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Common Tread

Five bikes Greaser wants at the Las Vegas auctions

Jan 14, 2020

“I absolutely will not send you to the Las Vegas auction with a briefcase full of money,” Editor Lance responded without hesitation. Hey, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no...

It’s high-dollar motorcycle auction season again, with the Bonhams and Mecum auctions coming up in Las Vegas in little more than a week. I thought Common Tread might benefit from a few historically significant bikes in our garage. Without the ZillaCash briefcase handcuffed to my wrist, though, my prospects at the auction were thin. I cancelled my plane tickets, deleted my Crocker first ride review draft, and cheered myself up with some window shopping. Here are five of my favorite bikes from the upcoming Las Vegas motorcycle auctions.

1983 T140SS
By 1983, the Japanese had overrun the Brit bikes, and Triumph was fighting to stay afloat. Bonhams photo.

The last Meriden Triumph, a 1983 T140SS

Estimate: $17,000 to $22,000.

Not only is this a well preserved example of a late T140SS, it’s historically significant. By 1983, Triumph’s days were numbered. According to the Meriden factory’s record, this machine (s/n 032213) was the last bike manufactured there, marking the end of an era. Of course, Triumph would return one day, but imagine rolling this bike, the last one, off the line.

Triumph T140SS
Eight-valve heads were part of Triumph's last-gasp efforts to entice customers. Bonhams photo.

If this is at all interesting to you, read this great account of Meriden’s last days. I also found some video of a factory tour in 1982

Vetter Mystery Ship
A decade later, fully faired street bikes would be a common sight. Bonhams photo.

1980 Kawasaki/Craig Vetter Mystery Ship Turbo

Estimate: $25,000 to $35,000.

I first saw the Vetter-designed Mystery Ship in Alan Cathcart’s “Dream Bikes,” a book I’d highly recommend if this kind of funky is your thing. Imagine how the KZ1000-based Mystery Ship looked to riders in 1980. I'd argue it was ahead of its time. Fully faired street bikes would explode in popularity over the next decade. Vetter's name would be more commonly known for the Windjammer and other aerodynamic projects. Only 10 Mystery Ships were built, and only two with the optional turbo package. 

There's so much to enjoy here. Big style points.

Indian Chief Prototype
The fenders look like they belong on an Indian reboot. The rest of it looks like, well, a prototype. Bonhams photo.

1994 Century V-Twin Chief Prototype

Estimate: $12,000 to $15,000.

Maybe someday I’ll write an article about the pre-Polaris attempts to revive Indian, because there are a few good stories from the battle for the brand. This motorcycle is one of two prototypes from Wayne Baughman’s efforts at the helm of Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Inc. Baughman hoped to win the rights to the historic Indian name and start building motorcycles like these, but another group beat him to it. On the tank, this bike is branded as a Century instead.

Indian Century Chief Prototype
Baughman had 50 dealers lined up and two working prototypes. This 100 ci engine made a claimed 100 horsepower and was CNC-machined from aluminum billet. Bonhams photo.

When I showed this bike to Joe Zito, his first reaction was, “That definitely looks homemade!” I agree, it’s pretty rough, and that’s my favorite thing about it. This is an optimistic artifact from a dark time in Indian’s history. Things might have gone differently for the Indian story if Baughman had won the name... but probably not.

For a lot less money, you could skip the auction and scoop up an early-2000s “Gilroy Indian,” built by the company that did secure rights to the brand. (They didn't last long, and it would be almost a decade before Polaris really got Indian going again.) For maximum controversy, get one that came from the factory with an S&S clone of H-D’s Evo motor.

Suzuki RG500
You just don't see liveries like this anymore. Probably because tobacco advertisement is banned from GP racing now. Bonhams photo.

1982 Suzuki RG500 MVKII

Estimate: $48,000 to $58,000.

A beautiful example of Suzuki’s square-four, two-stroke racer. The square four, if you haven’t run into one before, is like two parallel twins back to back. Or face to face. Or whatever. The cylinders are arranged in a square, not a line. Later RG500s went to a more conventional V-4 arrangement.

Suzuki RG500
Check out that exhaust routing. Bonhams photo.

The square-four is one of the most unusual engine layouts in motorcycling, yet it was very successful for Suzuki in the RG500’s glory days. This example wears replica Randy Mamola colors from the 1982 season, though it was not raced by him. It’s concours-ready and still just as fearsome as when it was new.

Crocker Motorcycle
Would you pay half a million for this? Bonhams photo.

1940 Crocker Big Tank

Estimate: $450,000 to $550,000.

This Crocker Big Tank is probably the star of the show this year. Crockers consistently trade for enormous sums of money. (This example was once sold for $50 after a crash!)

Crocker Big Tank
Modern Crocker enthusiasts make the parts to keep these unicorns running. Bonhams photo.

The Crocker Motorcycle Company was founded by Albert G. Crocker, a Los Angeles engineer and entrepreneur who dreamed of building a better American V-twin. The result far outperformed the Harleys and Indians of the time. In fact, Crocker offered a money-back guarantee to any owner whose bike lost to a Harley or Indian in a race.

Crocker Big Tank
A storied badge. Bonhams photo.

Given the rarity of Crockers, and the abuse this example endured, it wears quite a few new old stock and reproduction parts. That means although this “Big Tank” model runs and rides, it probably won’t set any records for Crocker prices at auction, which have cleared the $700,000 mark in the past. Think of it as a nice discount. I’ve only seen one Crocker in person, and it was incredible. If anyone has a line on a crashed one, I have $50…

Each of these motorcycles could merit its own article. Make sure to check out all the other incredible bikes that'll be for sale. The auction starts January 23.