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Ten of the best bikes sold at the Las Vegas motorcycle auction

Freelance motorcycle journalist, former editor of Bike & What Bike?, ex-Road Test Editor MCN, author of six books and now in need of a holiday.



Yamaha RD500LC YPVS

Remember the huge, Bonham’s Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction we previewed earlier in the week and which went ahead yesterday? Want to know if the extravagant prices predicted were actually reached? Well, now we can tell you. And the short answer’s, er, ‘nearly’ and ‘no’. Here’s our pick of the 10 best...

Steve McQueen's Harley 'Big Twin'

Ex-Steve McQueen bikes actually aren’t that rare these days, as you’ll know if you keep tabs on the classic bike auction scene. Which partly explains why his 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E ‘Big Twin’, so named as it was not just the first 1000cc V-twin Harley, but also the first with chain drive, failed, despite its rarity, to reach it’s predicted £81,000 - 98,000 price. That said – it got close, the winning bidder buying the machine for US$ 82,800 (£65,886).

1914 Feilbach 10hp Limited

No, we hadn’t heard of it either, but obviously this Feilbach is big news Stateside, enough for it to be the biggest value seller at the whole Vegas auction. Apparently the story goes that Arthur Otto Feilbach began producing mere handfuls of high quality motorcycles in his workshop in Milwaukee, in 1904 and formally launched the Feilbach Motor Company, Ltd in 1907. For 1914, three models were marketed; a single, a V-twin and an innovative V-twin with a two-speed transmission and worm gear shaft drive called the ‘Limited’. Unfortunately, production was so difficult the Limited was only produced for one year and the company itself folded soon after. This example is the sole survivor, hence it selling for US$ 195,000 (£155,167).

1955 Vincent Series D Black Knight 

How’s this for another ‘valuable Vincent’? The pioneering, fully-faired Black Prince is probably the rarest and most desirable of all Vincents, even if it wasn’t well received when originally launched. Considered by Philip Vincent to be his best work and designed to, in his words, usher the company into a bold new future, a 'two-wheeled Bentley’, it actually had the opposite effect by not being well-received as it did not conform to the public's perception of the Vincent as the ultimate sports motorcycle and, worse, was expensive to produce. Vincent lost money on every example built (of which there were just 101) which helped drive the company to the wall. This example, being subject to a ground-up restoration five years ago, is in concours condition and has even been uprated with a Black Shadow spec engine and Lightning brakes, hence selling for US$ 150,000 (£119,359)

1949 Vincent Series B Black Shadow

One that proves auctioneers sometimes get their estimates bang on. Being a ‘Series B’ version, of which just 80 were built, makes this one of the rarest of all examples of the near-mythical Vincent Black Shadow. Being a good, fully restored example with matching numbers throughout and all paperwork also means it’s probably one of the rarest and most desirable of all, which goes some way to explain the £81-98,000 estimate. It sold for US $112,125 (£89,221), which proves they were literally bang on the money.

1985 Yamaha RD500LC YPVS

We knew that the two-stroke, 500cc GP racer replicas, such as Suzuki’s RG500, were now starting to go for silly money, with £10K+ now being the norm – but we’ve never heard of its great rival, Yamaha’s RD500LC, going for this much before!

Hot on the heels of Honda’s NS400R triple and preceding by a matter of months the Suzuki square four, the road going RD500LC arrived on UK shores in 1984 to great expectation. In most respects it delivered, too, delivering genuine, 90bhp+ V4 GP style thrills in a package that was wholly evocative of ‘King’ Kenny Roberts' Grand Prix V4. Today, in the UK, prices are riding fast, with now £9-11K being typical. This one, however, being absolutely mint and showing just 1279 miles on its clocks, is probably as good as they come. It sold for a whopping US$ 23,575 (£18,759).

1984 Ducati TT1 racer

OK, 32 grand is a mile away from the pre-sale estimate of £100-120,000 which proves they don’t always get it right but this factory-built Ducati racer is still pretty special. It’s based on the exquisite, Pantah-based TT2 Formula 2, 600cc racer that was hugely successful both at the TT and in the world series, most notably in the hands of Tony Rutter, and is hugely prized today with just 50 built. This 748cc TT1, derived from it to compete in world endurance, was even rarer, with just three being made.

1974 Ducati 750SS

Paul Smart’s historic victory in the 1972 Imola 200 aboard the works Ducati V-twin Desmo is well documented, as is the 750SS road bike, his machine spawned in 1973. In fact those first roadsters, which shared much with the racers but wore a half instead of full-fairing and are usually distinguished by their metallic green painted frames, are today among the most collectable of all Ducatis. This is example, despite its colour, being numbered 22, is one of those early examples and, even in this unrestored state, having not been run since 1990 and in a colour applied with spray cans by its first owner, proves how valuable they now are. It sold for an impressive US$ 109,250 (£86,933).

1937 Harley-Davidson EL ‘Knucklehead’

The 1936 Harley-Davidson EL ‘knucklehead’ we previewed pre-event failed to reach its presumably ambitious £98-120,000 estimate but this one-year-older machine did and is arguably virtually as significant. It’s down to the all-new, OHV ‘knucklehead’ engine, which was introduced in 1936. This example, though not a ‘first year’ model, is immaculately restored with correct parts throughout and as such remains one of the US’s most desirable motorcycles ever made. It sold for US$ 82,800 (£65,886).

1973 Ducati 750 works racer

OK, again this lot didn’t reach it’s with hindsight slightly ambitious pre-sale estimate, which was a projected £81-110,000 price – but it’s still a fascinating bike. This works factory Ducati racer is effectively, the ‘son’ of Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola 200 winner. This bike was built the following year with a more powerful, short-stroke motor in a more compact frame. Two competed at Imola with one coming second while this third machine was built to compete in the Bol D’Or endurance race where it failed to finish. It also later competed in the UK and TT. It sold in Las Vegas for US$ 40,250 (£32,028).

1937 Indian Sport Four

With Indian back on the up after its relaunch by Polaris and the popularity of models such as the Chief and Scout once more, it’s timely to notice the sale of this – one of the more rare and interesting historic of all Indians. It came about after Indian purchased the rights and tooling to the Ace four-cylinder motorcycle in 1927, which then became Indian’s range-topper. In 1936, the same year as Harley launched its new knucklehead, Indian introduced an updated version of the four with effectively an ‘upside down’ engine. Unfortunately, it was a flop with only a few hundred sold. This example is fully restored hence the US$ 69,000 (£54,905) sale price.

Note that neither the 1936 Harley-Davidson EL ‘knucklehead’, Indian-Vincent factory prototype, 1912 ‘Flying Merkel’, Ecosse ‘Founder’s Edition’, 1936 Crocker ‘Hemi Head’ or the ‘Blink 182 ‘Blade’, as previewed before the sale, succeeded in reaching their estimates, and are therefore not listed here.

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