Motorcycles found underground make us ask many questions, but we’ll never really know the answers to most of those questions. How do a plethora of rare, vintage motorcycles end up in the catacombs of an English city, or lost to the world in a barn somewhere for five decades? How does a motorcycle end up thirty feet below water, next to a shipwreck? Did someone try to drive it off the ship as it was going down? Where do these underground “motorcycle graveyards” come from, and where can I find one?
For fans and enthusiasts around the world, it’s always exciting to find a new excavation story—of some lucky sap finding a rare collection of the world’s rarest motorcycles—eight of them, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I always want to know about the history of these motorcycles. Without history, a bike is just a bike. It’s the past that tells us about these bikes, when they might have seen better days, and what they used to look like during their heyday.
Stars all over the world have owned motorcycles and hiked up the value of them just by being celebrities. Then there are other celebrities, crime lords and such, who might own bikes and hike up the valuation for a different, darker reason. Either way, the motorcycles shown here were once much more than they are now. They weren’t always “sad.” They’ve been relegated to the underground labyrinths and catacombs, but once upon a time, they were new and glorious.
Let’s take a look at 20 sad pictures of motorcycles hidden underground.
20 These Bikes Found Under A Cornwall Barn
Another fascinating story for you is the urban myth that motorcycle fans and enthusiasts perpetuated for years, of the lost Brough Superior bikes. In a jaw-dropping dig, a fleet of eight Brough Superior bikes was located in Bodmin, Cornwall, having gathered dust in a barn for 50 years.
Experts called this find one of the greatest motorcycle discoveries in decades.
Brough Superior bikes, built between 1924 and 1940, are the most sought-after two-wheel transports in the world. They are often called the “Rolls-Royces of the motorbike world,” by fans and enthusiasts. These bikes were made famous by Lawrence of Arabia years ago.
19 Lawrence of Arabia’s Mythic Bikes In A Barn
Only 380 Brough Superior motorcycles were built with the TE Lawrence—better known as Lawrence of Aravia—stamp on them. Lawrence was a famous owner who we lost when he crashed his SS in 1935. Included in the treasure trove were parts from a 1937 Brough Superior 982cc SS80 Project that was found completely fallen apart, but able to be put back together again. Some other bikes that were found were a decaying 1939 Brough Superior 982cc, a decaying Brough Superior 750cc BS4, the ex-Hubert Chantrey Brough Superior 750cc BS4. These bikes were owned by Frank Vague, a member of the Brough Superior Club, who was from a village near Bodmin, Cornwall. He acquired the majority of the collection in the early 1960s.
18 How Much The Bikes From The Cornwall Barn Are Worth
Fans and collectors from all over the world have heard of Frank Vague’s bikes, but many people believed them to be an urban myth. In good condition, these bikes now sell for upward of £300,000 each, although the ones found here would sell for a fraction of a price if they’re not worked on.
The motorcycles were built in Nottingham, at founder George Brough’s factory on Haydn Road.
All of these bikes have been unused since the 1960s, though rust and decay have taken hold of them. Another bike found was a 1938 Brough Superior 982cc SS80 Project with a Petrol Tube Sidecar. The 750cc BS4 is expected to sell for around £120,000.
17 The Infamous Von Dutch XAVW Motorbike Lost For 30 Years
The Von Dutch is a VW-powered motorcycle built by one of the most influential artists and hot rod fabricators in history. His life was shrouded in mystery, due to his self-imposed isolation, but everything he built is highly coveted by collectors. Only a fortunate few own a piece grazed by Von Dutch’s hand, including Mike Wolfe, who uncovered Von Dutch’s personal “XAVW” bike. The “American Pickers” star received a letter from a man who told him about a VW-powered Von Dutch motorcycle sitting in a barn. Wolfe didn’t believe him at first, but after some research, he went to scope it out. Not only was it a Von Dutch, but it was complete, having been reassembled in 1969 by Randy Smith, who had purchased it from another iconic character, Ed Roth.
16 “The Last Motorcycle Graveyard” In New York
This collection of photographs showcasing an army of abandoned motorcycles is truly mystifying. These motorcycles were found years ago underground, in an unknown warehouse, which is now known as the last motorcycle graveyard in Lockport, New York.
David Cuff of the website Classic Cycles came across a Flickr account with pictures of this place, and he went on his own little adventure.
Hundreds of vintage, classic motorcycles were found here, within eyesight of the canal lock. The bikes were trashed, rusted, and beat up. The basement, especially, was full of bikes rusted away from the moisture in the air. But when a couple of adventurers checked out the room upstairs, they were shocked…
15 The Cream Of The Crop In “The Last Motorcycle Graveyard”
The room upstairs from the rusted basement level stored hundreds of motorcycles. There were holes on the main floor with motorcycles literally spilling and falling into the basement, and more bikes were on the third floor falling onto the main floor. Half the floor was concrete and stable, so David went to take a closer look. David eventually went home, but wasn’t satisfied, and wanted to know how he might buy some of the bikes. He found a friend who worked in commercial and industrial real estate, got an owner’s name for the graveyard—Frank, who wasn’t permitted to enter the building himself, and hadn’t been inside in a year and a half.
14 Acquiring The Bikes In “The Last Motorcycle Graveyard”
A lengthy condemnation closed to building due to unpaid taxes. A process followed that allow Frank and David to enter the building with accident insurance.
The motorcycles were collected by a guy named Kohl, who had owned multiple motorcycle shops over 50 years, who eventually sold them to Frank as trade-ins.
When Kohl passed away in 2002, the estimate to fix the roof of the building was $300,000, which Frank didn’t see a reason to pay. Hence why it was condemned. Three of the bikes David got were a Honda CB350, a rolling Jawa frame from the 1950s, and a “Made in Germany” mystery bike.
13 The Biggest Pick Ever On “American Pickers”
In 2014, “American Pickers” stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz visited the Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, Western Massachusetts, where they found a treasure trove of motorcycles that was their passion. They announced they’d made the “biggest pick” in their history, spending $62,000 on five motorcycles from the collection. Wolfe and Fitz bought vintage Indian bikes, dating back to the 1930s and 1940s, and a couple vintage Harleys. Mike and Frank said it was the best stash of bikes they’d ever seen in their lives, and even with their massive buy, there was still plenty more in the Heberts’ collection (the Heberts own the Paper City Brewery).
12 This Indian Motorcycle Also Found On “American Pickers”
Following their tremendous find at the Paper City Brewery, The History Channel stars, Mike and Frank, went over to Sylvia Nieves’ Monroe Street home in Springfield.
They proceeded to dig up the yard looking for evidence of a buried Indian motorcycle from the 1940s, from when the house was owned by Dominic Cardaropoli. Low and behold, they found it.
The episode was even titled “The Legend of the Lost Indian,” and viewers wondered if the bike belonged to Cardaropoli. Cardaropoli said, “The rumor is my grandfather buried his motorcycle in the driveway at this house he owned until his death in 1974.” And as you can see, it has definitely been buried that long.
11 This World War II Bike Setup From “American Pickers”
Mike and Frank have found quite a few precious items on “American Pickers,” there’s no doubt. But one of their best motorized finds—especially for motorcycle lovers like these two—was found during a trip of theirs to Europe. They found this vehicle straight out of World War II, the German-designed Zundapp RS 750, which is a relic from an older time. The bike and sidecar cost them $10,500, and they paid $1,000 to ship it to America, but then they made a nice profit off the bike. They flipped the vintage motorcycle to a shop in George for $18,000.
10 This Motorcycle Used During El Chapo’s Escape
When Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped prison in 2015, it made national headlines and shocked people worldwide. Somehow, just 14 months after landing in Mexico’s maximum-security Altiplano prison, he broke out in July 2015.
The tunnel he used to escape began inside his cell’s shower, a 20 by 20 inch tunnel that led to a 10-meter vertical passageway underground.
The passageway was 5.5 feet tall and just 28 inches wide. Inside the passageway was this motorcycle, described as “an adapted motorcycle on tracks that was used to remove durt during the excavation and transport tools for the dig.” He then used the motorcycle during the escape.
9 These Motorcycles Found In a Secret 19th-Century Tunnel Under Naples
This massive, phenomenal 19th-century tunnel found under Naples was used as an escape route for the king, during that time. But now it’s full of vintage cars and bikes. Over 1,740 feet of tunnels snake underground central Naples, 100 feet below ground, carved into 16th-century aqueducts. King Ferdinand II of Bourbon built the passageways during his reign in 1853. The tunnels were later used as a military hospital and warehouse for impounded vehicles, which is why there are so many eerie automobiles still in there today. Galleria Borbonica re-discovered the tunnels and passageways and transformed them into a tourist attraction in the 2000s.
8 More Motorcycles Under Naples
The mysterious warren of tunnels found under Naples is too fascinating to fit into one entry. Visitors who come to the tour can find the rusting relics of vintage cars and motorcycles, as seen above.
The passageways form a labyrinth of sorts, because King Ferdinand II faced a series of revolts during his reign, so he needed to be able to fool and escape through the maze-like tunnels without fear of being caught.
It’s truly like something out of a film. The massive structure was built into the volcanic rocks of the Bolla and Carmignano aqueducts. Vehicles were impounded here between the 1940s and 1960s, where they’ve stayed to rust and become attractions themselves.
7 The Motorcycles Found In The “Paris Motorcycle Cave”
On the banks of the Seine River, in the heart of Paris, is an unexpected secret cave hiding in plain sight. Close to the Eiffel Tower, and alongside the houseboats near the Pont de la Concorde, you will find a doorway to the unlikeliest motorcycle garage in Europe. There are two motorcycles parked outside, watching like gargoyles. Leeway Custom Motorcycles, a motorcycle atelier specializing in maintenance, renovation, and customization for old times bikes, have their garage here. Included in the cave are some awesome restorations, as long as some work that needs to be done, as shown here. Leeway Motorcycles was created from an abandoned storage area, and now thrives in Paris.
6 1913 Indian V-Twin Single-Speed Barn Find
Barnyard finds are always exciting, especially when they’re worth a lot of money! This ultra-collectible bike is a 1913 Indian V-Twin Single-Speed, which was found by Buzz Kanter. Buzz made a YouTube video about his find, which was nice.
He found it out of a long-term storage container, and is only the third owner of the 105-year-old bike.
He plans to get it sorted out and running with all original paint, and then share it in the pages of American Iron Magazine. The bike was already in great condition when he discovered it, with only a newer-upgraded carburetor. Other than that, it’s nearly the same as when it was made.
5 World War II Bikes Discovered Underwater
This bike wasn’t found underground, per se, but underwater! That’s even more exciting. In 1941, a British munitions ship called the SS Thistlegorm was shipwrecked by a German bomber off the coast of Egypt, during World War II, and lay undisturbed for decades. Now it has turned into a world-class diving site, and the wreckage is complete with fascinating machines from the past, including this neatly preserved motorcycle. The supply ship had been left alone for 60 years before its “rediscovery.” Shown here is a couple of rusting Norton 16H motorcycle at the wreckage site, as tropical fish swim through the twisted metal.
4 More Discoveries On The SS Thistlegorm
The supply ship sat in the same place for 60 years (and will remain there). Its 415 feet in length, was built in January of 1941, and had a gross tonnage of 4,898 tons. When the ship sank, there were nine casualties.
All you can see on the ship, off the Straits of Gubal in the Northern Red Sea, are tropical fish and rusting cars and bikes.
Tour operators run ships for divers, put on by Sharm El Sheikh of Egypt, by plunging 30 meters into the shipwreck. The supply ship was carrying trains, trucks, and motorbikes. Now, it has all been reclaimed by the sea.
3 Other Underwater Bikes And Things Missing From The Shipwreck
When the SS Thistlegorm was bombed in 1941, near Egypt, a lot of things were lost to the world forever (or at least for 60 years, though none of it will ever come out of the water). Here were some of the cargo onboard: Bedford trucks, Universal Carrier armored vehicles, Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles, Bren guns, cases of ammunition, 0.303 rifles and radio equipment, Wellington boots, aircraft parts, and even two LMS Stanier Class 8F Steam locomotives. An entire truck sits within the ship with its tires still fully intact. If you want to check out this dive spot, you must have a diver certification beyond entry level, as it can be dangerous.
2 This Glorious Bike Lost To The Sea
Though this is supposed to be an article of “sad” motorcycles that were found underground, we have a few pictures here of motorcycles found underwater because, well, a) underwater is technically under the ground, and b) for some reason, underwater motorcycles add a bit of elusiveness and mystical qualities to these pictures. How does a motorcycle show up under the water? What’s the history behind these shots? This photo was found on Photorator.com, with only the tag “I found a motorcycle while freediving,” followed by their beautiful picture. Can’t say it looks very sad, except for many the former owner of this beauty.
1 1950 BMW R35 Barnyard Find
Finally, we have a 1950 BMW R35, a beautiful bike that has seen better days. It was a barnyard find (if the rust and coloration isn’t a giveaway for this, you’ll just have to trust me), discovered in Georgia. It went up on eBay after being found, for $2,999, but no one jumped on it.
It needs a full-blown restoration to really bring in the big bucks, but what else could be expected from a bike that’s over 70 years old and sitting in a barn for decades?
When it IS restored, it will be a true beauty, one of the most popular post-WWII bikes around, during its heyday. The R35 is a classic air-head design, single-cylinder, 340cc, with around 14 hp.
Sources: barnfinds.com, oceanofnews.com, dailymail.co.uk