American Classics Scene “Cooling Off”?
The much-hyped Bonhams Las Vegas Auction on 26 January has thrown up some very disappointing results coupled with some intractable questions. The sale, which turned over close to $4 million and claimed a conversion rate of 70%, was actually down on last year's $4.8 million gross and saw many of the top lots failing to find buyers.
Specifically, Lot 223, a headline 1936 Crocker “hemi-head” carried an estimate of $500,000 - $600,000 (£397,000 - £476,00) , but failed to sell. Meanwhile Lot 187, a headline and ultra rare 1949 Indian-Vincent was estimated at $250,000 - $300,000 (£198,000 - £238,000) and also failed to secure a buyer.
Other NO SALES include two 1912 Flying Merkels, a 1911 Reading Standard, a 1955 Ducati 125GP Bialbero, a 1984 Ducati TT1 Road Racer, a 1936 Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead, a 1951 Vincent Series C Shadow, a 1975 Ducati 900SS Prototype, and a 1953 Vincent Series C Rapide Touring. All these machines were expected to achieve between around $100,000 and $150,000 (£79,000 - £119,000). But all failed on the auction block.
The top selling lot was a rare 1914 Feilbach Limited 10hp. Estimated at $150,000 - $200,000 (£119,000 - £158,000), the motorcycle sold for a creditable $195,000 (£155,492). But an ex-Steve McQueen 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E Big Twin was expected to sell for $100,000 - $120,000 (£79,000 - £95,000), but failed to reach the bottom estimate and sold for just $88,800 (£62,024).
Classic BMW motorcycles appeared to do well, but many other lots sold way below their lower estimates. The sale had been dubbed “The Ducati Auction” with 38 examples of rare, interesting and desirable Dukes going under the hammer.
In early January 2017, Nick Smith, Bonhams’ US head of motorcycles, said; “It’s true that the number of Ducatis we’ve consigned is impressive, but it’s the quality and selection, not to mention the incredible pedigree, that’s just amazing. For Ducatisti – or anyone who ever wanted a Ducati – our auction represents a very special opportunity.”
In contrast to the prolific pre-auction publicity, following the auction Bonhams has said no statement or press release on the sale would be forthcoming. It’s a move that we haven’t heard of before from Bonhams, but is perhaps not unprecedented.
Consequently, it’s not clear if the results of this Las Vegas auction underline a significant cooling of the classic bike market, a general downturn in the American or world economy, or indicates that some other unidentified negative performance mechanism is at work. However, what is clear that the sale is a huge disappointment and has book-ended Bonhams’ long run of good fortune at motorcycle auctions at home and abroad.