The price tag on some of the most expensive motorcycles in history often has little to do with how they’re made.
The motorcycle doesn’t need to be from one of the best motorcycle brands in the world. More often than not it has more to do with the bike’s story.
Is a historically-significant event attached to the motorcycle? A famous owner can also turn a bike into an instant collectible.
Some of those who have been lucky enough to get their hands on these instant classics have turned a trip to the auction house into quite a lucrative venture.
Auction History’s Most Expensive Motorcycles
Let’s take a look at some of the most money ever dished out for a motorcycle at auction. We’ll also briefly consider exactly what it was that led to them fetching these astronomical sums.
1949 Vincent Black Lightning Supercharged
The Vincent Black Lightning was a high-end British bike built for performance. In fact, it came from a line of record breakers.
It was the predecessor to the Black Lightning that made motorcycle history. In 1948, American rider Rollie Free broke the land speed record for a standard motorcycle with a 1948 Vincent Black Shadow. Oh, and he did so wearing nothing but tennis shoes and his bathing suit.
Vincent bikes were produced only in limited numbers for a relatively short span of time–from 1928 to 1955.
It’s this level of rarity and history in the progressive performance of motorcycles that led a 1949 Vincent Black Lightning Supercharged to fetch $290,699 at a Bonham’s auction in October of 2018.
The 1942 Crocker V-Twin Big Tank
Al Crocker made a name for himself developing and building custom performance motorcycles in the 1930s and early 1940s. He was so confident in the performance of his bikes that he offered a money-back guarantee to any customer who was outraced by a Harley-Davidson or Indian owner.
There are a few reasons contributing to the hefty price tag this specific bike demanded at auction in 2015.
One was the fact that only 72 of these V-twin engine bikes were ever produced. Another was that at the height of World War II in 1942, material restrictions caused Crocker to have to cease motorcycle production. After the war, Crocker did not continue building bikes.
This means the 1942 bikes were the very last ones ever built.
These factors led to one of these 1942 models selling for $385,000 at auction in March of 2015.
1926 Brough Superior SS100 Alpine Grand Sports
The Brough Superior series of motorcycles holds a legendary status in the history of performance bikes. It’s why this won’t be the last one on this list.
These bikes were named after their creator, George Brough. He himself was an accomplished engineer, designer, and rider of motorcycles.
He combined this experience and creativity with consultation from other accomplished riders to create a series of bikes designed at the peak of technology and performance for the time.
It was this cutting edge production that led him (with help from a smart marketer) to dub his bikes “the Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles“.
Although these bikes are filled with history, not all of it is good history. It was an accident while driving his Brough Superior SS100 that claimed the life of legendary historical figure T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia.
When it comes to a vintage bike at auction, though, history has value. This value is only increased regardless of whether that history is good or bad.
The history and peak quality of these bikes is what led a 1926 Brough Superior SS100 Alpine Grand Sports model to sell for $452,234 in 2012 at Sotheby’s in London. Something else that contributed to this immense price tag on this specific bike was the fact that its ownership history was documented all the way back to 1926.
1922 Brough Superior SS80
As already noted, Brough Superior bikes have a special place in motorcycle history. They also have a special place in motorcycle auction history with the sheer amount that have sold for incredibly high sums.
There is, however, something special about the next Brough bike on this list.
The 1922 Brough Superior SS80 that sold at an auction in 2012 belonged to George Brough himself. Nicknamed “Old Bill” by Brough himself, this is perhaps one of the most well-used bikes on this list. George Brough won over 50 events on this motorcycle.
The personal racer of the man behind this legendary series of motorcycles fetched $463,847 at a 2012 H&H auction in London.
1939 BMW RS255 Kompressor
From the Allies to the Axis powers we go.
“German engineering” is a phrase the world has been familiar with for many decades. In the world of motorcycle history, perhaps no machine more greatly represents this than the next bike on this list.
The introduction of the Rennsport Kompressors into the world of motorcycle racing was a total game-changer.
These machines were ultra-light and blazingly fast. BMW was able to achieve this through multi-cylinder, supercharged systems.
The results? In 1937 one of these bikes set the motorcycle land-speed record at 173.68 mph. This was a title it held all the way until 1951.
BMW continued to improve the Kompressor models in the 1930s, which led to the introduction of the RS255 model. This model would continue the success of its predecessors into the next few years.
It was on one of these bikes that Georg Meier won the 1938 Grand Prix championships. Still, the revered Isle of Man TT title alluded BMW and Meier that year, as they placed 5th.
This is a race that takes more than just blazing speed. It requires a driver who is masterfully skilled in handling and control.
For this reason, Meier and his team arrived on the island 14 days before the race would take place to practice. Despite the death of one of his teammates, Meier forged ahead.
In 1939, Georg Meier claimed the Isle of Man TT title. This made him the very first foreign (non-British) winner of this legendary race. This victory further established the BMW RS255 Kompressor as one of the greatest racing bikes in history.
For these reasons, one of these models sold for $480,000 at a 2013 Bonham’s auction in Las Vegas.
1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer
Let’s go even further back in time to the heyday of board track racers.
The moment the Joerns Motor Manufacturing Company introduced the Cyclone in 1913, it began making waves in the board track racing world.
This same year it debuted, it was clocked at 108 mph at the Minneapolis Metrodome. The next year it was recorded breaking 111 mph on the board track in Omaha, Nebraska.
The previously recognized record up to this point? 93.48 mph.
Unfortunately (except for the seller at auction), the production of the Cyclone lasted only three years, from 1913-1916.
The Cyclone is known for its record-shattering performance and rarity due to its limited production time. For these reasons, one of these legendary board track racers sold for $852,000 at the 2015 Mecum auctions in Las Vegas. This sum was, at the time, the record for a motorcycle sale at auction.
Oh, and this specific bike was also owned by ultra-cool classic film star Steve Mcqueen until his 1980 death.
1951 Vincent Black Lightning
Remember the 1949 Vincent Black Lightning? Meet it’s slightly younger sibling, which fetched over triple the price.
The Vincent Black Lightnings were truly special bikes when they were built. Now, they’re among the most coveted of all vintage motorcycles.
Built only for a custom order, it’s thought that only about 30 of these machines were ever made. Of these approximately 30 built, only 19 are confirmed to have survived to this day.
It’s one of these that sold at a Bonham’s auction in January of 2018.
This specific bike was ordered by and built for Australian racer Jack MacAlpine. It was on this bike that MacAlpine placed 13th in the Isle of Man TT.
Shortly thereafter, this bike was sold to another Australian racer named Jack Ehret. Ehret would be the one to establish the bike into Australia’s motorcycle history. In 1952 Jack Ehret smashed the previous 122.6 mph land speed record at 141.5 mph.
It was Jack Ehret who would end up owning this bike for the longest time. He claimed ownership for 47 years of this bike’s history.
The rarity of this series of bikes demands a hefty price tag whenever one becomes available for purchase. Pair this up with finding one in an unrestored, original condition with complete documentation of ownership history and you have a record-breaker.
The bike that sold at Bonham’s in 2018 fetched a winning bid of $929.000. This engorged price tag gives it the distinction as one of history’s most expensive motorcycles.
Get Out on the Road
Has reading about some of history’s legendary motorcycles inspired you to get out on the road?
Next time you are trying to convince your significant other of how badly you need a new bike, make sure to show them this list. It should make it easier to get them onboard with selling your old bike and buying a new one.
They’ll probably think your price tag is a bit more reasonable by the time they’ve finished looking at some of history’s most expensive motorcycles. Then you can get out on the road with our motorcycle-specific travel tips?
Did we miss any expensive motorcycles you’ve seen sold at an auction? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear about other great bikes.