The 10 best bikes at tomorrow's huge Las Vegas motorcycle auction

Phil West
By Phil West
PhilWestNew Former Editor of Bike, ex-Road Test Editor of MCN, ridden more bikes than he can remember. Likes: GTS, Paso, Mantra. Dislikes: own rust bucket LC and 900 T-Bird daily driver.

Tomorrow (Thursday) sees what is traditionally one of the biggest classic bike auctions of the year. Organised by Bonhams and hosted at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, the annual January sale has regularly seen the sale of not only some of the world’s most historic machines – but also some of the most valuable ones, with sale prices often extending to over £200,000. Here’s our look at 10 of this year’s best – and what they’re expected to go for. Check back on Friday when we’ll do a round up of what sold for what!

Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
Steve McQueen's Harley 'Big Twin'

There have been quite a few McQueen bikes at auction over the years since his premature death in 1980. No surprise, really, as the Hollywood star was an avid petrolhead and bike collector. But this one is almost certainly the oldest – and most valuable. It’s a 1912 H-D X8E and is significant as the model was not just a hefty 1000cc, but also the first Hog with chain drive. Aside from having the kudos of it's previous owner, it’s also rare, which helps explain the predicted £81,000 - 98,000 price.

Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
Indian-Vincent factory prototype

How’s this for a one-off? In 1949 the then still enormous but struggling Indian factory in Springfield teamed up with Britain’s Vincent to produce two new joint-enterprise prototypes. The first was essentially an Indian Chief but with a Vincent V-twin engine and this second, which was basically, a Vincent with added Indian detailing such as the ‘War bonnet’ front fender light. Unfortunately neither project went into production. The first prototype was dismantled but this, the second version, survives and is a true ‘what might have been’ machine, hence the high £200-240,000 estimate.

Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
1912 ‘Flying Merkel’

Flying Merkels are among the rarest and most desirable of all early American vintage motorcycles – hence the £110-120,000 estimate here. Founded by Joseph Merkel in 1902, the company launched its first V-twin in 1910 calling it the ‘Flying Merkel’, which was regarded as the outstanding motorcycle of its day thanks to the combination of Merkel’s sprung frame and fork, and the ‘Thor’ 997cc V-twin engine. This one’s also probably as good as they get following a meticulous restoration.

Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
1949 Vincent Series B Black Shadow

Vincents, and particularly the historic British firm’s range-topping, tuned, sportster, the mythical Black Shadow, are routine sights at classic motorcycle auctions. However, this one’s more distinctive than most – hence the slightly fruity £81-98,000 estimate. Three series of Shadows were built, covering Series B, C and D, but the B is the rarest with just 80 built compared to 1500 Cs and 144 Ds. This one’s also a good, fully restored example with matching numbers for engine, upper frame member and rear frame section and comes complete with all paperwork. In short, Black Shadows don’t get much better than this.

Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
Ecosse ‘Founder’s Edition’

The Ecosse’, a handbuilt, V-twin engine wonder that’s pretty much the definitive ‘boutique bike’ is already among the rarest of machines, but this example is surely the ultimate – which explains its estimate of £120-140,000. This was company founder Don Atchinson’s personal machine and is not just a pristine example of the firm’s top-of-the-range ‘Founder’s Edition’ with nothing but high-end, hand-built or from-billet componentry from front to rear, but has also been specced as a ‘track-only’ no-holds barred machine with no indicators, mirrors or sound restriction.

Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
1984 Ducati TT1 racer

With an estimate of £100-120,000 you’d expect this factory built Ducati racer to be pretty special and rare – and it certainly is. It’s based on the exquisite, Pantah-based TT2 Formula 2, 600cc racer of which 50 were built by the Ducati factory. That bike 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. The TT1, however, takes things to another level. Just three were built, using an enlarged 748cc engine to compete in the world endurance championship.

Crocker Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
1936 Crocker ‘Hemi Head’

The estimate for this is a whopping £410-490,000. Yup, that’s right, nearly half a million quid. The reason is simple: Crocker is the Brough Superiors of American motorcycles and, in other words, the most treasured and valuable of all bikes. Fewer than 75 Crockers of all types were ever made, with just 23 examples featuring hemispherical heads and just seven of those being known to survive. This, the eighth Crocker ever built, is the earliest of those and a true landmark machine – hence the price.

Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
1936 Harley-Davidson EL ‘Knucklehead’

It wouldn’t be a proper US motorcycle auction without a historic Harley or two, and they don’t get much better than this – hence the £98-120,000 estimated price. The significance is due to the then all-new, OHV ‘knucklehead’ engine, which became an overnight success. What’s more, this one is probably the best surviving example, being rebuilt as the personal machine of Dale Walker, owner of the 'Two Wheels Through Time’ museum in North Carolina from where this particular one comes. Walker’s connections meant that many NOS (new old stock) parts could be used, while all sheet metalwork is original.

Ducati 750SS
1973 Ducati 750 works racer

If this bike looks familiar, you’re probably entirely correct and well on the way to understanding its projected £81-110,000 price. Effectively, it’s the ‘son’ of Paul Smart’s 1972 Imola 200 winner. That historic victory was the springboard for Ducati’s road-going and world-beating original 750SS desmo V-twin superbike with the racers using much of the road bike’s components, including the engine and frame. For 1973, however, a more full-on factory racer was developed with a more powerful, short-stroke motor in a more compact frame. One version finished second at Imola while this third example 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. One of the rarest of all Ducati racers.

Las Vegas Auction motorcycles
Blink 182 Honda Fireblade

OK, this customised Fireblade may not set any auction records this week for prices reached, being expected to go for between just £10-15,000 – but it’s still pretty interesting. It was built for Travis Barker, the drummer with SoCal pop/punk band Blink 182, who commissioned the bike personally. The paintjob, incidentally, was inspired by that of Barker’s own 1966 Cadillac and was concocted by Nick Anglada of Custom Sportbike Concepts. Even the wheels are intended to be replicas of the Cragar ‘mags’ on Barker's Caddy and were built especially for the bike by Urban Industries.

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