HINDSIGHT 20/20: Since this article was published, auction houses have continued to see increases in the value of several classes of collectible motorcycles. If you thought the year 2015 was a watershed, it wasn’t. Good news if you own one, not so much if you want to buy one.
The rare and the obscure: we all dream of parking a vintage collectible in our garage, but the cost of exclusivity is killer, right? Not always.
The famed English auction house Bonhams put more than 100 lots of classic and vintage collectable motorcycles and parts under the gavel during its spring sale in late April. There’s a ring of exclusivity about all that but some surprising bargains were to be seen. From a broad spectrum of ask prices here’s a sampling of 10 very collectible bikes from the auction. Spoiler alert: we deliberately excluded the Vincent marque and anything associated with Steve McQueen—they both already get enough press.
1982 Suzuki GS650 Katana
CDN$ 3,700 – 5,500
Styled by the German firm of Target Design under the direction of Brit Jan Fellstrom and first seen at the 1980 Cologne Show, the GSX1100 Katana represented a bold effort to produce an uncompromising sports bike in the European mould. The result was a machine that combined straight-line speed with secure handling like no Japanese bike before it. Offered here is a low-mileage, three-owner example of this 1980s style icon. Acquired by the current vendor in January 2014, the Katana has been treated to a light restoration, which included a full service and repainting the exhaust system, shaft drive housing, brake callipers and brake disc centres.
1984 Honda VF750FE
CDN$ 4,600 – 6,400
Toward the end of the 1970s Honda began to turn increasingly to V-configuration engines, the first four-cylinder example, the shaft-driven VF750 tourer, arriving in 1982. The sportier VF750F of 1983 switched to chain drive and came with those two 1980s ‘must-haves’: a 16-inch front wheel and anti-dive forks. Today’s VFR800F is a direct descendent of the original VF750, making it one of Honda’s longest-running models. The original is already approaching vintage collectible status. This particular VF750 was acquired by the vendor in November 2011 having belonged to the previous owner for some 21 years. The machine has not been used since it was given a full ‘last nut and bolt’ restoration in 2014, with no part left untouched.
1911 Douglas Model D
CDN$ 13,000 – 18,000
The Bristol-based Douglas Foundry took up motorcycle production in 1907 with a machine powered by a horizontally-opposed, twin-cylinder engine, and the company would keep faith with this layout until it ceased motorcycle production in 1957.
This early 340cc Douglas was first registered in July 1911 and most unusually every single owner over the succeeding 104 years is known and recorded, together with the duration of their ownership. The current vendor has owned it since 2007, has kept the engine turned over and occasionally started it. Several awards and pennants are included in the sale together with an oak plaque displaying some of the early medals this motorcycle has earned. Also included is a plaque denoting the Douglas’s inclusion on the Pioneer Register.
1952 Ariel 995cc
Square Four Mark I
CDN$ 15,000 – 22,000
In 1937 a total redesign saw the Ariel Square Four re-emerge as the Model 4G, with a 995cc overhead-valve engine. An exercise in weight shedding saw the cast-iron cylinder head and barrel replaced by alloy components for 1949 on the revised Mark I, which was now capable of 90 mph. This particular version is one of 45 late 1952 Square Four Mark I’s that left the works with early 1953 frames. The late owner purchased the machine in May 2010 from Atlantic Motorcycles. On file is an invoice for rebuilding the transmission, repainting the tank, checking the timing, tappets, carburetor, fitting a new battery, and various other works. There is also a bill for new wheel rims and spokes.
1916 Norton 490cc Model 8
Brooklands Road Special
CA$ 24,000 – 33,000
Norton’s new 490cc sidevalve engine was among the fastest in its class, being the first machine under 500cc to be officially timed at over 70 mph, which was some going for 1911. The following year Norton-mounted Jack Emerson easily won the 150-mile Brooklands TT and successive development work resulted in the introduction of tuned Brooklands Road Special models in 1913. These highly developed sports versions continued into the 1920s.
Its late owner used the machine regularly until shortly before his untimely death in 1994, following which it was kept on display inside the house, the engine being turned over at regular intervals. The Norton has not been started since then and will require re-commissioning and basic safety checks before returning to the road.
1927 Excelsior 750cc Super-X
CDN$ 27,000 – 33,000
American Excelsior was produced in Chicago, Illinois from 1907 until 1931. Introduced to the US market in 1925, the Super-X carried a leading-link front fork, and featured unitary construction of the engine/gearbox and geared primary drive encased with an alloy casting. There was a higher-performance Super Sport model available and this pair of Super-Xs continued with few changes, other than a switch to a streamlined, teardrop-shaped fuel tank for 1929, until Ignaz Schwinn pulled the plug on motorcycle production in the spring of 1931. First registered in the UK in August 1951, this vintage collectable Excelsior Super-X was purchased by the current vendor in August 1985, the previous keeper being recorded as one James Glyn Hunt of Beckenham, Kent.
1927 Ace 1229cc Four
CDN$ 33,000 – 44,000
The Ace was William Henderson’s second four-cylinder motorcycle. One of the most charismatic names in American motorcycling history, the Henderson company produced nothing but four-cylinder motorcycles in the course of its 19-year existence.
The first Ace four offered late in 1919 was powered by a 1229cc air-cooled inline engine and was built in unit with the three-speed, hand-change gearbox. Ranked alongside Crocker, Cyclone, Flying Merkel and a select few other marques, the Ace Four is a highly desirable motorcycle for any collection, and examples are seldom offered for sale on the open market. This example is believed to have resided in the US before going to the UK in 2005.
1982 Yamaha TZ500J Grand Prix
CDN$ 37,000 – 46,000
The 1980 season was notable for the first appearance of a customer version of Yamaha’s Grand Prix 500: the TZ500G, which was based on the 1978/79 works bikes. With their across-the-frame four reaching the end of its development, Yamaha introduced reversed outer cylinders on the TZ500J of 1982. Malaysian rider Fabian Looi used this particular TZ500J to win the Penang Grand Prix in 1983, 1986 and 1987, while Australian rider Brent Jones rode it to another Penang GP win in 1988. The machine represents the end of an era, when privateers could buy a premier-class Grand Prix motorcycle to campaign. It also represents an opportunity for the serious collector to own a Grand Prix thoroughbred with in-period race-winning history.
1928 Indian Type 401 Four
CDN$ 120,000 – 130,000
Smuggled out of Czechoslovakia before the Berlin Wall came down, the vendor purchased this Indian Four in 1988. The machine was in a very poor state, with the engine rebuild alone taking four years to complete During the strip down, traces of red paint were found on the crankcases. Research revealed that Indian had copied the Ace Four in having coloured cases. In the case of the Ace they were blue whereas the Indian Four’s were red. Indian’s advertising literature showed red crankcases, so it was decided to finish them in that colour.
Once the engine came back, every nut and bolt was replaced and nickel-plated. The restoration was completed in 2000 and only a handful of miles have been covered since then.
1926 Coventry-Eagle Flying Eight
CDN$ 150,000 – 220,000
Established in Victorian times as a bicycle manufacturer, Coventry-Eagle built a diverse range of motorcycles using proprietary (mainly JAP) engines from 1901 onwards. Six Coventry-Eagles were offered for 1923, all JAP-powered except for a Blackburne-engined 350. Introduced in 1923, the Flying Eight was not Coventry-Eagle’s first V-Twin but it was the first to establish a sporting reputation thanks to its special 976cc sidevalve engine that guaranteed a top speed of 80 mph.
In 1926 the sidevalve version was joined by a new and even faster overhead-valve Flying Eight, again JAP powered. In the present ownership for the past 28-plus years, this vintage collectable Flying Eight one of the Vintage period’s most famous superbikes.
Canadian Biker Issue # 312 (photos courtesy of Bonham’s Auctions)