse came to many a motorists’ aid. It was also popular with police departments and served a variety of commercial applications. It even had its moment in the Hollywood spotlight when Cary Grant and Irene Dunne appeared on one in the 1939 comedy film The Awful Truth which won an Oscar for its director.

However, few Dispatch-Tows survived the effects of time and the elements, as the bodies were fashioned from wood then enclosed in tin. This very rare 1941 example was restored to factory specifications and is now ready to tow and go.


Engine: 45 cu. in. Sport Scout
Top Speed: 50+ mph
Estimated: $40,000-50,000

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