Collectors’ Motorcycles at Barber Museum: Bonhams Auction
This October, thousands of vintage motorcycle enthusiasts will head to The Barber Vintage Festival at Barber Motorsports Park and Musuem in Birmingham, Ala.
Besides the displays of endless vintage and classical bikes and racing, the other huge attraction is the second annual Bonhams auction aptly named “Collectors’ Motorcycles at Barber Museum.”
Two extremely rare motorcycles will highlight this year’s auction – a 1940 Crocker Big Tank and a 1910 Flying Merkel Twin.
What prices will these fetch? To put this into perspective, a 1937 Crocker Big Tank sold for $704,000 at a Mecum auction in January, and a Flying Merkel went for $201,000 at a 2011 auction.
Called the “Duesenberg of motorcycles,” Crocker is the definitive American motorcycle – handmade, powerful and fast. Very much a Hollywood “hot rod” production bike, Crocker was created in and shaped by the culture of pre-war Los Angeles by former Indian distributor Al Crocker.
When it debuted, the upstart founder brazenly challenged world dominators Harley-Davidson, boasting of superiority. As the story goes, Al Crocker famously advertised that if any of his bikes were ever beaten by a stock Harley, he would refund the owner’s money. No refunds were ever requested.
As a bespoke machine, each Crocker was made to the specifications of its buyer. This expensive and time-intensive approach meant that quality remained high but output low. Total Crocker numbers never exceeded more than 125 units before World War II forced the firm’s closure, and today only around 50 of those units are accounted for, making Crocker motorcycles extremely rare.
After fading into relative obscurity for half a century, two major events transpired that vaulted Crocker to the consciousness of collectors worldwide. First, the Guggenheim Museum’s groundbreaking 1998 exhibit The Art of the Motorcycle prominently featured a Crocker (owned by famed auto collector Otis Chandler).
Then, the seminal 2006 Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d’Elegancepresented Crocker as a featured marque with a record-breaking 20 examples on display. The attention provided by these two events – highlighting the marque’s unique history, success and rarity – suddenly made Crocker one of the most desirable and expensive motorcycles in the world. Since then, values of Crockers have increased by more than 500%.
The 1940 Crocker consigned to Bonhams’ sale is #4061-114, said to have been owned by Elmo Looper, former Crocker employee and the man who bought the spares and tooling from Crocker after the factory’s 1947 closure.
Flying Merkel of Ohio is the archetypal pioneering American motorcycle and represents all the attributes of desirability – innovation, high build quality, success in racing, low manufacturing numbers, short corporate lifespan, and few surviving examples.
Produced in both single and twin-cylinder configurations, the scarce existing twins are today the most sought after. The 1910 v-twin to be offered by Bonhams has benefitted from an exhaustive and accurate concours-level restoration and is reported to run as beautifully as it looks.
Bidder registration is now invited for the October sale that’s to be held in conjunction with the world’s largest vintage motorcycle event – The Barber Vintage Festival – in Birmingham, Alabama. For more information, visit Bonhams.com/Barber.