▲ Otto Walker by Martin Squires. If this image doesn't make you choke on your Rice Krispies, you probably need to adjust your medication. Walker raced from around 1910 to the early twenties and is said to be the first man to win a motorcycle race at over 100mph. By 1913, at the age of twenty-three, this Californian was the numero-uno West Coast amateur racer. The following year, Harley sponsored "Camelback" Walker (so named due to his unique riding profile) who wowed the crowds and helped put the Big H firmly on the racing map. He died in 1963 after a decent enough 73 years. Artist Martin Squires can sell you a print of this wonderful image at £50 (A3 size, unframed), or £40 (A4 size, also unframed). Just as Otto Walker had the right touch on the track, it looks like Martin Squires has got it on canvas. Check out his blog. Our prediction is that you'll be seeing a lot more of his work, quite probably right here on Sump.
UPDATE: We've since been advised that the image was incorrectly attributed as Otto Walker. In fact, it's Red Parkhurst, a leading Harley-Davidson factory racer of the 1920s and earlier.
Classic bike guides
It’s said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Until recently, you might have factored in the additional certainty that property prices will continue their relentless rise thereby dragging the rest of the economy with them until the entire country, once famed as the industrial heartland of the world, becomes nothing less than a giant Monopoly set with no limits on how much you can build.
Except that anyone with even half a brain, and even less foresight, could have predicted that sooner or later the housing boom/credit bubble was going to burst. It was always only a question of when, and how hard the fall was going to be—and, of course, how long the economy was going to be on its knees.
But while we’re still trying to figure out that one, there’s another price bubble that’s been expanding for the last year or so and seems to have gathered pace since the banks hit the skids and interests rate went through the floor. We’re talking about the value of classic bikes, of course.
Dealers and (more notably) auction houses across the UK are reporting record sales and unprecedented levels of trade; much of which is undoubtedly driven by the low value of the pound.
It's not only "blue chip" classics such as Vincent Black Shadows and Rapides, BSA DBD34 Gold Stars, and Brough Superiors, etc, that are bringing home the bacon. The rises appear to be across the board with many "lesser" marques and models steadily climbing the price ladder and reaching dizzying heights.
Not so many years ago, I chanced upon a decent T140 Bonneville (with spares, one hundred quid’s worth of workshop tools, manuals, receipts, MOT, and plenty of stainless steel extras) for just £1700. The bike had been well advertised, and quite a few people had made enquiries, but nobody bought it.
So I did.
It was clearly a bargain, but at that time there were plenty of other quality T140s at around the £2000 mark (asking price, note; not necessarily the selling price), along with plenty of others chancing it at £2995. But £2000, if you shopped around, could undoubtedly get you a decent enough taxed and tested 750cc Bonnie (or TR7 Tiger) without too much haggling.
Today, the T140 starting price is around (a still respectably low) £2500, firm, with most T&T bikes fetching £2995-£3250—and some of the rarer/better quality machines fetching £3500 plus.
A couple of years earlier, I bought a 1945 BSA WM20, for just £900. The bike had been totally rebuilt and needed only recommissioning and a few minors jobs sorting out. It wasn’t in full military trim (i.e., there were no pannier racks or canvas bags or canvas handlebar grips, etc). But it was maybe 90% original with matching numbers, and came with quite a few spares, plus a new speedo (non original).
Once again, other people had enquired about the bike, but it wasn’t considered that great a bargain (although it was definitely one of the cheaper examples).
So I bought it and have since put 3000-4000 mostly trouble free miles on the clock riding it both at home and abroad.
Today, that WM20 is worth around £2500, and possibly more if I pushed it. In any case, you’ll be very lucky to get a military BSA WM20 for less than £2995, and will more likely pay around £3500.
Even the less sought after civilian M20s and M21s (plunger frames/telescopic forks) are fetching £1800-£2500—whereas 5-6 years ago, I saw plenty advertised for around £1200, or less.
"What it means is that classic bike prices have, on average (note), risen 25%-40% since around 2006, and we’re only at the beginning of 2009."
Meanwhile, any Vincent twin (taxed and tested) is going to cost an absolute minimum of £18,000, and will more likely cost £22,000-£25,000—unless you’ve got a rare/historic example, in which case you’re talking about a whole lot more. That said, Vincent Comet singles are still available at around £7500-£9000. At least, they were the last time I checked.
BSA DBD34 Gold Stars, that just a few years back could be bought for around £7500-£9000, are now selling routinely for £11,500-£14,000. Triumph Hurricanes have risen over the past few years from around £8000 to, in some instances, a whopping £18,000. Sunbeam S7s are currently fetching around £5000-£6000; up from around £3500-£4000 in 2006. But Sunbeam S8s, meanwhile, appear to be struggling to hold their prices over the same period (£2400-£3000). See what a difference a pair of balloon tyres and a Mist Green paint job can make? If you want a 1938 Triumph Speed Twin, you’ll need to shell out around £10,000, which is up around 25% over the past couple of years. And 1959 T120 Bonnies are fetching anywhere between £10,500 and £14,000.
What it means is that classic bike prices have, on average (note), risen 25%-40% since around 2006, and we’re only at the beginning of 2009. Outside of the British bike market, the Jap stuff is doing even better with first-of-type Honda 750-4s and Kawasaki Z1s fetching £10,000-£15,000. Even mid range Jap triples can set you back anywhere between £5000-£7500.
And then some.
Of course, some of these prices reflect overseas money coming in and aren’t necessarily what the home market is paying. And keep in mind that these prices fluctuate wildly depending on who’s giving the blarney, and who’s kicking the tyres. But what is clear is that blue chip classic bike prices, and some not so blue chip machines, are on a roll and are currently being snapped up all over the world as more and more people lose faith with the banks.
But investment bikes are not really what Sump's classic bike guides are all about, anyway. We prefer to focus on bikes that are likely to be ridden, and in that regard have concentrated on the history, specifications, ownership tips, etc (you can check the current values with the dealers in the usual classic bike mags).
These guides, note, aren't the first word, or the last word, or necessarily the best word on the street. They're just our own perspective that you can throw into the mix before laying down your money. We've tried to put some of these guides into historical context, partly out of general interest, and partly because we often just don't know when to stop. And we've dealt with a few of the guides through direct owner experience.
We've worked hard at getting the facts straight by checking with a variety of reference sources, much of which is conflicting. But some facts are permanently crooked and defy a clear answer, not least because history is, of course, largely nothing other than opinion.
Also, we make stupid mistakes. So read with caution, check the crucial details with whatever information Gods you pray to, and take nothing as gospel. And we're updating constantly, so come back from time to time to see what's new.
Lastly, if you're thinking of buying primarily for investment purposes, our advice is to buy only what you really want to live with when nobody else is interested in it anymore. And keep in mind that a well-used and well looked after machine, albeit one with a few paint chips and a little oil underfoot, isn't going to devalue significantly, and there's no price you can put on a good day out on the road.