1912 Henderson motorcycle goes for half a million at Mecum’s Las Vegas auction


Old motorcycles are cool. Over 1,000 of them went up for auction at two sales last week in Las Vegas, and over 1,000 of those sold. The top-seller hammered at just under half a million dollars. Is the rest of the world realizing that motorcycles are not only fun to ride, but also represent the best way to get into the collector market?

Maybe so, but whatever the case, even if you don’t ride it, a classic bike is something you can park in the foyer of your business and just look at it all day.

The bigger of the recent auctions was the Mecum sale, held Jan. 25 to 28 at the moto-friendly South Point Hotel and Casino just off Interstate 15 when you first drive into Vegas from LA. Mecum bills its sale as the biggest antique and vintage motorcycle auction in the world. Mecum had 949 bikes, and with memorabilia, the lot count topped 1,000. Total for the event was $13.7 million. (Bonhams also had a Las Vegas sale, offering up 345 lots, including 241 motorcycles, on Jan. 26 at the Rio Hotel and Casino.)

1928 Excelsior Big Bertha Hillclimber

This 1928 Excelsior Big Bertha Hillclimber went for at $117,500 at Mecum.

They were all cool, and we would have been happy sputtering back to LA on any of them, except maybe the Hodaka 50cc (for which we’d want a truck). But our favorite, even before it sold (ask anyone) was the one that wound up being Mecum’s top-seller: the 1912 Henderson Four.

1912 Henderson Four

The 1912 Henderson Four.

This unrestored model was made in the first year of Henderson’s existence and still sports the original paint and tires. Its four cylinders were arranged in a row and placed longitudinally in the frame, which just looks so much more interesting than modern transverse-mounted fours, in addition to representing a packaging advantage. The four cylinders total 934 ccs, or 57 cubic inches, with inlet-over-exhaust valves and a single-speed chain drive. You start it with a hand crank. The fuel tank is a long, cylindrical tube slung from the top of the frame.

“It was a beautiful and elegant machine,” read the Mecum catalog description, “wonderfully constructed, very fast and expensive at $325.”

In its day, it was known as “The Duesenberg of motorcycles.”

1949 Vincent Black Shadow sold at $110,000

This 1949 Vincent Black Shadow sold at $110,000.

Three other Hendersons made the list of top-10 sellers at the auction: a 1913 Henderson Four, 1913 Henderson 4-Cylinder Deluxe and a 1931 Henderson Four. Those three fours sold for $150,000, $127,500 and $95,000, respectively. A 1941 Indian Four also made the top 10, hammering for $90,000. Other big sellers included a 1928 Excelsior Big Bertha Hillclimber that went for $117,500, 1949 Vincent Black Shadow for $110K, 1923 Indian Chief Princess with side car for an even hundred grand, a 1914 Flanders Model D Twin for 95 large and a 1929 Cleveland Tornado at $91,000.

Mecum also auctioned some of the last Ducatis of the Guy Webster Collection. Webster was a rock and roll and celebrity photographer who snapped up bikes in his travels.

“Whenever I got any money, I bought motorcycles,” he told us. “It was the best investment I ever made.” Six of the eight bikes remaining in the collection, which once topped 400 bikes, sold at Mecum.

1914 Feilbach 10 HP Limited

A 1914 Feilbach 10 HP Limited sold at $195,000.

Bonhams did well, too, with a 1955 Vincent Black Prince going for $103,500 and a 1948 Vincent 998cc Series B Black Shadow crossing the block at $112,125.

None of that is to suggest that there weren’t regular good bargains for average Joes. You could have shown up in Vegas with a couple grand and left with a very nice, very fun motorcycle. A high bid of $2,875 at Bonhams would have garnered you at 1970 Ducati 250cc Desmo Road Racer; a 1971 AJS 250cc Stormer Scrambler went for $2,875 and a 1993 Ducati 900 S S was a bargain at $2,070.  Medium-strength pricing would have given you some really cool classics, too: a 1957 BMW 600cc R69 went for $18,400, and a 1964 BMW 500cc R50/2 sold for $16,675.

So yes, there were a lot of cool bikes for sale. Mecum will be back at South Point with 750 motorcycles June 1-3. If you need to use up some air miles, Bonhams will hold its Les Grandes Marques du Monde au Grand Palais Feb. 9 in Paris, avec beaucoup des belles motos.

Considering how easy it is to lose a lot more money than that in Las Vegas, this time you could have gone to The Strip and come away with something to show for your cash.