Vintage motorcycle auction returns to Las Vegas, bringing avid collectors

Motorcycles filled the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center on Wednesday — day two of the annual Mecum Las Vegas Vintage and Antique Motorcycle Auction — and the only thing that could move faster than the bikes was the auctioneer’s mouth.

Collector-car auction company Mecum Auctions brought in about 1,500 hogs for its five-day event that ends Saturday. The company sells between 80 and 90 percent of its stock, in previous auctions.

Auction-goers say the motorcycle collection captures a love of history and horsepower.

“My grandmother drove a car, for God’s sake,” Greg Arnold, Mecum Auctions’ motorcycle division director, said with a laugh. “I get in trouble with car guys all the time.”

At the center of this year’s auction is the Harley Davidson Heritage collection featuring 95 vintage bikes that are “magnificently restored” with at least one from each year between 1910 and 1969, Arnold said. Each bike will be auctioned separately with no minimum sale price or reserve. Arnold estimates the collection will sell for as much as $4.5 million.

Las Vegas resident William Adler said he’ll track a vehicle’s price over time to determine what he’ll pay. But, he noted, it could be about more than the best price.

“As always, the bike is only worth what someone is willing to pay,” Adler said. “If it’s an emotional attachment, and you buy it and love it, well then, that’s the value of the bike regardless of what the book says.”

Adler, a retired commercial pilot, views the auction as a “pilgrimage” for himself and other motorcycle collectors. He sits in the front row each year, bringing ear plugs to dull the auctioneer’s voice.

He said he enjoys restoring motorcycles, mostly Japanese street bikes from the 1970s, because of the work it takes to restore one to a “period correct” level.

“That’s really what takes the most time — finding and ordering the parts,” Adler said. “It’s the ultimate global scavenger hunt, if you will, because you have to order these from around the world.”

Richard Spagnolli of North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania said he’s attended the auction annually for years and has bought about three or four bikes in the past. His 38-bike collection is too large for his wife’s preference, he said, so he now visits for fun.

“What’s nice about coming to Las Vegas for this auction is you get the opportunity to see a whole number of motorcycles — different varieties, different conditions,” Spagnolli said. “I see a lot of people that I’ve known over the years in the antique motorcycle community. I don’t want to say it’s a reunion, but it’s just a lot of fun to be here.”

Others come to the auction to sell.

Waterloo, Illinois resident Matt White built a 1978 Yamaha XS 650 with the signatures of three world champion racers — Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson and Kenny Roberts — to sell as part of the charity auction for the Welcome Home Heroes Foundation, a veterans services group. It was White’s first time building a bike so it could be auctioned .

He was unsure how much the bike would sell for given its rare combination of autographs. The bike’s tank had to be shipped to each former professional racer for them to sign, before the auction.

“This is the only tank on the planet that has those three world champion signatures on it, and they’re never going to sign another tank together again,” White said.

The auction runs through Saturday. Doors open at 8 a.m. with the vehicle auction starting at 1o a.m.

Bidder registration is available online at Mecum.com or on-site for $200, and includes admission for two until Saturday. Visitor tickets cost $20 in advance or $30 at the door.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at [email protected] Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.