Auction Report

The collector motorcycle market is hot—but you can still find deals

by James Hewitt
17 February 2022 4 min read
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Photo by Mecum

The spending frenzy at Scottsdale’s January auto auctions may have garnered the headlines, but just a short road trip away in Las Vegas, Mecum’s motorcycle auction put on a similarly spectacular show for the two-wheeled crowd. As in the collector car market, values have skyrocketed of late in the motorcycle world: look no further than the 1972 Honda CL 450 that sold for nearly $60,000 and its younger sibling, a 1980 CBX that changed hands for $49,500. Amidst all the fanfare, though, there were still deals to be had. Several British bikes sold at good values relative to pre-COVID auctions, and a wealth of desirable vintage and modern models changed hands in the four-figure range.

Honda’s CBX blows past previous records

1980 Honda CBX rear three-quarter
Mecum

Having bought and sold a half-dozen Honda CBXs myself, I have observed the steady climb in values as well as what was once a clear hierarchy of traits that made for a valuable CBX. The record-breaking sale of this modified black 1980 model for $49,500 suggests the CBX is in a changing world, however. Original, untouched examples of ’79 and ’80 models without fairings once topped the market. At Mecum, it appears buyers expanded their horizons. Later bikes, even if modified, commanded just as much and sometimes more than earlier CBXs. The record breaker was especially surprising, extensively modified as it was with a bubble fairing, aftermarket seat, and exhaust (the original exhaust was included in the sale). Similarly, a fair condition 1980 CBX with aftermarket exhaust, seat, suspension, and grips sold for $17,600—a price that would have landed a perfectly-restored original example only four years ago.

That’s not to say original examples of Honda’s venerable six-cylinder superbike aren’t seeing new heights of their own. Just 19 lots prior to the 1980 record-breaker, a beautiful #2 condition 1979 CBX found a new home for $38,500. The market for Japanese bikes has shifted upwards, and the CBX is riding the wave as well as any.

Harley-Davidson’s Knucklehead punches toward six figures

1936 Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead rear three-quarter
Mecum

Knucklehead is no longer a $50,000 bike. It’s now a $100,000+ bike.

The sale of this 1936 example for an eye-watering $203,500 exemplifies the trends that put Knuckleheads on our  9 bikes we’re watching in 2021 list. That sale was not the only one, either: on average, Knuckleheads at Mecum’s Las Vegas auction sold for 15 percent over the Hagerty price guide #2 or “excellent” value. 

At first glance, it may be easy to suggest that the Knucklehead market has merely followed the broader pricing trends of the collector market, but the data point to other factors in the rise of this particular hog.  Last year we reported that Millennials prefer Harleys over Indians and in 2020 Hagerty data demonstrated that Millennials will pay as much or more than Boomers for Harleys.  Knuckleheads are benefitting from broader, multi-generational appeal, and demand is increasing because younger buyers continue to move into the market while older ones aren’t leaving.

British bikes are a stronger value than ever

1963 BSA side profile
Mecum

Despite headlines of record-breaking sales seemingly every week, not all trend lines shoot high and right. The line traced by British motorcycles has coursed laterally (and sometimes even a little bit down) over the last seven years, and that represents an opportunity to get onto some great machinery at reasonable prices.  

The 1959 Triumph T120R Bonneville got people excited about motorcycles and the British motorcycle industry in the same way the first Mustang sent Boomers to Ford dealerships in droves. As such, the Bonneville sits high in the pantheon of the most collectible British motorcycles. Despite that, trends have not treated the model well. In 2007, Bonhams sold a 1959 Triumph T120R Bonneville for $28,080. In 2016, one at Mecum crept higher, selling for $30,800 after fees. This January at Mecum Las Vegas, two examples of that same model in similar restored condition slid downward, selling for $17,600 and $26,400.

Similarly, At Mecum’s auction a 1963 BSA Rocket Gold Star Spitfire sold for $23,650, barely inching up from one that sold for $19,750 more than a decade ago at the 2011 Vegas auctions.

As Bonneville and other British bike prices languished, mass-produced Japanese bikes began to soar. A restored 1971 Honda CB750 sold for $9,000 at Mecum Las Vegas in 2016 while this year, a CB750 in perfect restored condition sold for $28,000. This dramatic shift in demand has occurred despite the massive supply differential—one year of CB750 production totals more than five times all motorcycles Triumph produced in 1959. The upside is that this represents a significant value proposition for fans of British marques.  

Deals are out there, even at the auction block

1956 Peugeot Street Racer side profile
Mecum

Despite high-dollar sales and unexpected darlings setting records, Mecum Las Vegas proved that the humble side of the collector motorcycle hobby is alive and well, even at auction. Motorcycles have long been the attainable way to get into collector gearhead tinkering: bikes could often be had for $500-$1000, even in running condition. Now, with the momentum of the collector bike market approaching full steam, it is no small thing to see that a sub-$1000 motorcycle in good condition can still be bought at auction if you play the room well. 

At a time when Japanese bikes from the ’70s are some of the hottest machines around, this 1972 Honda CL175 sold for $990. Now, a decade ago complete, running bikes could be had for that price all day long. But at least they still exist.

Only slightly more expensive were this 1972 Suzuki B 100 and this 1956 Peugeot TC4, each of which sold for $1,650. For an around-town bike and fun garage piece you simply can’t go wrong with either. These bikes may not be fast, but they’re simple, easy to work on, and will spark conversations on your weekend coffee runs. What’s more, at this price, these bikes are at the bottom of their depreciation curve. 

2004 BMW R1100S Boxer Cup Replica front three-quarter
Mecum

“Limited-edition BMW” is synonymous with desirable, but for only $5,500 this 2004 BMW Boxer Cup Replika could have been yours. Auctions frequently outperform the private-sale market, but sometimes with a more niche-audience bike like this a seller is better off in the private market where they can wait for the right buyer to come along.  At auction, the seller must hope that two interested parties are ready to duke it out right there.  

This Boxer Cup Replika hits a sweet spot in the collector bike market: somewhat rare but still usable and reliable for everyday riding.  At $5,500, it is not likely to depreciate much, and buying at what is the bottom end of the private market sets the next rider up well for the future. 

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