The email from Mike had the subject line, “Dangerous”.
It was a link to a classic bike auction Bonham’s was holding in Vegas in a day or so. I didn’t think a lot of it. Non-moto people send me links to motorcycle-related things often. Mostly, they don’t have a lot to do with me and I assumed that a Bonham’s auction in Vegas was going to be a ton of over-restored Indians and mega-dollar exotica. That definitely doesn’t have anything to do with me.
It was slow at work and I started looking through the lots. To my surprise, there were a number of weird, cool, inexpensive-looking bikes.
I should maybe back up. A few weeks ago, I decided that there was a hole in my dining room about the size of a small motorcycle. You see, when I started getting into racing, I lived in a small apartment on the ground floor and wheeled my race bike into the living room. I loved having it in there as a piece of furniture.
I had been looking at Cragslist for a $500 non-runing something but this auction piqued my interest. There were a few Honda S65s and several awesome and obscure small scooters from the 1950s that would be perfect.
I focused my attention on two Victoria scooters and a particularly weird and beautiful Flandria moped. All were expected to sell for about $1000.
Registering for a Bonham’s auction is easy. A few forms and a credit card number.
When you call them on the phone to ask a question, they all have British accents. Perfect. When I got confirmation that I was a registered bidder, I wondered if a, “Bonham’s Client Number” (of which I am now an owner) comes with a smoking jacket, a pipe and a droopy basset hound. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t. I should call someone about that.
Anyway. The auction started slowly at 10am with some road signs and posters. I started to get the feel for Bonham’s clunky online live bidding site. I also continued to scour the listings for bikes. I absolutely fell in love with something called a Terrot.
It was expected to fetch $3-5k and I thought for $3,000 I would buy it. When the motorcycles started coming up, it became clear there were deals to be had. The S65s sold for under $500. A 1980 XT250 went for $700. Jesus. For that money, I should have bought it, ridden it until April and then sold it for $2,000 to one of the hipsters who hang around Deus ex Machina.
I bid $500 on cool 1980 Honda C70 step-through (it sold for $900) and I bid on a cool Bultaco flat track racer that sold for $200 more than my bid.
The Terrot went for just above what I was prepared to pay and at about 4:00, my scooters came up. At this point I was pretty excited. The energy of an auction is infectious - even if bidding online. I had a feel for the rhythm of the bids and was ready to buy one of the Victorias or my Flandria. I felt like Wayne Carrini.
I was also annoyed at having, “lost” the Bultaco and the Terrot for so little money. I was aware that I was being emotional but I was also having a lot of fun. For all the hours I’ve spent watching Barrett Jackson and pretending to spend money, the real thing felt great.
The first Victoria came up and quickly went past it’s expected take.
It ultimately sold for $3400 - three times the estimate. Then the next Victora came up and the pattern repeated. Surely no one else was looking at the Flandria. Right? Wrong. I bid more than once but quickly saw it head way past $2000. I liked it but not that much.
As the auction came to a close 7 hours after it started, I was tired and a little sad. I had signed in hoping to buy something. Grant was texting me all day asking if we had to go to Vegas to pick up a bike. We didn’t.
Later that night, a thread on ADVRider pointed me to something called the Mid America Auctions. Also going on this weekend. Also in Vegas. Ok, I thought. I’ll look.
The stuff for sale here was amazing. Perhaps 600 motorcycles and almost all of them awesome. Tiny MV Agusta singles, several BSAs, a ton of excellent flat trackers, an RC30, two spotless 1961 Harley XLCHs. It was a little overwhelming.
The next morning, I signed up to bid and started watching stuff go by on my computer. Very early, it was clear this was a different auction. There were few bargains to be had. There was a different rhythm to the bidding. I left the auction up on my computer and went about my day.
I came out of a meeting to see a small red thing coming up. It was a 1954 Moto Parilla and it was beautiful. The descriptions read, “A very nice older restoration on a rare Parilla 150 Sport. Good running condition. 26SS Dellorto carburetor. Factory aluminum rims. From the Michael Harper-Smith collection.” Oooh. From the, “collection” of a guy with a name. I have to have that.
Bidding started at a very reasonable number. It stayed at that reasonable number for a while. I jumped in and was quickly outbid. Annoyed, I bid again and was outbid again. I became acutely aware of the psychology of auctions. I was now in a competition with some other dude for MY motorcycle. All I needed to do was be more committed than this joker and I’d win.
Well, tuns out I was more committed. The hammer came down and my computer played a silly, “applause” sound. The screen turned green and the words, “You Won” appeared.
What did I just buy?
I texted Grant and told him that I had once again done something stupid and I’d pick him up at 6am tomorrow so we could drive to Vegas and pick up my 1954 Moto Parilla 150 Sport. He asked what that was. It took a little Googling before I could answer with anything other than, “a motorcycle”.
The next day, we were on the road at dawn and at the South Point Casino by 11 am.
I walked into the auction hall and found my little bike. It was beautiful. It was also in much better shape than I imagined. On the one hand, it was leaking a little bit of oil. On the other, the oil coming out was brand new and spotless.
I loved it.
After some paperwork, I wheeled my prize out of the auction hall and loaded it into our truck.
Grant and I then hung around the auction and tried to find a bike we didn’t want to own. We failed. I very quickly decided that buying another bike wasn’t completely ridiculous and spent a good amount of time with those XLCHs.
Thankfully sanity prevailed (and the Harley’s sold for way more than I was prepared to spend) and I came home with only one motorcycle.
While driving home, I said to Grant that Mike was right: This was a dangerous thing to learn how to do. Grant wondered if today was the day I became a collector. I wonder the same thing. The slope is slippery. While at the auction, I bumped into Yoshi from Garage Company. He dismissively said he had only bought three motorcycles. After the last two days, that didn’t seem like a ridiculous statement.