A 1934 Harley-Davidson VLD motorcycle shown on the docket at a recent Silver collector car auction in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
Interest in vintage motorcycles has grown significantly in the past few years, both as a substitute for a new motorcycle and, in cases of really rare and unique models, for their aesthetics. Motorcycle-specific auctions, such as the one staged by Bonham & Butterfields, at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, California, in May, have become destination points for those interested in exceptional motorcycles; but vintage motorcycles are also showing up at collector car auctions.
A good example of that was an auction staged in Portland, Oregon, on the evening of March 30 and most of the following day, in Portland, Oregon, by auctioneer Mitch Silver. In fact, the auction started off with a 1934 Harley-Davidson VLD; painted a stunning silver and Seafoam Blue, it reflected a turn towards Art Deco design by Harley-Davidson.
The VLD was Harley-Davidson's top of the line twin cylinder engined motorcycle in 1934. It was equipped with low-expansion aluminum alloy pistons, a Y-shaped intake manifold and had 5:1 compression. The engine produced 36 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and the top speed was about 90 mph.
Like most bikes in 1934, the VLD had no rear springing and a 6-volt electrical system. Bumps on the road were softened by Harley’s patented “Ful-Floating” seat spring. Shifting was via a 3-speed hand shift through a rocker foot-clutch that could be locked in place. A rider could bring a properly set up Harley Flathead to a stop, engage the clutch, put down both feet and fold his arms. That latter trait was demonstrated as the motorcycle offered at Silver's auction was ridden onto the stage.
The VLD drew interest from the assembled crowd for the first few minutes and bidding got to $20,000; however, it remained stuck there, against a $25,000 reserve (price the seller had pre-determined must be achieved) and did not sell. The NADA (National Auto Dealers Association) Vintage, Collectible and Retro Motorcycle Appraisal Guide shows $22,680 as the suggested selling price for a vintage motorcycle in excellent condition; that would be a very correct, original motorcycle or one that had been exceptionally well restored. The one at this auction appeared to be that.
Late on the afternoon of the following day, another rare Harley-Davidson was offered: a 1948 model 125, nicknamed "the Hummer" or "American lightweight" in its day. Introduced in late 1947, as a '48, the 125 cubic-centimeter, two-stroke engine produced three horsepower, sent through a three-speed, foot shift transmission.
The front suspension of the Harley-Davison model 125 used girder forks, suspended by large rubber bands, until 1951. Though 31,793 were made from late 1947 through 1952, it seemed likely that many people had never seen one, until this auction.
Bidding was spirited and Mitch Silver himself worked as ringman on this motorcycle. After about 10 minutes of heated bidding, the little representative of the Harley-Davidson marque sold for a bid of $5,200 (plus 8 percent buyer's fee). That's just about all the money, according to the NADA Vintage, Collectible and Retro Motorcycle Appraisal Guide, which shows $5,330 as the price to be paid for a model 125 in excellent condition; which the one at this auction certainly seemed to be.
For those who just wanted some good basic two-wheeled transportation, two TNG Venice scooters were also offered. On Friday evening, a white 2003 edition sold for a bid of just $1,400; and on late Saturday afternoon, an identical TNG Veince scooter, sold for a bid of $1,100.
As the market for vintage motorcycles remains strong, look for more solid examples such as those seen here, to present themselves where you might least expect; setting amongst the Tri5 Chevrolets and mid-'60s Ford Mustangs. - Terry Parkhurst