Motorcycles are generally less expensive than their four-wheeled counterparts. However, they also serve an entirely different purpose than cars, being aimed more towards providing the rider with the best experience and less towards comfort and utility. And any bike owner will confirm that the thrill and pleasure of riding a motorcycle are something that cars simply can't match.
Over the last century, vintage motorcycles have been building up in value similarly to cars, to the point where some collectors are easily willing to set aside six-figure sums just to get their hands on the most pristine examples. In this list, we're including the top 10 most expensive motorcycles that have ever been sold at auction. Enjoy!
10 1951 Vincent White Shadow – $434,000
Here's an interesting story. An unsuspecting motorcycle enthusiast has purchased an old and run-down bike in boxes practically for peanuts with the intention of restoring it. However, as he was putting the parts together he noticed red paint poking from beneath the bike's green paint job. He scraped off the green and discovered he was looking at one of the rarest classic motorcycles in the world.
The bike was restored and up for auction where, in 2016, it sold for an eye-watering sum of $434,000. What makes this bike so special is not just its status and age, but the fact that its red paint job actually meant this was the only Vincent White Shadow to come in Chinese Red - a paint usually reserved for the Vincent Rapide.
9 1958 Ariel Cyclone 650 – $450,000
This well-preserved classic masterpiece had more than its age and condition to thank for its value, it was also the bike owned by late musician Buddy Holly himself. The model he purchased was a limited edition, among only 172 models that were ever produced.
In 2014, Guernsey Auctions sold the bike for a whopping $450,000, though with its rarity and history it could have easily topped this if purchased by the right buyer.
8 1922 Brough Superior SS80 – $463,847
Nicknamed "Old Bill" the iconic 1922 Brough Superior SS80 celebrated its 90th birthday when it sold for a staggering sum of £291,200, or $463,847 by the exchange rates on the day of the sale. Apart from its beautiful design and all the history it carries in its well-preserved chassis, the auctioned model also boasts the fact that it was used by George Brough to win more than 50 races.
The SS80 was in fact a supreme sports bike for the age, featuring a 1000cc V-twin engine. Though the model was produced all the way until 1939, 1922 models such as this one are the first produced and most valuable.
7 1939 BMW RS255 Kompressor – $480,000
Notably, this very model was not assembled in 1939 but rather 5 decades later, during the '80s. It's the engine that actually belonged to an iconic BMW 1939 RS255, while the frame is from 1951, meaning the model is custom built.
Nevertheless, it's a unique sample with rare and original vintage parts, which is why a determined buyer decided to pay a hefty sum of $480,000 back in 2013 when the bike was auctioned by Bonhams.
6 1932 Brough Superior 800cc Model BS4 Project - $480,000
It's clear just by looking at it that this bike is something special. Of the 10 Superior 800cc BS4 Project models ever made, only seven have survived until today - and this is one of them. In 2016, it was auctioned by Bonhams before selling for approximately £331,900, or approximately $480,000.
The bike is special not just due to its design but its engine, featuring a 800cc four-cylinder engine when most of the era's motorcycles still used only one cylinder. And given that Broughs were basically the Rolls Royce of motorcycles in the 1930, this made the BS4 incredibly desirable and unique.
5 1929 Brough Superior SS100 ‘Alpine Grand Sports’ – $497,000
In 2014 this model became the most expensive Brough motorcycle to ever sell at an auction when it was sold for a staggering £315,100 (approximately $497,000 based on November 2014 conversion rates). Though it sold for less than the Model BS4 Project on this list, the dollar value of the British Pound was a lot higher in 2014. The motorbike is an extremely rare example from a renowned British manufacturer Brough, featuring a 986cc V-twin engine.
In the 1930s, Brough motorcycles were considered among the best you could buy, and the SS100 was the pinnacle of their lineup. In fact, the model broke speed records, capable of achieving a 130-mph top speed. And apart from its legendary status, it was the bike's pristine condition that allowed it to fetch such a high price.
4 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank – $650,000
Completely unrestored, bearing its original paint and parts, this 1907 was estimated by the Mecum auction house to fetch between $800,000 and $1,000,000. Surprisingly the final sum was much lower, making it the most expensive motorcycle model to sell below the sum estimated by its auction house in addition to being the most expensive Harley Davidson model ever sold.
Now exactly 112 years old, this Strap Tank is the 94th model that Harley Davidson ever built and has never been upgraded, painted, or tampered with in any other way. The engine bolted to its frame was a 440cc and produced only 4 horsepower.
3 The 1939 Crocker V-Twin Big Tank – $704,000
Earlier this year, a rare and valuable Crocker Big Tank sold above every expectation at a Mecum auction where it went for a staggering $704,000. In fact, the California-based company produced only 72 V-twin motorcycles between 1936 and 1942, so owning a beautiful and preserved model such as this one is a rare honor.
Exactly 80-years old, this bike is still in pristine condition with a 62 cubic inch engine producing an alleged 60 horses attached to its frame. This made the Big Tank one of the quickest and most thrilling bikes of the era, able to reach a top speed of 110 mph.
2 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer – $852,500.
A few years ago, this banana-looking vintage Board Track Racer was the most expensive motorcycle ever auctioned, selling for the impressive sum of $852,500. Over a century old, only 12 units of this particular model are believed to be in existence. It's amazing to find one of these in such a great condition, and the fact that it was owned and ridden by the iconic actor and racer Steve McQueen makes it that much more valuable.
Attached to its catchy frame is a V-Twin engine that allowed it to reach a top speed of 111 mph - a mind-boggling number for a 104-year-old bike.
1 1951 Vincent Black Lightning – $929,000
The legendary status the Vincent Black Lightning has earned can hardly be surpassed by any other motorcycle from the second half of the 20th century. This supreme race bike came to claim the Australian speed record in 1953 when it reached a top speed of 141,5 mph, winning numerous races across the country along the way.
Appropriately, last year it was sold to an Australian bidder, who agreed to a staggering sum of $929,000, thus officially making the Vincent Black Lightning the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction. Fun fact: this iconic motorcycle has a song named after it, featured on a Richard Thompson album from 1991, titled "Rumor and Sigh."