The image of the biker has represented the ideal of freedom for many years. The thought of getting out on the open road, with nothing but the wind in your face and the roar of an engine between your legs is ingrained in all of us as a lifestyle that is unlike any other. Motorcycle fans are truly a special breed of people.
However, creating this image was not the original intent of the early motorcycle builders. In the early days of motorcycle building, the objective was speed. Racing motorcycles was a huge thing in the early half of the 1900s. These types of classic racing motorcycles are the ones that demand the highest price tags at auctions. Not only are they fast, but they are also extremely rare and most of them have a rich history attached to them.
Not all motorcycle enthusiasts are the stereotypical biker with a beard traveling the countryside on the wrong side of the law. Though this may be the image most of us have when we think of bikers; many motorcycle fans have some fat wallets. They will pay a pretty penny in order to obtain one of the rare, early motorcycles which originally captured the fascination of people all over the world. This list shows the most expensive of these bike that were purchased in auctions.
10 T9. 1937 Crocker “Hemi Head” -- $302,000
Albert Crocker started his motorcycle company in 1936 after years of experimenting with combustion engines. His motorcycles popularized this type of engine. His bikes became the first vehicles to be known as “Hemis”. This 1937 Hemi Head was owned by actor Steve McQueen. It is one of just 50 early Crockers that still exist today. It sold for $302,000 at a 2012 auction run by the English auction company Bonham.
9 T9. 1940 Crocker “Big Tank” -- $302,000
This 1940 Crocker “Big Tank” sold at the same 2012 auction for the same price of $302,000 that the 1937 Hemi Head did. Like the Hemi Head, the Big Tanks were also made with hemispherical combustion chambers. In 1938, Albert Crocker wanted to start building his motorcycles with the ability to travel further distances. The obvious solution to this problem was to fit a larger fuel tank on the bikes. These later model Crockers became known as “Big Tanks”. Likewise, the early models are more commonly referred to as “Small Tanks” as opposed to “Hemi Heads” despite the later being its original nickname. Only 72 Crocker Big Tanks were produced. 1940 was the final production year for the Crocker Company. At this point, factories began focusing on producing materials for the Allied Powers for use in World War II. Albert Crocker did not continue producing motorcycles after the war.
8 1907 Harley Davidson Strap Tank Single -- $352,000
The most expensive Harley to ever be sold at auction was purchased for $352,000 in a Goodings & Company auction. Harley Davidson began making motorcycles in 1904 and became an incorporated company in 1907. They eventually became highly successful with the invention of the V-Twin engine. However, prior to that Harley Davidsons were just like any other bikes with a single cylinder engine. The name “Strap Tank” comes from the fact that the fuel tank is attached to the bike by a metal strap. There were only 150 of these motorcycles produced. Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this early Harley is that the rider actually had to begin pedalling the bike in order to start the motor.
7 1949 Vincent Series C Black Lightning -- $382,000
Vincent’s Black Lightning is one of the most legendary motorcycles in history. The Series C Black Lightning was produced from 1948 to 1952. In this short time period, only 32 were made. At the time, these were the fastest motorcycles on the planet. In fact, on September 13th, 1948, Rollie Free used one to set the world land speed record. He did this by stripping down to a swimming suit and riding the bike on his stomach in order to limit wind resistance. The result was one of the world’s most famous motorcycle images: “Bathing Suit Bike”. This Black Lightning was sold by Bonhams is 2008 for $382,000.
6 1929 Brough Superior SS-100 -- $455,000
The Brough Superior SS-100 is known as “The Rolls Royce of Motorcycles.” In 1929, George Brough’s company only produced 29 of these bikes. They used a 1,000cc V-Twin engine that was capable of producing speeds of over 100 miles per hour. This one sold at an auction at the Haynes International Motor Museum for $455,000 in 2011.
5 1922 Brough Superior SS-80 “Old Bill” -- $469,500
This 1922 Brough Superior SS-80 was specifically built for the company’s founder, George Brough. Brough was considered one of the world’s finest motorcycle builders and racers. It was the first motorcycle to ever complete one lap around the track at a speed of over 100 miles per hour. He nicknamed the bike “Old Bill”. Old Bill won over 50 sprint races in 1922. Brough sold his bike in the late 1920s. It remained in storage during World War II and was later put on display at the Nottingham Industrial Museum. It was sold at an H&H auction in 2012 for $469,500.
4 1939 BMW RS 255 Kompressor -- $480,000
This 1939 BMW RS 255 Kompressor was purchased at a Bonhams auction in 2013 for $480,000. BMW produced a motorcycle engine that came with a supercharger and planned on putting it on their company’s racing bikes. However, World War II began and the engines were never placed on production bikes. The whole world’s focus shifted away from producing motorcycles and to producing war goods. After the war, BMW was finally able to release their state-of-the-art engine. This Kompressor has an original 1939 supercharged engine and is fitted on a 1951 chassis. 1951 was the first year the supercharged engine was placed on a racing bike.
3 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer -- $520,000
In the late 1910s and early 1920s, companies began trying to produce racing motorcycles. The idea of building the fastest motorcycle had taken over the imaginations of people all over the world. People would try anything in order to produce a faster bike. The 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer used the first engine that had hemispherical combustion chambers. The result was a 45 horsepower V-Twin engine. This may not seem like a lot today, but back then it was unheard of. These were only produced for two years and only 12 are known to exist today. This motorcycle was purchased at a Monterey Mid American auction in 2008 for $520,000
2 1910 Winchester -- $580,000
Winchester is an American legend. However, they are much better known for their guns than their motorcycles. In fact, very few people know they produced motorcycles. This is because they only made them from 1909 to 1911. The bikes did not sell well because they were very expensive despite not being much better than anything on the market. Worldwide Auctioneers originally believed they could auction the motorcycle off for about $250,000. They were shocked when the 1910 Winchester sold for $580,000.
1 1954 AJS E95 Porcupine -- $675,000
The 1954 AJS E95 Porcupine was specifically a racing motorcycle. AJS began building the Porcupines in 1949, but they were unsuccessful due to problems with their carburetors. These problems were finally fixed in the 1954 second generation models. These second generation models were highly successful and gave Great Britain its first Gran Prix Championship victory. The company only made four of these motorcycles that year. This bike was actually the centerpiece of the England’s National Motorcycle Museum for years. It was purchased from Bonhams in 2011 for $675,000.