Larry’s likes at Mecum’s Las Vegas motorcycle auction

First machine rolls onto the auction block late Tuesday morning

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By the time bidding begins, the bikes will be sorted in neat rows by the day they're scheduled to cross the block | Larry Edsall photos

If you thought there would be a break in the action after Arizona Auction Week 2020, you were wrong. Though it doesn’t have an alliterative name like its neighbor to the south, its motorcycle auction week in Las Vegas with Mecum Auction’s staging its 29th annual visit and with Bonhams also in town for a mid-week sale.

Our focus here is Mecum, which expects to send 1,500 vintage and collector motorcycles across the auction block in the sports arena at the South Point complex on South Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip).

Mecum motorcycle division emblem

The first bike rolls onto the block late Tuesday morning, January 21, and the last hammer should fall sometime in the late afternoon of Sunday, January 26. 

The Las Vegas motorcycle auction is the second segment in Mecum’s ginormous January, which began with around 3,000 collector cars being offered over the course of 10 days in Kissimmee, Florida. The two January events are the largest of their kind staged annually anywhere on the planet. 

In 2019, the two events produced $133.8 million in sales, with the motorcycle auction in Las Vegas highlighted by the incredible MC Collection from Sweden, and by a 1939 Crocker Big Tank bike that sold for $704,000. 

Bikes, bikes and yet more bikes

Consignors were still checking in their bikes when we visited the South Point venue on Monday, and not all of the 1,500 machines were in the building and available for viewing, and many of those that were had yet to get their auction documents and be grouped into neat rows organized by day of bidding. 

But there were plenty from which to select some favorites: 

DKW Kavalier (or Express or Sputnik or Hummel)

Car enthusiasts will recognize DKW as one of the four rings that were combined to form the Audi emblem. But the company also had a history in producing motorcycles. In 1957, Odilo Burkhart combined motorcycle manufacturers Express and Victoria with the former motorcycle division of DKW and produced a series of DKW machines with what might be described as mid-century modern styling. You see them from time to time at vintage motorcycle auctions, and Mecum’s Las Vegas has what amounts to a small fleet of such machines, including a 1964 DKW/Victoria 155 Sputnik in red, a 1964 DKW Hummel (also in red), a 1964 DKW Express (beautiful in black) and a 1965 DKW Kavalier that is absolutely stunning in white.

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1960 Parrilla Slughi 99

In keeping with the DKW theme of mid-century modern design, here’s another from the era, a 1960 Parilla Slughi 99. The bike (Slughi is the name of a desert greyhound) was introduced at the 1957 Milan motorcycle show and traces its styling to former Parilla designer Alfredo Bianchi. Parilla was established in Italy after World War II by Spanish immigrant Giovanni Parrilla.

1954 Ferrari Moto 150cc

That’s Ferrari as in Amos, not Enzo. Amos Ferrari worked at Moto Parilla in Italy and apparently figured his famous last name might be great for marketing his own machines. So he quit and with help from his brother founded Moto Ferrari in Milan in 1952. Naturally, Enzo sued, and won, and later the bikes were marketing as Fratelli Ferrari.

1903 Mitchell 

There’s nothing mid-century about this machine. It’s a 1903 Mitchell from the early days of motorized riding. Mitchell was based in Racine, Wisconsin, and proved the durability of its machine when A.A. Hansen rode 1,000 miles in 72 hours, 26 minutes, and through rain and mud, without any mechanical issues. Actually, Hansen needed only 55 hours to complete the distance; the rest of the time was spent fixing flat tires, unjamming the coaster brake and repairing a leak in the fuel tank.

1919 Harley-Davidson Model A Twin

Obviously, there are dozens upon dozens of Harley-Davidsons on the auction docket. What caught my eye was the gorgeous green shade worn by this one, which is part of the George Schott Collection, one of 28 private collections sending bikes to the sale.

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1911 Flying Merkel Twin

I’m used to seeing Flying Merkels at motorcycle auction, but they’re usually painted in the iconic orange color. This one, from the Rhode Island Collection, has been restored in a nickel-plated finish, just like the one Joe Merkel displayed at the 1911 New York Auto Show.

1910 Sears single belt drive

Ah, the things you used to be able to buy through the Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog. For example, this machine from the Art Redford Collection. Sears motorcycles were produced by the Aurora Machine Company, which also made Thor motorcycles, and were sold from 1909-1916. This one would have cost you $169 back in the day.

1917 Henderson Detroit 4 Model G

There’s something about the inline 4-cylinder engine that gives vintage Henderson their beautiful proportions. This 1917 model was among the last built in Detroit before production moved to Excelsior Schwinn in Chicago.

1956 Norton Manx 350

This bike raced in the Isle of Man TT, and takes its Manx name from that island’s tailless cats. Although you can’t see it beneath the aluminum “dustbin” fairing, the bike has a 350cc overhead-cam engine and was capable of 130mph when prepped for racing.

1909 Excelsior Auto Cycle

Talk about elegant simplicity! Basically, it’s a bicycle with a single-cylinder engine and a bullet-shaped fuel tank. But after all, what more did you really need?

1912 Thor Single board-track racer

What more did you really need? Well, if you wanted to go racing on the big board speedways that were popular in the early 20th Century, you probably needed a bike such as this 1912 Thor. The bike from the Rhode Island Collection and was produced by Aurora, which also provided engines from Reading Standard and Indian and parts for Merkel, Henderson and Harley-Davidson. 

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1900 De Dion Bouton tricycle

The marquis Jules-Albert de Dion was a pioneer in motorized transportation. The VIN on this compact 3-wheeler is 157. The 2.75-horsepower engine is de Dion’s, but the frame is from Decauville and the tires are early Michelin pneumatics. The bike was restored in Swedish expert Stefan Olavsson.

1945 American Moto Scoots

On the left is a 1945 American Moto Scoot Model 345 and on the right in a slightly darker shade of blue is a 1914 American Moto Scoot Model 145. They were produced in Chicago as commuter vehicles, have Briggs & Stratton single-cylinder powerplants, and are consigned from the Art Bulmann Collection.

1918 Johnson Motor Wheel Twin

The Johnson Motor Wheel takes its name from the device created by Louis Johnson but improved by Dick Oglesby that sits atop the rear wheel and uses a 1-horsepower, 2-stroke flat twin to drive the rear wheel. They were available in kit form and fit any 26-inch bicycle frame. In this case, the motor wheel is on an Iver Johnson bicycle built in Massachusetts. According to Mecum, the motor wheel cost $97.50 or you could buy the complete unit — motor wheel and Johnson bike — for $120.

1914 Harley-Davidson 10E

Among the dozens of Harleys that will cross the block is this unusual unrestored 1914 10E. For one thing, it carries one of only 20 or so “Factory Fast” 61cc V-twin engines, a unit rated at 8 horsepower. For another, it has a Triplex side seat by the Miller Company. The seat makes it possible for 3 people to ride a 2-wheeler and was marketed as a device that “lifts the motorcycle form the depths of prejudice and selfishness to a place not far removed from the automobile.”

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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 books. In addition to being Editorial Director at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times, writes a weekly automotive feature for The Detroit News and is an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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