A Trip down Memory Lane – Purchasing Antique Motorcycles
by Gary Stark
We collect antique motorcycles for many reasons. For some it’s considered a trip down Memory Lane as we now have the financial resources to pursue our dreams from our teen years or purchasing the bike we remember our father or grandfather used to have. Of course we tell our wives, “It’s really more of an investment than a motorcycle.” What you don’t tell them is that you’ve wanted or lusted after one for more than 30 years.
There are several routes to getting to your dream. You can buy one in good condition, at auction, on the Internet, magazines, restore a fixer-upper yourself, or pay an expert to restore one to your exact specifications. Whichever route you choose, make sure you don’t underestimate the cost to complete the project. Even the ones that appear to be in good condition on the auction block, or at the swap meet, can take several thousand dollars of work to make them dependable on the road.
Most times, buying a restored bike is often less expensive than purchasing a basket case and performing the restoration yourself. It is easy to put more money into the bike when you fix it up than if you bought it restored. In many cases, the previous owner has spent more money on his dream project than the bike is worth. This is especially true if it was restored by a professional.
If you decide to purchase a bike that you know very little about, it is often wise to garner some knowledge before making the investment plunge. If you currently own a post-war bike and decide to purchase a bike in the teen’s, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s or a different model than you currently own, make it a point to attend the next Antique Motorcycle Club of America, http://www.antiquemotorcycle.org/ , event near your hometown. Even if it’s eight or more hours away, this investment will pay off over time. The AMCA is filled with members who are willing to share information on the bikes they own. Drill these current owners about parts availability, problems during the restoration, and drivability. The Internet has become a great source of knowledge. With our recently expanded club website at www.indian-motorcycles.com you have convenient resource to ask questions on models, share photos, and write blogs on your own restorations.
How much to spend on a model depends on several factors – 1. How popular the model is 2. quantity produced, and 3. Rideability. A good example is the 1940-42 four cylinder models. These are currently very popular, and were very low in production numbers. This model can command over $65,000 on the high end, and $30,000 for one needing restoration.
While shopping for your dream motorcycle, you have several resources. Hemmings Motor News (www.hemmings.com; 800-227-4373 $29.00 for 12 issues. This 500 page monthly magazine has a limited “Cycle” classified section, while offering a literal bible of information on cars. Ebay (www.ebay.com) is quickly becoming a must see source of Indians for sale. Also our club website, and the Starklite website lists a section on bikes for sale. Be sure to visit when you are looking at prices, as some great deals have shown up recently. Caution: When confirming sales on the internet be careful that you are dealing with a reputable seller, scams are very common amongst internet sales. Either use a broker, or visit the bike yourself. Don’t forget your local newspaper classified section or Craigslist.org . We recently heard of a complete 1946 Chief sold in Southern California for $4,000, while the asking price was $6,000! So deals still can be found.
Another way to track that bike down is to visit an auction. Most auctions will list the bikes that will be available before the event. Get a list and if the bike you are interested in is listed, make a trek to attend. If you can’t attend you can usually register as a phone or Internet bidder, and bid on your dream vehicle. One of the most prominent Auctions takes place every January. Mark January on your calendar to Attend the Mecum Antique Motorcycle Auction in Las Vegas Nevada, at the new South Point Hotel & Casino. This event usually has a really good turnout of bikes, and bidders. They are estimating over 650 motorcycles will be auctioned. Auctions are also held in Sturgis, AMA Vintage M/C Days, and the Daytona Motorcycle meets.
Finding the great deal on a restored bike can be a great story around the campgrounds at night, but the bigger story is the satisfaction of bringing the dream bike back to life yourself. Nothing can compare when you invest sweat equity to bring your project to life, but be prepared to have patience. It always takes longer than you originally anticipated.
On the other hand, you may be long on cash and short on patience. If so there are multiple shops who specialize in motorcycle restorations. However, there is nothing cheap when going this route. If you start with a rust bucket bike and are looking for a 100pt restoration be prepared to spend $35,000 to $45,000, depending upon the model and how bad the bike was when you started.
Most professional restoration shops charge $75 to $125 an hour to work on your bike. If you are looking for a nice rider bike restoration, figure on 300 hours of restoration work. If you are looking for that 100-point show bike add an additional 50-100 hours of labor for the detail work required to obtain 100 points.
Remember you should always buy these bikes purely out of love, not as an investment. If you are looking for a return on your motorcycle investment, look for a good deal on a bike that’s already been restored rather than restoring one. Remember, the more professional the restoration, the higher the value when you get ready to sell it.
If you are buying for investment purposes, get as much documentation as possible. This is especially required when you are looking for a rare 1952 or 1953 Chief model. When looking for one of these models you will start to find that there are more of them available than what the factory produced. Look for copies of vehicle registrations from the 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s as proof of the bikes year. During those years, the bikes were not garnering a premium. As with any business there are restorers who are not credible so do your research. Engine numbers and frame numbers can be easily tampered with.
Despite the economy and roller coaster stock market, the demand for quality antique motorcycles remains high. During the past few years Car Collectors who are used to paying over $100,000 are now getting interested in the Antique Motorcycles. This is now driving the prices of our motorcycles to new never before seen highs. Having your money invested in a hard asset that you can enjoy is appealing. Looking out to the future… well we can only look at past performance. In 1990, our newsletter had a 1952 Roadmaster restored by Starklite Cycle offered for $14,000. Today this bike would be worth over $40,000. In the same issue we advertised a 1953 Roadmaster by Ted Williams, 300 miles since restoration for $10,500-. Today the bike would easily top $40,000-. Recent auction results show a strong up trend in pricing, look at these examples: 1934 Indian Sport Scout owned by Steve McQueen sold for $155,000-, and a 1937 Crocker sold for $245,000-. But remember, as the saying goes, past performance is no indication of future returns.