Collectors give a new lease of life to classic motorbikes

Spanner twirlers in need of a project could do worse than buy a vintage bike

1936 Brough Superior © Bonhams
1936 Brough Superior 982C SS100
(Image credit: © Bonhams)

Classic cars make the big noise in the newspapers. Given that a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for almost $50m (£39.5m) in 2018, it’s not hard to see why. But collectors could be missing out on a related market that has also been “quietly” appreciating in recent years – classic motorbikes.

Some vintage bikes, like their four-wheeled brethren, do, of course, sell for eye-watering sums. Take, for instance, the 1936 Brough Superior 982C SS100 (pictured top) that fetched £276,000 with Bonhams at Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire last month. During the weekend-long sale, which raised £3m, two marque records for a Sunbeam and Norton F1 motorcycle were set.

But on the whole, classic motorcycles tend to be a lot more affordable, which is ideal for collectors just getting started. There’s even a tax advantage. Like classic cars, they are considered to be “wasting assets” by the taxman, which exempts them from capital gains tax. And they also take up less space in the garage than a classic car.

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Get your motor runnin’

Cambridge-based auction house Cheffins saw a rise in the number of vintage bikes coming onto the market last summer as lockdowns ended and the sun came out. “Various classic and vintage bikes were dragged out of sheds and garages and our July online sale saw nearly 50 bikes go to new owners,” says Cheffins’ director Jeremy Curzon.

Over the last few years, however, “prices for the post-war British machines have on the whole just crept along keeping pace with inflation”, says Curzon. That may be changing. And as for rarer bikes, they “have undoubtedly gone up in value”. Curzon points to a 1936 BSA J12 V twin that he sold in 2015 for £22,000. “I would now confidently expect to achieve somewhere close to £30,000, looking at results from other sales… I’d say there is no shortage of demand for machines of all levels.” Online sales thrived during the pandemic. “The lack of traditional live auctions has not deterred bidders at all.”

1936 500cc Moto-Guzzi 500V Bitubo © Cheffins

1936 500cc Moto-Guzzi 500V Bitubo

For collectors on a budget, but short of neither time nor enthusiasm, there are bargains in “project machines”. “Covid-19 means there are a lot of spanner twirlers with time on their hands, desperate to get their teeth into something,” says Curzon. “There are only so many machines out there that can be restored and they are getting harder to find and more expensive.”

Indeed, condition is no barrier to a sale. “Five years ago, I would not have been keen to take machines on that were in barn-find state unless they were particularly rare. Now even run-of-the-mill machines needing work fetch much higher sums.” A 1977 BMW 750cc boxer twin needing work sold for £800 in 2015; a similar example in similar condition fetched £1,800 in 2020.

In 2020, “I’ve sold a pre-war Norton consisting of a frame, engine, forks and tank and made £4,200”, says Curzon. “I would have expected to get half that five years ago and many considered £4,200 a relative bargain.”

This article was originally published in MoneyWeek


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