Collectors mean a new lease of life for classic motorbikes

Spanner twirlers in need of a project could do worse than buy a classic motorbike, says Chris Carter

Classic cars make the big noise in the newspapers. Given that a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for almost $50m in 2018, it’s not hard to see why. But collectors could be missing out on a related market that has also been “quietly” appreciating in recent years – classic motorbikes. 

Some vintage bikes, like their four-wheeled brethren, do, of course, sell for eye-watering sums. Take, for instance, the 1936 Brough Superior 982C SS100 (pictured) that fetched £276,000 with Bonhams at Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire last month. During the weekend-long sale, which raised £3m, two marque records for a Sunbeam and Norton F1 motorcycle were set. But on the whole, classic motorcycles tend to be a lot more affordable, which is ideal for collectors just getting started. There’s even a tax advantage. Like classic cars, they are considered to be “wasting assets” by the taxman, which exempts them from capital gains tax. And they also take up less space in the garage than a classic car.

Get your motor runnin’

Cambridge-based auction house Cheffins saw a rise in the number of vintage bikes coming onto the market last summer as lockdowns ended and the sun came out. “Various classic and vintage bikes were dragged out of sheds and garages and our July online sale saw nearly 50 bikes go to new owners,” says Cheffins’ director Jeremy Curzon. 

Over the last few years, however, “prices for the post-war British machines have on the whole just crept along keeping pace with inflation”, says Curzon. That may be changing. And as for rarer bikes, they “have undoubtedly gone up in value”. Curzon points to a 1936 BSA J12 V twin that he sold in 2015 for £22,000. “I would now confidently expect to achieve somewhere close to £30,000, looking at results from other sales… I’d say there is no shortage of demand for machines of all levels.”  Online sales thrived during the pandemic. “The lack of traditional live auctions has not deterred bidders at all.”

For collectors on a budget, but short of neither time nor enthusiasm, there are bargains in “project machines”. “Covid-19 means there are a lot of spanner twirlers with time on their hands, desperate to get their teeth into something,” says Curzon. “There are only so many machines out there that can be restored and they are getting harder to find and more expensive.” 

Indeed, condition is no barrier to a sale. “Five years ago, I would not have been keen to take machines on that were in barn-find state unless they were particularly rare. Now even run-of-the-mill machines needing work fetch much higher sums.” A 1977 BMW 750cc boxer twin needing work sold for £800 in 2015; a similar example in similar condition fetched £1,800 in 2020. 

In 2020, “I’ve sold a pre-war Norton consisting of a frame, engine, forks and tank and made £4,200”, says Curzon. “I would have expected to get half that five years ago and many considered £4,200 a relative bargain.”

A cornucopia of classic cars

1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special
A 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special could be yours

Scottsdale in Arizona is a magnet for classic-car auctions in January and this year looks to be no different. First up, on the 21st, auction house Bonhams will be holding its tenth annual classic car sale at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale. An “exceptional and rare” factory restored 1958 Porsche 356A 1600 T2 Speedster is expected to make around half a million dollars. A 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A is also up for sale. Bonhams is keeping its valuation for this one under wraps, but a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster version sold for $9.9m at RM Sotheby’s Scottsdale sale in 2016. This year’s RM Sotheby’s Arizona sale gets under way the following day and will be livestreamed online.

Bidding closes at Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale Edition sale later that same Friday. A 1954 Aston Martin DB2/4 Drophead Coupé is sure to be a highlight of the online event, says Robert Ross in The Robb Report. One of only two built, it is expected to go for $1.4m. 

And finally, for a bit of fun, Worldwide Auctioneers’ Scottsdale Auction (which is, in fact, being held in Indiana this year) is selling an official replica of the iconic van from the 1980s television series The A-Team on 23 January. The 1979 Chevrolet 2500, one of six used to promote the action-packed show, has racked up 90,297 miles on the clock and comes with an assortment of fake weaponry. We pity the fool who would pass up the opportunity. The proceeds from the sale will go towards good causes. 

Auctions

Going…

A marble statue of Autumn carved by the Italian Renaissance sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini when he was no older than 20 is heading for sale with Sotheby’s in New York on 29 January. Autumn takes the form of a “bearded man of the woods” carrying a bough of fruit over his head (pictured). It is one of only a few sculptures that the younger Benini produced with his father, with other examples to be found at the J. Paul Getty Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Autumn was created between 1615 and 1618, at a time when Gian Lorenzo was too young to take on commissions on his own, for Prince Leone Strozzi, one of the Berninis’ first major patrons in Rome. The statue has been given an estimate of between $8m and $12m.

Gone…

A recently discovered bronze statue of St George by the major 19th- and early-20th-century British sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert sold for £1.2m at Bonhams in London just before Christmas. The price is a new auction record for a work by the artist and far exceeded the statue’s £120,000 upper estimate. The future King Edward VII and Queen Consort Alexandra commissioned Gilbert to design bronze statues of saints to adorn the tomb of their son, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, who had died from flu in 1892. St George became the best known of the figures, and Gilbert controversially produced a small number of statues modelled on the design for private clients. The original is at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

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