World’s First Motorcycle Sells at Auction

Used Motorcycles

With 266 machines on offer, Bonhams auction at The International Classic MotorCycle Show, Stafford on 25th April was the largest for many years and equally successful: 85% of lots selling for a premium-inclusive total of £1.6 million.

The customary eclectic mix of machines encompassed almost the entire span of motorcycle development, ranging from the circa 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller to the 2008 Martin-Triumph. Despite travel difficulties resulting from the volcanic eruption in Iceland, buyers from all over the world packed the saleroom on the Sunday.

Manufactured in Germany, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller is of the utmost historical significance as the first powered two-wheeler to enter series production, and is the first such vehicle to which the name ‘motorcycle’ (motorrad in German) was ever applied.

The ‘barn find’ example offered had been in the ownership of the vendor’s family in the USA since at least the early 1930s, which is when it last ran. Presented in original, unrestored condition, this wonderful machine returned home, selling to a private collector in Germany for an above-estimate £86,200.

Other ‘barn finds’ turned in some of the sale’s most notable results, confirming the continuing healthy demand for original, unrestored machines, whatever their condition.

Purchased by its late owner in 1956, the 1935 AJS 500cc Model 10 sold for £16,675 – almost double the top estimate – while the technologically eccentric and extremely rare 1921 Wooler 2¾hp Model B – known as the ‘Flying Banana’ on account of its fuel tank’s shape and colour – sold to The Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum for an above-estimate £14,950.

Less uncommon but considerably more useable, the 1938 Brough Superior 982cc SS100 v-twin on offer turned in the sale’s best result. A restored, ‘matching numbers’ example that had been in its late owner’s possession for 40 years, the machine had been test run occasionally but not licensed for the road since 1959.

The Brough sold to a UK private collector for £157,700 against a top estimate of £130,000. An older British v-twin – the 1913 Zenith-JAP 6hp forming part of the Basil Keys Collection – achieved the best result among the Veterans, selling for £20,125, bang on top estimate.

Small, one-owner collections were one of the features of the sale, with all turning in strong results, one such being the above-estimate £3,220 fetched by the 1982 Suzuki GS1000G with only 1,937 miles recorded.

This sale was also unusual for its strong Velocette representation, there being no fewer than 17 of the Hall Green marque’s machines on offer. Top seller among the Velos was the 1967 Venom Thruxton 500cc Production Racing Motorcycle that incorporated the engine from Neil Kelly’s TT-winning machine, which sold for £21,850, while the above-estimate £10,350 fetched by the 1947 350cc KSS MkII, roughly double what it would have made five years ago, confirmed the increasing demand for good examples of Velocette’s charismatic ‘cammy’ roadsters.

The sale’s other top-performing production racers both came from Italy: the 1938 Moto Guzzi 500cc GTC/L Condor fetching an above-estimate £41,100 while the 1974 Laverda 750SFC sailed past its £20,000 top estimate, finding a new home in the UK for £27,025.

Among the memorabilia highlights, the collection of competition trophies amassed by the late Marjorie Cottle, Britain’s most famous lady motorcyclist of the inter-war years, sold for £1,955 against a top estimate of £1,500, while the huge collection of mainly 1940s/’50s racing photographs fetched £1,840, comfortably outstripping the top estimate of £350.

Any memorabilia associated with Britain’s most successful motorcycle racer of all time – Mike Hailwood – is always keenly sought after and the two silver-plated trophies on offer proved no exception, selling for £1,380 and £1,495 respectively.


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