A Beginner’s Guide To The Mecum Motorcycle Auctions

A Beginner’s Guide To The Mecum Motorcycle Auctions

The Las Vegas Mecum Motorcycle Auction that ran from January 23rd through the 27th was my first time attending a motorcycle auction of this magnitude. I’ve got a feeling it won’t be my last. The 5-day auction will feel like nirvana to any self-respecting motorcycle enthusiast and if that sounds like you, you need to go. Attending an auction for the first time can be a bit intimidating so here is what to expect and how to survive.

Cheap admission to a great show
Twenty bucks gets you in the door or you can become a registered bidder ($100 for the June auction) and join in on the bidding fun. The $20 entry is a great way to scope things out. If you plan on bidding in the future, watching and learning on your first visit is recommended so you will be better prepared for the actual bidding.

The general admission allows you to check out all the bikes and memorabilia up for auction. And you get to see all the bikes, not just the ones going on the block the day you attend. The balcony view of the staging area is worth the admission price alone. I have not seen a public motorcycle museum that rivals the 1000-plus bikes ready to go on the block. The only thing I’ve seen that comes close was visiting the Yamaha production line in Japan. I never thought I’d top that until now.

The bidding starts at about 9am and the day can run past 6pm. That is without any breaks or stopping for a lunch recess. Something gets put on the block and sold on an average of one bike ever 90 seconds. Yes, a minute and a half. Many auctions take less than a minute and those that run past a minute and a half are usually due to a bidder screwing up. One guy placing a winning bid only to claim he wasn’t really bidding or a guy in the pit waving to a friend can slow things up (“Waving to friends or raising a hand is not recommended unless you plan to sign a check,” explains the auctioneer). Losing momentum is as feared by an auctioneer as it is by a motorcycle racer.

A few tips for first-timers
Don’t forget the earplugs. The auctioneer’s chant is tough to take for the uninitiated. There is a reason for the weird chant. The rhythmic monotone hopes to seduce bidders into a call-and-response mode. The loud volume and insanely fast pace creates an urgency: Somebody is going to steal that bike from you!

The pit says it is reserved for bidders only, but I had no problem “sneaking” in and sitting right next to guys (usually in jeans and a motorcycle t-shirt) bidding $50,000 or more. There were always plenty of seats so be cool and you can be in the middle of the action.

If you are just watching, one day is all you’ll need to see all the bikes and get a feel for the bidding process. I went Thursday and Friday and both days were fun.

General admission allows you to roam from the bidding arena to the staging area. A hand stamp allows you in and out of the arena all day.

Next chance coming in June
The next Mecum Motorcycle auction takes place in June and it is only two days so I wouldn’t expect the same fireworks as the January auction. You can click here to review the lots that will be offered and then make a decision on attending. I’ll be back next January and I might even bring my checkbook.

This Harley KR aesthetically blows the wheels off the current crop of flat trackers (the Indian Scout FTR750 that dominated in 2017 looks downright cobbed together compared to this KR). They don’t make race bikes with lines this clean anymore. It looks serious just sitting there. Sold for $42,900.
Don’t let the empty seats fool you. Bidders show up to bid on their desired bikes and then take a break. There is constant movement in and out of the pit. The bench racing in the casino restaurants is legendary.
Brad Lackey (left) tells Greg Davis how much he loved racing Husqvarnas. Greg sold shipping containers of Huskys in the 70’s and 80’s. In his sales position at Husqvarna, Greg may have sold more Husky motorcycles than anyone before or since his reign. Motorcycle shop owners still talk about this guy and how much they liked dealing with him. He went on to sell containers of Op surfwear.
There is a deep story behind this bike and the new owner, Harry Klemm. His dad rode one just like it in WWII. I’ll post the whole story in a separate article.
Speaking of Harry Klemm, he is the guy who tuned and designed products for DG Racing. This little beauty went for $7150.
You run into the nicest people at a Mecum Auction. From left are Chuck DeRan (we worked together at Suzuki and he still races vintage motocross), Gerrit Wolsink (the master of the Carlsbad GP) and bike builder/collector Ralph Porzelt.
Double your fun! This Bonneville Salt Flats BSA went for a mere $23,000. That’s a steal if you factor in how many hours went into building this bike.
A Suzuki GT 750 (called the Water Buffalo because of its water cooling) doesn’t command the prices generated from Kawasaki Mach III’s but it was a much better motorcycle in the day. Smooth power, great brakes and good handling. This one went for $8800.
Don Harrell (in the green shirt) is British Motorcycle Works from Visalia, California, (559-732-9265). The British bike specialist auctioned four of his beautifully restored motorcycles for a total of $58,800. I don’t know how he could part with these bike, but he was ready to move them along.
Behind the scenes with the Mecum organization was impressive. Bikes going on the block in less than two-minute intervals for up to 9 hours a day takes some serious coordination.
Vincents have never been my thing but they are very desirable to certain collectors, routinely commanding six figures. This modernized Vincent took in only $49,500. That’s way off the pace of a restored stocker.
John Gregory, the guy who I worked for and who owned JT Racing, sold his Steve-McQueen-owned Yamaha YZ for a cool $61,600. It came with leathers and a helmet. It was one of the last bikes Steve owned and rode.
Rick Doughty is the man behind Vintage Iron and is responsible for many of the restored beauties that were auctioned off over the five days of bidding. If you have a project in the barn, this would be a good place to start the wheels rolling.
You can look and touch (that guy shouldn’t be taking notes on the bike’s saddle), but you can’t start or ride the bikes. A certain level of trust has to be established between the seller and buyers. I was told that Mecum is known for weeding out less than honorable sellers. This is a fairly tight community that watches out for one another.
Two legends, Brad Lackey (left) and Joe Abbate. Joe got Brad’s Kawasaki in good enough form to command an amazing $14,300. I told both Brad and Joe that a dove on the crossbar would have increased the price by $500. Joe has a TV series and runs American Motocross Restoration (a place I’ve got to put on my must-visit list).
This is the bike that pretty much started it all for Honda and brought motorcycles to a much larger audience. This beautiful Cub went for $3300. Not bad for a bike that sold for $215 new.
The Triumph market seemed soft. Even an auctioneer commented on the low prices many Triumphs were moving off the block at. Well, I’m not in any hurry to sell my Bonnie. It will probably get buried with me.
The Kawasaki Mach III was dubbed the “widow maker” because of its poor brakes, ill-handling chassis and hell-breathing engine (0 to 60 in 4 seconds and that was in the late 60’s). Today they are a hot commodity with no end in sight for how much they will command at auction. This one got $25,300 and some will say that was a steal. Will the Mach III join the six-figure club? Hope the new owner puts this on display and not on the street. The brakes and handling don’t improve with age.
Chris Carter (left) with his buddy “Mucho Bill” Wheeler, is the owner of motorcycle tool company Motion Pro, a former professional motocross racer, a former R&D rider for Yamaha and an avid collector of motorcycles and memorabilia. He is universally recognized as one of the “good guys” in the motorcycle industry, but I wouldn’t want to be bidding against him at a Mecum auction. The guy is serious when it comes to his collecting habit.
Not all the bikes are show ponies. Many are barn finds, daily drivers or “Running When Parked.” A sharp eye can spot buried treasures in the offerings.
This Suzuki TM250 is considered by many aficionados to be the Holy Grail of motocross bikes. The single-cylinder, twin-pipe crosser is arguably the most exquisite motocross bike every made. The late Tom White named it the “most collectable” motocross bike in his vast collection and valued it at $40,000. The winning bidder was 7 grand below that at $33,000.
This is my best-in-show pick based solely on my increased heart rate each time I looked at it. It is also the reason I need to come back with a checkbook. This bike went for $16,500 which would cause me to pause (and get my heartbeat way, way up) but its doable. I don’t see how that could be a bad investment. Plus, how many investments can you enjoy riding?
My brain is not wired for high-stakes, high-speed bidding so when I come back, I’ll hire one of these two guys to do the bidding for me. John Sawazhki (blue shirt) has bought and sold motorcycles forever. I did a story on John’s collection for Motocross Journal that is still one of my favorites. He was bidding for the owner of a new motorcycle museum. John Pavich (checked shirt) is another Husky alumni who was adding select steeds to his impressive collection. Both guys are calm under fire and not to be intimidated by the auctioneer or other bidders. Both knew when to hold and when to fold. Folks, it is not as easy as they make it look.
Have I died and gone to Heaven? You will not see more collectable bikes in one spot anywhere else. All this for $20? Book your flights now.
Ready to get freaked out? This authenticated Harley sign that hung outside the Milwaukee factory went for, a drum roll please, $88,500! And those aren’t bullet holes. This is a neon sign that needs to be repaired. The holes are for the missing neon tubes.
This is my runner-up for best in show. The winning bidder stole it for $15,400. Maybe I should offer the guy $17,000 so he can make a quick 10% return on his investment and I’d be cruising Somis on this bad boy next weekend.
Not every bike has to break the bank. This very clean Hodaka Super Rat got loaded into somebody’s van for $3577.
The Honda S90 was the first motorcycle I ever rode (stepping up from a Heathkit Boonie minibike). I didn’t own it (it belonged to a boyfriend of my sister), but it owned me. I’ve been hooked on motorcycles ever since. The S90 commanded a fair $3850.
Somebody knows more about old motorcycles than me to bid (and win) these remains for $8250. It would be interesting to see what this motorcycle ends up becoming or if it will remain the same and be used as a decoration.
Guess I’m not the only one who likes the first-year Superglide designed by Willie G Davidson. This patriotic-themed motorcycle went for $33,000.
Jeff Ward’s factory race bike was supposed to be crushed (it’s a tax thing) after the team was done with it. Luckily, somebody fished it out of the dumpster behind the race shop (I’m making this all up, sort of). The green machine fetched $52,800.
Mike “Mick” McAndrews was Jeff Ward’s mechanic. He says of the auctioned bike, “That would have been one of my race bikes for sure but I wasn’t aware of any that escaped captivity. But who knows what went on after I left?” Mick is in the background with the sign board. Today he is the Director of Suspension Technologies for Specialized Bicycles.
Jimmy Mac (left) and Brian Fruit in the trading pit. Brian is an automotive and motorcycle enthusiast who happens to be the owner of Lizard Skins, a bicycle accessory business. It is said that magazine editors don’t know who their “real” friends are until they leave the magazine. Brian is a “real” friend.