Common Tread

How to make a $280 motorcycle worth $40,000

Jan 04, 2018

What is the ceiling on how much a motorcycle’s value can be boosted by the celebrity of the person who owned it? At first glance, it looks like this 1969 Honda Z50A monkey bike has appreciated nicely, especially in percentage terms.

The reason this bike is expected to fetch around $40,000 when it goes up for sale at auction by H&H Classics in the UK is because it was owned by John Lennon, who used it as a sort of pit bike around his Tittenhurst Park estate before he moved to New York and gave the bike to Ringo Starr. Considering that a bit of haggling could get you a brand new Z50 for less than $300 at a dealership in the United States in 1969, that’s decent appreciation.

Two things make a motorcycle really valuable: rarity or celebrity. Sometimes, you get a combination of both, like the 1915 Cyclone board-track racer previously owned by Steve McQueen. As a result, it sold at auction for $775,000. Excellent condition also helps, of course.

Clearly, Honda Z50s were never rare. They sold by the boatload, though it’s fair to assume that a large majority of them were used up in improvised backyard flat-track courses and then abandoned behind a shed to rust away, reducing the numbers. Lennon’s bike suffered a fate not quite that bad, but it’s not being marked up for being in concours condition, either.

But wait. There's more history. Apparently, this same bike also went up for auction in 2008 at Bonhams.

In that auction, it sold for £36,000, or about $48,600 at current exchange rates. So does that mean the appreciation has peaked? In the end, bidders decide. Bid accordingly.