This Article was written by JMA Member Ned Porges, Seattle Tribe MC Club
“You want to do what?!”
“Am going to ride my bike to Las Vegas and stop along the way to visit my brother in Modesto and daughter in Palo Alto.”
“No, you’re not; too far, possibly snow, and if you’re thinking of driving, you’re too old to go alone.”
And so, we flew Seattle to Las Vegas, stayed at the overwhelming Paris Hotel on the strip for a few days in sunshine, balmy temps. Months ago, I happened to watch a few television hours of the Mecum Collectible Vintage Auto Auctions from various cities. I was hooked. And when they announced an auction specifically for motorcycles and in Las Vegas, I had to go. (https://www.mecum.com/auctions/las-vegas-motorcycle-2019)
The auction was held starting Thursday January 24, 2019 and ending on Saturday, four full days at a large convention casino hotel about seven miles from the Strip. Friday was my day at the auction and Phyllis’ day exploring the famed strip. I didn’t know what to expect. I was, however, admonished and had to promise not to buy anything per the spousal unit. So, leaving the Paris Hotel about 9AM the next morning, I Ubered to the auction site at the South Point Hotel and Casino, about seven miles from the famed Strip. I paid my $20 for viewer admission, walked into the arena. There were perhaps a couple hundred persons attending. Far fewer than I had envisioned. Most all the attendees were nicely dressed men, with clip boards, professional looking, middle-aged and up; not black leathered, droopy mustached, long braided hair, tattooed, profane effusive. They wandered around the large hall where the more than 1200 bikes were lined up, in order of their being on the auction block. There were rows and rows, in sections with large overhead signs indicating their day, WEDNESDAY THURSDAY, FRIDAY, SATURDAY. Motorcycles restored, some original, some in their unopened factory crates, café racers, touring bikes, trikes, mini-bikes, scooters, even a Cushman two-wheels-up-front-ice cream vendor. (I remember this one from my summer days at Coney Island.) Some from this century, most all from the 1900s and even a few from the late 1890s. British, Japanese, German, Dutch, Italian, Czech, Spanish, and more including the U.S.
At the far corner of the huge exhibit area was an exit to a large waiting 40-footer trailer combo. I went outside to watch auction employees loading the SOLD bikes for delivery to their buyers. Back inside, there were several vendor booths with motorcycle related stuff…insurance, posters, clothing, auction-related books, motorcycle art, and the truck shipment booth. Inquiring, they said the fee Las Vegas to Seattle was about $230.
Walking along the isles of hundreds of machines with my printed list of the day’s offerings, I made special note of several bikes that caught my attention. All bikes had a tag with a large letter and number such as F256. That would be the 256th item on Friday’s auction. The list included a brief description and condition. Among these attention getters was one of my college years’ ride, a 1946 H-D 74” side-valve in pristine condition. Another man was also closely examining it with a flashlight. He told me he was looking for frame and engine matching numbers among other indications of condition and originality. He was from southern California, a frequent auction attendee, who makes a living buying and selling collectible and vintage motorcycles, specializing in pre-1950s, American made bikes. His name was Adam and invited me to join him in the bidders’ section. He said the prices were too high for him to buy anything, but told me to standby with him for the big item of the day, a 1939 American made Crocker Big Tank coming onto the block in a few minutes around noon. There was tension in the 100 or so bidders. The bidding started at $250,000! Yikes, and quickly rose above $500K and within a couple minutes, the hammer went down at about $650,000. (You can see this bike being auctioned on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=969eir1VbeQ) Adam told me the bidders were mostly dealers like him. Among them a well-dressed, middle aged woman from Japan or China, dressed in white. She sat in the front row and bought four bikes totaling over $250,000. Also bidding were a few well known, well heeled collectors who often let their egos do the bidding. This seemed to the the case of the 1936 Crocker.
It was now about 5 PM, most of the crowd had left, including Adam who said the fewer bidders would likely result in lower prices. Despite my promise to Phyllis I had my eyes on a 1958 BMW R-60, equipped. It would be the next to last item of the day, lot number F327. My brain kept saying don’t do it even if your limit is $8,000. Phyllis texts me asking when am coming back to the strip. She says, “You still there?” I say will leave in about a half hour. I don’t tell her why am waiting to the end of the bidding day. Fortunately, the BMW goes for a bit over $38,000. Crazy and lucky for me.
The 393 motorcycles auctioned that Friday averaged about 1.25 minutes on the block. It was a no-nonsense, fast moving event. That Friday’s auction included 235 bikes shipped from a private collection in Sweden. The seller was there and said that at age 78, he was collecting for over 50 years and figures it was time to cash in. His collection sold for an astounding $9.6 million for the day for an average of about $48,000 per bike. The 1939 Crocker was one of his. There were around 150 Mecum employees at this event. One of then told me that this Swedish collector made a deal with Mr. Mecum for significantly less than usual seller fee. Back home in Seattle, I viewed the Friday Mecum auction on TV, and there I was for a couple views sitting in the bidding section.
The next couple days we rented a car and visited the graves of college friends at the Southern Nevada National Veterans Cemetery, stuffed ourselves at two dinner buffets, experienced the evening bedlam at the old Fremont section of town. Next, I would like to go to a collectible, vintage auto auction. Big news of our trip was Phyllis’ winning $12 at the penny slots!