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21st January 2013


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2013 Mid America Las Vegas Auction

The American classic motorcycle market looks to be holding strong, if the first sale of 2013 is anything to go by. Nolan Woodbury reports...

The 2013 Las Vegas antique motorcycle auction featured some 600 lots which were sold over three days in January. I don't have any memories of the first eight vintage motorcycle auctions Mid America hosted in Las Vegas, but have attended most of the last fourteen. So I've seen the action, prices and overall interest rise, fall, and then rise up again.

The sale featured 71 MV Agusta machines which went under the hammer as separate lots, but the range of two-wheelers spread from the Kerry, Rex and Hobart pioneers of early 1900s, through the Harley and Indian board-track racers of the 1920s, all the way to a one-off BSA Gold Star special built in 2010. Inevitably, a great swathe of post-war Triumph twins were offered alongside iron-head Harleys, but notable Italian marques (as well as MV) were well represented, as were early Japanese machines.

Presented in no real order and for reasons that may only matter to me, these are the machines that caught my eye and dominated my pixel count. For the record: attendance was solid-to-spectacular, prices and bidding steady, and the quality of machines impressive.

1947 Harley FL. Sold for $20,000 USD

A sentimental favourite, my pop rode a 1947 Knucklehead, which along with the XLCR remains the two Harley-Davidson motorcycles I desire to own. This one, a period bobber, displayed very well with its trimmed fenders, shotgun exhaust and understated finish that doesn't detract from the original line.

Is that a Kawasaki Drifter, top right? :o)

Easily (but admittedly, not cheaply) restored back to original, my dream Knuckle would look a lot like this, only adding dual discs, 12v electrics and modern bore coatings to keep that rear piston moving in warmer temps. A slice of Americana loved by enthusiasts all over the world, this 1947 FL defines the modified vintage motorcycle like no other. The best part? Solid value that has and will remain strong.

1982 Benelli SEI 900. Sold.

Similar to an example owned by an esteemed member of the Suspects, Benelli's larger inline 900 is a much better motorcycle than its three-quarter-litre brother. And while most seem to favour the older SEI's six pack exhaust system, the 900 introduced many mechanical changes and improvements that boosted performance and reliability. Personally, I prefer the 900's sweeping, Pantera-esque styling, which eventually covered everything that came out of Alejandro DeTomaso's Mandello motorcycle works.

Earlier models have sharper styling...

Initially photographed because Jim's one-year older SEI is missing the standard issue saddle, the closer I looked at this Benelli, the more impressive it became. The paint appeared to be original, as did the exhaust and shocks. Not as popular compared to period Ducati, Laverda or Moto Guzzi, the SEI is a standalone design produced by a man whose passion for high performance and style was unmatched. There are better motorcycles than the SEI, but few, if any, pack its visceral punch. Bella splendid!

If that was my carpet, I woudn't use a drip tray...
Benellis on ..

1978 Suzuki GS1000E. Sold for c$3000 USD

Like the Benelli, I couldn't track down the final price of this ultra-clean and original Suzook, but I'd be surprised if it went for much more than rumoured. Like the Bloor Triumphs, the 8-valve Suzuki GS's are admired by many, but loved by few. Historically poor resale value might be part of the reason, but if value was based on reviews, quality and the 1000E's class leading performance, the GS might catch on with collectors like the SOHC Honda and 900 Zed has.

UK models had much flatter bars... and a flatter seat too...

A personal favourite in this trim combination, the GS series wasn't always the fastest sprinter among the Japanese giants, but of the four, Suzuki's quest for balanced performance mixed UJM engineering with decidedly European traits like frame rigidly, carefully calibrated suspensions and tangible ergonomics. Fast, durable and composed, the GS four-strokes were overbuilt and under-stressed. It's just a hunch at this point, but my gut tells me the days of cheap Suzukis might be ending soon. This one got a lot of attention in Vegas. Be warned.

1972 Rickman Metisse. Sold for $11,500 USD

I'm nothing if not predictable. Last year, it was a ratty, leaking, Rickman Kawasaki CR (which stands for Competition Replica, not café racer) that grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. This year's major draw? You're looking at it. Slim, tidy and very nicely preserved, this ultra-tasty T150-powered Metisse triple shows why Rickmans are rocketing up the collectible scale. What else mixes superbike horsepower with classic British engineering? Simple, elegant, narrow and sinister, this red Metisse swayed the needle back towards Rickman's pre-CR kit bikes by fitting the whole lot together in magical fashion.

Mmmm... Shiny...

Interesting note: the engine in this example wasn't stamped, meaning it was shipped to Rickman for fitment. The only thing left? Beg, borrow or steal a ride. And soon. If feedback from CR owners is correct, the Metisse gains by inflicting less pain. Rant over, except to say this red Rickman was the first bike I spotted, the last bike I looked at and the one I visited most often in between. Damn.

1936 Zundapp K 800. Sold for $30,000 USD

Displaying perhaps the finest workmanship of any motorcycle available in Vegas this year, the flat-four, 800cc German made Zundapp didn't just attract attention, it commanded it. Designed by noted engineer Richard Kuchen, the K 800 was produced during Zundapp's golden years and made at a time when production couldn't meet public demand. Remembered for its many achievements, it was Zundapp that designed what was to become Germany's most famous and popular automobile; the VW Beetle.

Flat four, not flat twin...

This example, which mixes art deco with highly advanced engineering was expertly, carefully and lovingly restored. Purchased by Virgil Elings of the Solvang Motorcycle Museum in California, Virgil came into Las Vegas with a purpose. 'I wanted this' he said confidently. 'I was very serious about taking it back with me.' Earlier, Elings also secured the most talked about machine in Vegas; the BMW Type 255 Kompressor Works racer offered by Bonhams.

They don't make 'em like that any more...

Nolan Woodbury can usually be found contributing to VMOL

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