Common Tread

Five rare motorcycles at the 2017 Mecum auction

Jan 24, 2017

Every year in late January, Las Vegas is home to the Mecum motorcycle auction.

Steve McQueen riding gear
A set of riding gear worn by Steve McQueen will be auctioned off, along with other motorcycle memorabilia. Mecum photo.
While the majority of the bikes being sold at the Mecum Auction lack the prestige of the elite bikes being sold across town at the Bonham’s auction, the sheer volume of motorcycles and memorabilia auctioned by Mecum in Vegas guarantees a wide array of rare and noteworthy two-wheeled specimens from throughout motorcycle history. The 2017 auction takes place Wednesday through Saturday with more than 1,000 bikes taking their turn on the auction block, as well as collectibles and memorabilia.

I picked five special and seldom-seen examples from that huge selection to give a taste of what’s up for sale.

Suzuki RGB500 race bike
1982 Suzuki RGB500 grand prix race bike. Mecum photo.

1982 Suzuki RGB500 MK7

In the 1970s, the Suzuki RG500 played a key role in bringing about the era of two-stroke dominance in grand prix racing. Barry Sheene won titles on the bike and this successor model wears iconic Sheene livery. This 1982 MK7 was the first year to see a full-floater monoshock suspension. It sports magnesium crankcases and carburetors, a dry clutch, stepped square engine (number 49) and is an incredible example of a Suzuki factory race bike. The quad exhaust, with two of the four pipes running through the bodywork on the tail, looks awesome and adds to the appeal, in my opinion. The bike is 100 percent original and unrestored. It still wears its period-correct original Dunlop K133 tires and has been stored in a Japanese museum since its last race. Whether you want to take it vintage racing or put it on a pedestal and stare at it, there’s something special about owning a motorcycle that you grew up watching one of your heroes ride to victory.

Excelsior hillclimber
1928 Excelsior "Big Bertha" hillclimber. Mecum photo.

1928 Excelsior "Big Bertha" hillclimber

In the mid 1920s, board track racing was declining (mostly as a result of repeated fatal injuries) and manufacturers were looking for a new way to show off their machines.  Enter hillclimbing. A 61 ci Excelsior V-twin engine was dropped into a specially engineered frame for the specific purpose of hillclimbing and “Big Bertha” was born. As few as four of these bikes were ever built, making this 1928 example, with original paint, an extremely cool and rare find. The weathered metal, fading paint and chains on the rear tire all add to the bad-ass quality that the Big Bertha is dripping with.

Yamaha OW72
1976 Yamaha OW72 flat-track racer ridden by Kenny Roberts. Mecum photo.

1976 Yamaha OW72 Kenny Roberts flat-tracker

There are a myriad of things that make this 1976 Yammy flat-tracker particularly special. With the 1970s AMA Grand National Championship racing being aired on major TV networks, combined with the success of movies such as "On Any Sunday," flat-track racing was arguably at the height of its popularity. It was during this era that this OW72 flat-tracker won the AMA championship, first ridden by Kenny Roberts, followed later by the likes of Hank Scott and Wayne Rainey in later seasons. This bike features a special engine, one of roughly 30 built, in a Shell Thuet chassis. The seller says “all components are period correct and in as raced condition.” This flat-tracker is truly a special piece of motorsport history, and the fact that it sports the classic yellow and black Yamaha racing livery is really just the icing on the cake.

Harley-Davidson Servi-Car
1935 Harley-Davidson Servi-Car. Mecum photo.

1935 Harley-Davidson Servi-Car GD

The Servi-Car was Harley-Davidson’s response to the increasing availability of the automobile, which threatened to render the American motorcycle company obsolete. The Servi-Car is essentially an early 1930s Harley modified to perform more utilitarian tasks. It was used as a service vehicle for car dealerships and service centers, by police and fire departments, military, and municipal transportation agencies, and as a delivery vehicle, to name a few uses. Even though the Servi-Car was launched in 1932, during the height of the Great Depression, Harley still managed to generate a healthy income from their utility motorcycle. This professionally restored, museum-quality model one of 567 built in 1935 and one of just 11 built with righthand throttle and lefthand shift.

Ducati S4 Monster
2001 custom Ducati S4 Monster. Mecum photo.

2001 custom Ducati S4 Monster

Everything about this custom 2001 Ducati S4 Monster is awesome. The custom seat, seat pan and rear cowl, the tank from a Ducati Sport Classic, Dunstall fairing, LED headlight assembly, tail light and signals, carbon fiber wheels, frame sliders, modified frame, rear fender and custom green paint all work in synergy to create this noteworthy one-off super-trick Monster turned café racer. The use of an underslung exhaust from a stock Panigale is a fantastic addition to what's already an exhibition-quality custom. The presence of frame sliders would suggest that this custom S4 has been built to be more than a garage queen. Although the seller doesn't specify, it appears the 900 cc engine that came stock on the 2001 S4 still remains, but almost every other part of this bike has been meticulously redone and it’s just begging to have some miles put on it.

Narrowing a list of more than 1,000 bikes down to five favorites obviously meant leaving some really great and historically significant two-wheelers off of this list. If you want to see all the motorcycles up for auction, visit the Mecum site.