636608090859177100-bonhams-motorcycle-31.JPG
1998 Mv Agusta 750cc F4 'Serie Oro'
Bonhams

As a prestigious auction in England showed, prices on collectible vintage motorcycles are soaring.

The 1951 Vincent Black Lightning tops the list of the most valuable, as compiled by U.K. insurance buying site GoCompare.com. In U.S. dollars, the Vincent’s current value is $929,000, according to Ben Walker, international director of the motorcycle department for Bonhams auction house.

“It will always be on every collector’s wish list,” Walker said. “Only 19 all-original bikes are known to exist.”

Despite that, he said, bidders on the Vincent, which auction house Bonham’s sold in Las Vegas earlier this year, were enthusiasts who’d probably ride it someday, not investors who planned to store the bike and watch its value appreciate.

The market for collectible bikes values those with original, matching-number frames and motors, he said.

“If the Lightning hadn’t had matching numbers, its value would fall 40% to 50%,” Walker said.

Bike collectors also value “patina,” a finish that shows the bike has lived and been used over fresh, restored paint, he said.

“It’s only factory paint, once. If you’ve got that, value it.”

A new generation of bikes are becoming collectible, he said.

More: Harley-Davidson profit falls in latest earnings report as US motorcycle sales remain weak

More: Harley-Davidson’s internship is one wild ride

More: Review: Indian Scout Bobber is an eye-catching motorcycle with classic style

“Interest from baby boomers is tailing off. They’re selling bikes, not acquiring them.”

As with collectible cars, baby boomers fixated on bikes from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Generation X is focused on bikes from when they were kids in the 1970s and ‘80s, frequently from Japanese manufacturers.

“The prices of top models are rocketing,” Walker said. 

A couple of bikes from the ‘70s set records at Bonhams recent spring auction in Stafford, England: a 1970 Clymer Münch 1,177cc TTS Mammoth and 1973 MV Agusta 750S.

American bikes were in short supply at the English sale, but a 1940 Indian 78ci Four went for $96,042.