McQueen magic strikes again at Bonhams’ Las Vegas motorcycle auction

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The ex-Steve McQueen 1938 Triumph is on the block | Bonhams photo

Sorry, Penn & Teller, David Copperfield and Criss Angel. If you want to see real magic in Las Vegas, take a motorcycle formerly owned by Steve McQueen to auction.

It happened again this past week at Bonhams’ ninth annual Las Vegas motorcycle auction, where the top-selling machine was a 1938 Triumph 500cc 5T Speed Twin. 

“Arguably the most ‘collectible’ of all Triumphs,” Bonhams noted in its catalog, but add in the fact that this one was owned by Hollywood’s the so-called King of Cool, was restored by McQueen’s friend Bud Ekins, that the pinstriping purportedly was done by Von Dutch, and it was being offered with vintage patina – and the bike sells for $175,500.

So, what’s the McQueen magic really worth? Well, consider that another 1938 Triumph 500cc 5T Speed Twin was on the auction docket, and this one had a “museum-quality” restoration, recently won Best of Show at a motorcycle concours, and formerly was owned by Triumph historian David Gaylin — and it sold for $42,500.

1974 Munch Mammoth produced a 6-figure sale when it crossed the auction block | Larry Edsall photo

Two other motorcycles sold for six figures at the sale: a 1993 Ducati 550cc Supermono racing bike that had never been raced, only used for track day events, brought $115,000, and the 1974 Munch Mammoth TTS-E 1200, considered by some to be the world’s first superbike, sold for $112,000.

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In a post-auction statement, Craig Mallery of Bonhams U.S. motorcycle department said, “We had a very impressive selection of approximately 125 rare, uncommon and high-quality motorcycles on offer this year. It’s a selective market at the moment and while some of our motorcycles didn’t meet reserve, there were many exceptional sales.”

Bonhams did not announce a sales total for the Las Vegas auction, but going through the results on the Bonhams website, it appears that 95 of 127 lots sold for just shy of $1.92 million.

A couple of bidders check on one bike while another is on the block at Bonhams Las Vegas motorcycle sale | Larry Edsall photo

Top 10 sales, Bonhams motorcycles, Las Vegas 2019

  1. 1938 Triumph 500cc 5T Speed Twin, $175,500
  2. 1993 Ducati 550cc Supermono racer, $115,000
  3. 1974 Munch Mammoth TTS-E 1200, $112,000
  4. 1950 Vincent 998cc Black Shadow Series-C, $95,450
  5. 2008 Ducati D16RR Desmosedici, $58,650
  6. 1971 Marbles Motors Collection of Honda SLs, $55,200
  7. 1936 Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead, $43,700
  8. 1938 Triumph 500cc 5T Speed Twin, $42,500
  9. 1918 Harley-Davidson Model 16F, $34,500
  10. c.1950 Vincent 998cc Rapide, $33,000

(Prices include buyer’s fee.)

The next sale for Bonhams’ motorcycle division is scheduled for April 27-28 at the International Classic MotorCycle Show at the Staffordshire County Showground in Stafford, England.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

2 COMMENTS

    • Why, why is it pitiful? Because you feel that some guy that gets to play Steve McQueen for a day is wrong? What makes anything valuable? A rare stamp, a Rembrandt? Victorian furniture? The 1960 Indy 500 winning car? You cannot apply logic to it, if so, why are you even on this site? Why is a Rembrandt valuable? Or Picasso – they don’t even look like anything. Because that market values that thing. Why is the 1960 Indy winner worth more than the car that qualified 23rd and went out on lap 157 with a bad clutch – provenance. Dan Gurney’s Trans Am car vs. not Dan Gurney’s Trans Am car. You get my point by now.

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