Classic motorcycles and two-wheeler dealers
Where enthusiasts were once buying classic motorcycles for the love of the machine, they are now, increasingly, seeing them as a lucrative investment opportunity. Can owning a classic bike really rev up your bank balance?
Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.’ While we don’t know who made this statement, nothing sums up the passion for biking better. Until now, it is this passion that has driven enthusiasts to collect bikes.
As Roger Houghton, an ardent classic motorcyclist enthusiast, notes, ‘The collectors of motorcycles in South Africa are – in the main – enthusiasts, with many of them having started their collections with machines handed down from father to son.’ Fellow local biking enthusiast, Clive Strugnell, concurs: ‘Collectors – especially in this country – have largely been people who adore bikes. They have collected them for the love of the machine. Money hasn’t come into it.’
It’s easy to love bikes, as Manfred Prommer- Wolf, a classic-bike tour operator and enthusiast, notes. ‘They are works of art! Motorcycles are fascinating machines that are occasionally very decorative and, in addition, useable. What an awesome combination!’
This situation is mirrored overseas, as Ben Walker, head of motorcycles at British auction house, Bonhams, confirms. ‘I’ve yet to see people who are purely investors buying motorcycles. Most buyers – even at the higher end – are informed enthusiasts and collectors. They are people who enjoy their “asset” not only because of its value but also because of what it represents from a cultural, social and historical perspective. The most important factor for the majority of buyers, though, is the thrill of riding the machines. It is a tangible asset and one from which a huge amount of pleasure can be derived.’
However, this situation is changing, as classic motorcycles are increasingly viewed as lucrative investments.
Are you passionate about classic bikes, but not the owner of one … yet? Manfred Prommer-Wolf is about to launch guided tours on classic bikes in the Western Cape. These tours will last a half or full day and will traverse the Winelands, coastal routes and mountain passes. Full biking kit will be provided. For details contact 083 537 0470 or visit supericons.co.za.
According to the South African Vintage and Veteran Association (SAVVA), which was established in 1968 as an associate of Motorsport South Africa, a motorcycle must be at least 20 years old in order to be considered a classic. It furthermore breaks down motorcycles into various subcategories, ranging from Class A or ‘Ancestor’ for bikes built prior to 31 December 1904 to Class G or ‘Post 60’ for bikes built between January 1946 and 31 December 1960.
Strugnell has a somewhat more flexible definition. ‘As far as I am concerned, a classic bike is basically anything that people are prepared to buy and restore; something for which other people will pay good money,’ he says.
Houghton explains that there are many factors that can make a motorcycle valuable. ‘These include scarcity, technical innovation (such as motorcycles fitted with Wankel rotary engines), and the assigning of “hero” or “cult” status. The latter applies to a Brough Superior, Triumph Bonneville, Norton Manx (racer), BSA Gold Star, Excelsior Manxman, Vincent, Velocette racers and the like,’ he says.
Derek Chester-Browne, a classic-bike enthusiast in the motorcycle trade, agrees. ‘In general terms investment collectability depends on factors other than just age: rarity, beauty of design, character and a model’s success in competition probably being the most noteworthy. The romance of race heritage and sporting focus triumphs over touring reputation by some margin. Specific history is also an elevating factor, as is full paperwork from the day of sale, ownership by a famous personality and success in competition.
‘Take the Laverda Jota, a statuesquely handsome model of uncompromising nature. This bike enjoyed only modest success in racing but only a few thousand were ever built. Then there are the bevel-drive Ducati v-twins of the 1970s, which shot to prominence when British rider Paul Smart defeated a horde of more powerful opposition piloted by higher ranked riders at Imola in Italy on a 750SS. On the back of that early success, more recent Ducati domination in World Superbike plus many wins and a MotoGP championship, all beveldrive models from the touring 750GT of the ’70s to the last Hailwood Replica 1000 Mille of the ’80s have become highly sought after,’ he explains.
Prommer-Wolf paints a similar picture. ‘Age, character, history, low numbers, limited editions and/or racing history classify a bike as a vintage classic. This can be a Harley Davidson pre-war model or a racing bike from Ducati that is just a few years old.’
His personal wish list when it comes to classic bikes includes the Norton Commander; Triumph Bonneville; Benelli 750 or 900 SEI; Ducati’s 750SS and 900SS; Pantah 916; Laverda Jota; Moto Guzzi Le Mans; Honda’s CB750 Four, CB1100R, RC30 and CBX1000; Suzuki’s Katana and GSX-R 750R; and the BMW R90S.
According to Houghton, there is also a growing market for the 50cc machines that were so popular in the ’50s to ’70s. ‘These include Itom, Garelli, Zundapp and even some of the mass production Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha models,’ he says.
Kim Karlsson, cofounder of Born2Ride premium motorcycle store in Sandton, Johannesburg, says British, Italian and German bikes from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s are proving popular, as are Japanese bikes from the late ’70s and ’80s. ‘These are becoming rarer and thus more valuable,’ she explains. ‘The main collectors are people who owned (or who wanted to own) the bikes in the ’70s and ’80s. These collectors want to relive those good old days now that they have more disposable income.’
On an international front, Walker says the Brough Superior, Vincent and Croker are the big-ticket bikes. Strugnell claims the Vincent is sought after in South Africa, too. ‘This rare British bike (only 11 000 were produced, from 1946 to 1955) was the superbike of its day. I know a South African plumber who inherited five of these bikes. Ironically, he lives in a caravan! He has sold two, for the princely sum of R500 000 apiece,’ Strugnell reveals.
Some collectors focus on less expensive brands such as BSA Bantams and Royal Enfields due to the lower cost and a ready supply of replacement parts. ‘Motorcycles with a history of racing, motocross, trial or enduro successes have increased values, particularly if they have been ridden by famous riders such as world champions or taken part in famous races, such as the Isle of Man TT,’ notes Houghton.
Even classic bikes with an impressive pedigree can be acquired for a fraction of their motorcar counterparts. ‘In South Africa, it’s possible to snap up a classic bike for anything from R35 000 to R100 000,’ says Strugnell.
Many South Africans are doing exactly that, although, points out Chester-Browne, big motorcycle collectors and their collections are mostly under the radar in South Africa. ‘For instance, there is a father-and-son collection of Bimota motorcycles in Gauteng numbering over 100 bikes, which few even know about,’ he reveals.
He describes local collectors as ‘a varied lot’: ‘They range from the corporate executive with his mint Vincent Rapide and Ducati beside his Bentley and Ferrari in an upmarket suburb anywhere in South Africa to the hardworking plumber east of Springs with a fleet of immaculate British and Italian classics from the ’60s to ’80s in a dedicated room at his industrial premises.’
Most collections of value are of modest proportions. ‘South Africans generally own anything from three to a dozen bikes, whatever is practically manageable for the owner. What the owners have in common, irrespective of level of affluence or social strata, is passion, the element that unites them despite their differences,’ says Chester-Browne.
Of course, there are opportunists and trend followers cashing in on the current popularity of motorcycle classics. ‘But the reality of maintaining a collection is hard work and expense, invariably making them a here-today-gone-tomorrow part of the classic scenery,’ Chester-Browne notes.
For the serious (and knowledgeable) collector though, a classic bike can turn a pretty profit – at the time of going to print, the Harley-Davidson ridden by Peter Fonda in Easy Rider was set to go under the hammer. The estimated price tag? Over $1 million.
Classics on the Cusp?
‘Compared to the car market, the bike market has a little catching up to do – but there is a growing level of sophistication and informed decisions are taking place,’ says Strugnell. ‘We’ve seen a rise in the values of motorcycles year on year since the recession as people look to reinvest their funds in more tangible assets,’ he adds.
‘At the top end of the market, the values of some marques rise between 10 and 25%. But, even at the lower end, motorcycles have increased in value by 5 to 10%. A number of car collectors are also buying bikes as they represent excellent value when compared to cars,’ says Walker.
Karlsson concurs, ‘The market for classic bikes is currently one-fifth of the size of the classic car market. But, on an international front, the trend has been swinging towards bikes in the last two years. Classic bikes are now selling at a premium, at least 50 to 100 times the original price.’
Local buyers are beginning to realise that these returns are possible, and experts say that trade in classic bikes is starting to pick up in South Africa. ‘I have noticed this trend in the last 18 months,’ comments Strugnell. ‘As a result, some classic car outlets – Hamptons in Sandton, for instance – are starting to focus on bikes now as well.’
Prommer-Wolf says that an investor cannot really go wrong with a classic bike. ‘The bandwidth of prices for classic motorcycles is enormous – from a couple of thousand rands to millions of rands for a bike. You may be able to pick up a nice, reliable BMW R100 RS for R30 000. Or go wild and spend R3 million on a Ducati that has won a MotoGP! If you buy the right bike, you will not lose money. There is no depreciation; they are only appreciating,’ he reveals.
Strugnell says car collectors have also come to realise that it’s easier to collect bikes. ‘The bikes are obviously cheaper and they are more practical investments. One of the problems with owning a classic car is where to keep it. At least 50% of all the cars you see in exotic car showrooms are owned. They’re there on consignment as a showroom is a convenient place to keep your classic car. It’s far easier to store a bike or two.’
Sadly, when the time comes to sell, these investors are eyeing overseas markets. ‘In South Africa, classic motorcycles are usually only tacked on at the back of an auction featuring mainly classic cars,’ says Strugnell. ‘In contrast, there is considerable global interest in classic motorcycles as investments with huge prices being realised in the USA and Europe, particularly the UK. The volume of motorcycles being traded is large, so they can justify auctions for bikes only. The upshot is that the only way local owners can realise substantial prices is to export the motorcycles to overseas auction houses. This means a continuous drain on our local collections. The bike market is obviously much smaller than the car market, meaning it’s always been more difficult to source classic bikes,’ he adds. ‘But now, with the huge interest in these machines, it’s more difficult to locate a good classic bike than ever before.’
Prommer-Wolf concurs. ‘The reality is that classic bikes are in short supply anyway. Take these examples: there are about 1 000 Porsche 911s (built before 1986) available in Germany online and about a handful in South Africa. Three Moto Guzzi Daytonas, three Benelli 750 Seis, one Laverda RGS and zero Laverda Jotas are available in Germany. None of these bikes is available in South Africa.’
The message is clear: investors eyeing the classic bike market should act now.
Where to Start
1: Join a classic motorcycle club. ‘This is where the novice collector can find machines for sale and, most importantly, where he or she can obtain advice on what to buy and what to stay away from,’ says local enthusiast Roger Houghton.
2: Attend classic-bike events. ‘There are numerous shows around the country where owners can exhibit their classic motorcycles, with the largest being the Classic Motorcycle Club’s 1 000 Bike Show held at the Germiston High School, opposite Rand Airport, on the first weekend of July each year,’ reveals Houghton.
3: Buy a bike that is in good running condition. ‘Probably the biggest pitfall is mechanical condition,’ says biker and motorcycle tradesman Derek Chester-Browne. ‘Unless it seems an absolute steal, beware the cosmetic restoration or painfully polished original that does not start. It should be a good runner and feel good on the road. If it fails on either account, walk away or offer substantially less than the asking price. Buying sight unseen is a risk not worth taking.’
4: Go for a popular model. Houghton warns that it’s difficult to obtain spare parts for some bikes. ‘Avoid these motorcycles!’ he says. That’s not to say that there isn’t a market for unrestored bikes that are in a good condition, though,’ biker Clive Strugnell adds: ‘But, very importantly, they should not have been butchered in any way. They must be 100% original.’
5: Buy the best you can afford, says Ben Walker of British auction house Bonhams. ‘Consider the cost of maintenance, restoration, insurance, petrol and storage before buying,’ he advises, ‘And always check the history of the bike. Make sure you have documents and ensure that the frame and engine number match the documents.’
6: Get professional help. ‘This is an extremely difficult market with many standard or cheaper models being modified to look like more expensive and rarer models,’ warns Kim Karlsson of Born2Ride premium motorcycle store in Gauteng.
Leaders of the Pack
The top prices paid for classic motorcycles at auction:
01: 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer $551 200 (July 2008)
02: 1939 BMW RS255 ‘Kompressor’ $480 000
03: 1922 Brough Superior SS80 ‘Old Bill’ $469 763
04: 1929 Brough Superior SS100 $465 350
05: 1926 Brough Superior SS100 ‘Alpine Grand Sports’ $453 000
06: 1939 Brough Superior SS100 $426 100
07: 1934 Brough Superior SS100 ‘Two of Everything’ $393 400
08: 1932 Brough Superior ‘BS4’ 3-Wheel Austin-engine $377 950
09: 1948 Vincent-HRD ‘Black Lightning’ $377 260
10: 1938 HRD-Vincent Series A Rapide $366 110
Source: The Vintagent,
- Vintage Motorcycle Club of South Africa (Johannesburg): vintagemotorcycleclub.co.za
- Classic Motorcycle Club (Germiston): classicmotorcycleclub.co.za
- South African Vintage & Veteran Association (SAVVA): savva.org.za
- Deneysville Motorcycle Museum: deneysville.com
- Born2Ride: born2ride.co.za
- The Vintagent: thevintagent.com
Text: Charleen Clarke
Photographs: Stocksy, iStock and supplied