23 May 2012

Bonhams revs up the bike market

Landmark Staffordshire sale nets £2,214,784 ($3,603,830), and it’s coming to be recognized as global indicator, not just a UK market bellwether


Bonhams' annual sale of "Important Pioneer, Vintage and Collectors' Motorcycles" at the Mortons Classic Motorcycle Show at the Staffordshire County Showground has come to be regarded as a global indicator of classic bike values.

The April event has always attracted headline bikes for the serious collectors with prices to match, and this year was no exception, with a 1934 Brough Superior 996cc SS100 selling  for £242,300 ($394,108) exceeding its pre-sale estimate of £150,000-180,000.

The bike, which lived for years at the now-defunct Murray Motorcycle Museum on the Isle of Man, is one of just eight made during 1934. Known as the "two of everything" model because its JAP v-twin engine has two carburettors, two magnetos and two oil pumps, it attracted worldwide bidding from buyers who had braved the storms to attend, while others relied on the phones.

Led by such headline grabbers, Bonhams sold 87 percent of the 350-plus lots, for a total of £2,214,784 ($3,603,830). They might have hoped for a higher percentage but as Ben Walker, the Head of Bonhams Motorcycle Department, put it: "Spirited bidding, both within the room and over the phone from all over the globe, saw fantastic prices realized, including what must be a world record for a 1955 Vincent Black Shadow. We are delighted.”

Ben told me beforehand that the sale has outgrown the space available and he has to almost cherry-pick consignments to balance the high rollers and the more affordable machines. The memorabilia has been cut to fit the time available.

More bikes are coming to market, as advancing years bring the realization that many "projects" will never be completed (or even started). The need for money in these austere times is opening garage doors once locked.

Along these lines, let’s look back at Bonhams long-running (32 years) Bristol Classic Show in February. Trends there suggest a wider spread of bikes may be appearing. A lot of pre-sale publicity at Bristol was based around the "Chichester Collection" of more than 50 "barn find" and low-mileage machines. Originally bought with the intention of restoring them, the vendor had finally realized it was never going to happen. Bonhams cleverly gave very low pre-sale estimates to attract those looking for their own projects and tapped the lower end of the market.

It certainly worked, and the sale was packed with bidders who were probably at their first auction. The complete collection sold and many motorcycles brought as much as four times their estimate. Auction fever took hold of the "virgins," and the percentage of lots that topped their pre-sale estimate was one of the highest ever seen by Bonhams.

The auction was an outstanding success, selling 96 percent by lot and 94 percent by value. The sale total was £316,231, double the low estimate of £158,750. Most of the lots were in line with Staffordshire, but there were a few outstanding prices as serious collectors battled for a bargain.

For example, the top-selling lot, a 1932 Brough Superior Black Alpine 680 in need of restoration, nearly doubled its pre-sale high estimate (£28,000-35,000) to sell for £64,220. Other highlights included a 1955 Vincent 998cc Series-D Rapide (£27,600), a 1975 Ducati 864cc 900SS (£13,800), a 1938 Ariel 995cc Model 4G "Square Four" and Sidecar (£12,075) and a 1947 Velocette 349cc KSS MkII (£9,775).

Bristol’s "barn find" collection was food for thought, but Staffordshire pointed up another trend. Bikes for sale indicated that some collectors are reselling machines bought fairly recently. Take for instance the 1939 Vincent 998cc Rapide Series A. One of 50 survivors of 80 made, it was previously part of the late Brian Verrall's exceptional collection and sold after his passing in 2008. Now back on the market, it made an impressive £225,500 ($366,849).

Along that line, the last Series C, a 1955 Vincent 998cc Black Shadow, brought what is believed to be a world record price of £124,700 ($202,108). It’s likely headed for a private collection, like the ex-“Mission Impossible III” c.2005 Triumph 865cc Bonneville Scrambler ridden by Tom Cruise, which sold for £13,800 ($22,457). A unique 1995 "Ferrari" 900cc Motorcycle by David Kay Engineering netted £85,500 ($139,132).

Such bikes end up in collections as use only devalues them. That doesn’t apply to race bikes, which often get an airing, but they didn’t seem high on anybody’s agenda. A 1992 ROC-Yamaha 500cc Grand Prix racer did well at £48,300 ($76,603) and a one-of-three Douglas 750cc racing sidecar outfit from 1931 sold for £40,250 ($65,500), but they were exceptions.

A 1969 MZ RE250 was lucky to exceed its estimate at £20,700, as several of the Ferry Brouwer racing Yamahas failed to sell. Nor did a genuine Benelli 248 GP machine from 1958, so it was no surprise that a 1998 350 Benelli Replica from Team Obsolete also failed to sell.

Seven off-road machines that came from the Harry Lindsay collection were a different story. The entire six Norton 500T’s found new homes, with the ex-Chick Gibson bike making a tidy £10,580. Surprisingly the ex-Bert Perrigo/Stanley Woods 1939 348cc B25 sold for only £8,970.

American machines disappointed, with a beautiful 1921 Martinsyde 678 racing bike finding no buyer. Neither did a few road-going Harley-Davidsons. A 1976 BMW R75/7, once owned by Sir Ralph Richardson and showing just 3,500 miles, failed to make its estimate, selling for £3,450, maybe reflecting fading memories of this once-great actor. But there were bargains: Somebody walked away with a 1999 Ducati ST4 for £1,150.

While highly collectible machines maintain high prices, it’s hard to predict the market for lesser bikes that enthusiasts might actually ride. Bonhams’ upcoming sale at the VMCC Banbury run will likely throw a few more curve balls, as will their big season-ender back at Stafford with the Classic Japanese Show.

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