Extremely Rare Motorcycles Disappear

1934 Brough SuperiorDid you hear the news? Extremely rare motorcycles from all over the world are disappearing and the trend is accelerating. Owners of these bikes are shocked to discover their once rare motorcycles are, ... no longer rare! Just think, could this be the end of the speculative buying frenzy for those "once in a lifetime" motorcycles now showing up with amazing regularity?

We live in interesting times. The other day I suggested great motorcycle roads are not as rare as some might believe, it's easier than ever to locate many out of the way routes with enough variety for almost anyone. The same easy communication and search enabling us to find those roads is taking a lot of the rarity out of the motorcycles themselves.

A couple of years ago, while watching the Barrett Jackson auction, I was amazed at the number of rare cars coming across the block, so many, in fact, the announcers were having a hard time describing why this particular Corvette or that particular Mustang was somehow different and therefore "rare." The same idea applies to those hard to find roads, if you come up with enough special and specific characteristics you can eventually eliminate all of the possibilities and say those roads are rare. Motorcycles? The same rule applies, if you decide to look for a Brough Superior powered by a JAP engine owned by a particular movie star and manufactured on Thursday then your potential candidates are few. But even the venerable Brough Superior is not as hard to locate today as they once were and if someone has the cash and decides to buy one, chances are a seller can be located.

Rarity is often nothing more than perceived scarcity. In years past, if you looked for a less popular older motorcycle, tracking one down could be a challenge. If one didn't appear in your home town, the call would go out to auction houses or you could check the classifieds in newspapers and magazines from other cities and towns in hopes of one turning up, an often futile pursuit. You called everyone you knew and nothing appeared. You want one, you can't find one, therefore the bike is rare.

Today, what motorcycle is so rare it never turns up? Take a little time looking through the motorcycles for sale on ebay. On any given day you'll find bikes from decades ago, lots of them, in conditions ranging from perfect unrestored survivors to fully restored jewels to daily riders and many project bikes and basket cases. Nothing like this has ever been possible before. Now you can be very picky. Well, yes that Indian is nice but I wanted the brown saddle and there's a scratch on the rear fender. No thanks, I'll keep looking. Did you grow up when Kawasaki's two stroke triples were the hot bike? You may not find a nice one near you but there's usually one or two for sale somewhere. A Norton Manx? Sure. Vincents, early Indians and lots of low production bikes you may never have heard of. All available, every day. Rare? What's that?

If the quality you are searching for is history, the bike won a particular race or was owned by some famous person, you're looking for a collectible artifact not a rare motorcycle. The value is in the documentation that proves celebrity not the mechanical function and design. That value can vaporize if the papers are found to be fraudulent or the celebrity falls out of favor, it's like collecting autographs.

Even the rarest motorcycles, if they exist at all, exist somewhere and it's often not too hard to find out where. You can see the bike if you're really interested, usually on display in some museum or collection. If you've never seen one and only heard rumors that the bike exists, it takes on an aura of mystery, but if you can see it any time you want, the mystery disappears. Then it becomes a question of can you buy it or would you want to. Do you need to own it or is seeing it enough? If the bike really no longer exists, then it's not rare, it's nonexistent. At that point some craftsman may come along and build one from a photo or a group may remanufacture parts to build one again.

The Barrett Jackson bubble may soon burst, you can only ride that wave for a little while before everyone catches on. In fact, the whole auction process has become entertainment and the repeated appearance of the same rare vehicles year after year just changing hands becomes truly weird. The value is in the hype and if you look behind the hype you may wonder what you just bought.

This trend is going to keep accelerating and it has some interesting ramifications. I'll get into that very soon.

Comments

  1. Brian11 says

    I’ve said it once here before, that with today’s CAD/CNC combination, anything can be had now… old or new. This is the motorcycle’s Golden Age. The complete and new Crocker is one example, going for far cheaper a price than the original. Personally, I’m not interested in having a hand shift for the gears, but when the new Crocker company builds a five speed with foot shift (as they’ve said they would) I’ll be there. So rare a beast that it’s never existed at all… and for 75% less than an excellent condition original Crocker. Brand new Vincents can be created, brand new Nortons, new Indians… everything gone can be had again. The build cost is the only factor now, with the “rarity-investment” portion of the price removed.

    The same model being applied to cars is only a matter of time. The Shelby Cobra market has been this way for a few decades. Eventually it may entail all the Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, Challenger, GTO models as well. It’s like we’re right back in the 1920s and 30s, with custom coach builders across the country. Maybe owning a brand new Stutz Bearcat isn’t such a pipe dream after all.

  2. Stu McFarland says

    “The Barrett Jackson bubble may soon burst, you can only ride that wave for a little while before everyone catches on.”

    Well said! Here’s one gear head that’s sick of it and I don’t care to watch the madness (Barrett Jackson & the like) anymore…

  3. says

    me too – that auction is money grabbing dorkiness – the crowd chears onto that next million-dollar threshold ? weird indeed.

    Brian11, good points but the EPA may curtail some of the re-productions. The repros might have to be built with emissions in mind or limit to one per owner (or whatever the rules stipuate now)

  4. says

    Right on!

    It’s good to see the repros coming online, and the Net helping to put bikes of all breeds back into the hands of people who will actually RIDE them from time to time (rather than turn them into ‘investments’ and museum pieces).

    I’d like to see more classic car reproductions too–when made with modern tech, they’ll be even better than the originals! Imagine a brand new Triumph TR6 that actually has a reliable electrical system! I’d buy that….

  5. Dodgy says

    It’s interesting seeing what has become rare too. Obviously the most desirable bikes are usually the ones that were exclusive when built, whether limited production runs, race bikes or esoterica. But in many cases (excluding race bikes), 99% of these will still exist, and most in better than average condition. For instance, the Desmodici; how many of those will still have zero miles and be mint in twenty years time? My guess is nearly all of them…
    And the reason of course is that we have become a society of collectors, and these items are being marketed as collectables.
    Does a limited run of Desmodici or MH900evoluzione make them rare? Don’t think so, it means we just have to wait until someone sells one. Will they gain real value? I doubt that too…

    Sadly the Japanese manufacturers seem to make about 100 more of any ‘limited’ model than buyers actually want? (e.g. we sold our ‘last’ RC52 aka VTR1000 SP2 a couple of weeks ago, but they may still be available in the USA?)

    Sometimes the collectibles weren’t rare in the first place. Sometimes they are just basic commodity items that no-one thought to keep, like 1947 Honda’s or 1952 Suzuki’s. Or Shaker furniture or original McWrapper’s (prior to Ray Kroc) or Anna Nicole Smith’s original breasts…

  6. says

    There seems to be some indication that Barrett-Jackson knows their sails are losing wind and might be resorting to various methods to keep the boat sailing:

    http://www.autoblog.com/2007/02/06/barrett-jackson-rumblings-trouble-in-westworld/

    As for rare bikes, I couldn’t agree more with the Kneeslider. No matter what you want, if you wait long enough someone will have it and need to get rid of it. The difficult part is that there are so many great motorcycles and so little time (and money).

  7. says

    Didn’t I say that in my last post?? If not, I was thinking it. NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT: After Jessie James had that first show on TV (before anybody) EVERYBODY became a chopper builder. Now, 4 or 5 years later there are a lot of those shops closing their doors. Why would anybody looking to spend 40 to 50K and up, go to a no-name builder?? ThereNOT!! Same goes for guys trying to restore bikes. The cream always rises and the chunky stuff stays at the bottom. The industry changed and it’s changing again. I think you’ll start seeing new builds with (paperwork or a paper trail ) now. Finite element analysis etc. People with money want the best and the bar is being raised.

  8. says

    Its more the power of the intenet that these bikes are showing up, ebay, craigslist, cycletrader, message boards and forums, you name it you can find it by doing a simple search, this just didnt exist 10 years ago. All this increases supply and decreases demand so rare is just not as rare anymore.