Far better live and in person than watching online, Mecum’s every-January extravaganza in Las Vegas ranks second to none…if for nothing more than sheer size. Those numbers (over 2000) adds both diversity and selection. Translation: if you’re looking for a specific motorcycle or type, the chances of finding it here are increased. For example, my passion and interest for special frame and limited edition specials has been boosted greatly by Mecum’s sellers – routinely delivering motorcycles that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else. This year was no different, and once again the lovely South Point Hotel and Casino was filled with enthusiasts, collectors and onlookers from everywhere. To remain updated, I’d recommend signing on with your email at mecum.com It’s easy and unobtrusive.
As is our tradition, the samples shown here are those that LSR record holder and builder Bill Ross, photographer Alexander Woodbury, and this writer, found noteworthy. Noting new trends, we turned to colleagues such as collector Howard Shapiro, AirTech builder/seller Kent Riches, restoration professionals TJ Jackson, Tom Hetrick, and others. “We’re seeing a new wave of buyers,” says Hetrick. “Young, well funded millennials are changing the direction of what’s popular or available.” Keeping his own tabs, Bill Ross agrees. “The addition of this new buying market seems to be pushing some old auction stalwarts (re: vintage European) out.”
Seeking an entertaining read with more illustrations than words, we’ve limited ourselves to showing one favorite each. Not a simple task with loads of desirable bikes around, so we’ll add an honorable mention. It is understood that some regard the Mecum’s annual Vegas auction as a ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ event, but every year, sales records reveal outstanding value on some very nice motorcycles. Like any auction, you may or may not meet the seller, making your experience and knowledge a critical element. I do find Mecum’s published evaluations and descriptions to be generally trustworthy. Loosely sorted by price, the idea we’re trying to convey is there are bikes for every budget to be found.
Bill Ross – Motori Minarelli 50cc GP Racer 1970 – Lot S263 – Sold $11.550
If you enjoy finding motorcycles you’ve never heard of, consider Mecum as the best place to go. What’s a Motori Minarelli? Firstly, Minarelli is an engine builder located in Bologna, Italy and thousands of engines later, the company continues with a selection of two and four stroke designs. Some with transmission and rear drive attached. Started in 1951 by Vittorio Minarelli and Franco Morini (brothers Morini) the concern spit out a couple small displacement two and four strokes, but the partnership didn’t last. By 1956, the reformed F.B. Minarelli tunneled all resources into engine manufacturing alone, and it was a wise decision, indeed. In 1967 the title became Motori Minarelli and the only motorcycles made were works machines, raced to promote the brand. Read more about Minarelli today here.
Described on the attached docket, this motorcycle had undergone a comprehensive restoration, then refinished in correct team colors of green and yellow. Promoted as a mid-70s factory Gran Prix machine, some basic research turned up hints about this 50cc racer’s origins. According to a description published by Bonhams on a similar machine, Minarelli’s racing effort included supplying “50cc and 80cc engines to independents, the Italian PCB company being one of many frame makers that used Minarelli units during the 1970s.” Noting the transfer on the lower fairing, we’re assuming this is a PCB-framed racer fitting Minarelli’s air-cooled, reed valve 50cc P6 racing engine with six-speed transmission. Other period photos displaying Minarelli’s own works racers were very similar designs. Could it be PCB supplied all the frames? “The tiny four-leading shoe front brake caught my eye, and a closer inspection revealed more mechanical jewelry. Very impressive ingenuity and amazing attention to detail,” said Ross. “Pointing my camera over the top to catch the bike’s hourglass figure reveals lines not captured in a side photo.” Amazed at the Minarelli’s lightweight precision, all of it, from the aggressive shape of its fairing to that impossibly long, fit-to-the-frame fuel tank are masterpieces of fabrication. Watch a 50cc P6 Minarelli on dyno here.
Honorable mention: 1957 Norton International Model 30 – Sold – $14.300
Alex Woodbury – 1972 Honda CL350 K4 Blue Flying Dragon – Lot T185.1 – Sold $71.500
This report would have been published days sooner had we not paused to study hydro dipping, or immersion printing – the process of which this CL350 (and some 450cc versions) were finished. Rewinding a bit, back before Honda saw fit to offer a $10.00 tie-dye option its mid-size trails bike, the CL350 and CL450 twins were big sellers. More popular in street/CB form for US buyers, the market was deemed large enough to warrant further investment. Generally regarded as easy and durable, the added benefit of Honda dependability was (and is) a trusted tradition. Especially for collectors. Easy but not overly exciting, the four-stroke, OHC, dual-carb trailie was a 70s staple, despite competing at a disadvantage against rapid two-strokes from Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki. But what the 350 lacked in thrust was compensated for in friendly familiarity – memories of a simpler time. Today, one question exists: is the Flying Dragon more art than motorcycle? We’re not sure, but it is a bonafide vintage sensation.
According to the VJMC’s, Jack Stein, it was slow sales that motivated Honda to dress up the CL350 and CL450 in these psychedelic schemes between 1972-73, a situation made worse after the introduction of its sensational dirt-only Elsinore two-stroke. “Each Flying Dragon set (available in four color options) consisted of a tank and two matching battery covers. All carried a Honda/Japan parts number, and no two were the same,” says Stein. “These were offered through Honda dealers everywhere but, it didn’t catch on. The CL scramblers were eventually discontinued in 1973, as lots of owners traded up to the 750.” Speaking with one Mecum official, I’m told the Flying Dragon craze boils down to it being a ultra-rare version of a well known, trusted product. “I was thinking this blue version might sell for $25K,” he laughed. “I was way off!”
Honorable mention: 1952 BMW R68 – Sold – $52.800
Nolan Woodbury – 1973 Norton Dunstall 850 – Lot F227.1 – Did not sell $9000
Years ago I stumbled onto some old Paul Dunstall catalogs, and that find became the basis for my fascination with Dunstall’s career, and the motorcycles he produced. Recognized in the U.K. as a licensed manufacturer after 1967, PD’s early years were filled with producing full racing machines. Gaining fame, many high-performance goodies were made available for purchase in his famous (and popular) Dunstall catalogs. Resplendent in gel-coat blue this isn’t the first Dunstall I’ve seen at Mecum, but it might be the best. Documented built and delivered from new at PD’s Thamesmead works, this very nicely preserved Commando 850 was by far the most authentic I’ve seen, given the period literature. Out of service for long periods and plainly not over-polished, the bike’s history explains how Dunstall canceled his racing program to concentrate solely on Norton’s new Commando twin. Shipping cafe racer parts worldwide on a daily basis, Dunstall’s workshop was busy spinning out fast Commandos in 750, 810 and 850cc variants. A very gifted tuner, Dunstall was peaking in 1973, or right about the time this example was completed.
In attendance this year were two other very nice Commando specials – one fully documented and certified 750 Production Racer, and a Dunstall 810 in yellow. Both sold for yards more money (in fact, this one didn’t) and I’m not surprised by any of it. From my position as an outsider it’s all a guess, yet I strongly consider this particular machine a case of ‘what it is’ verses ‘how it is’. You’ll need some experience and will have done all your homework, but that is how buyers can uncover the hidden treasures at Mecum’s annual events. In the case of this blue rocket, less gleam means more steam for real riding, and there’s enough spare and specialists to keep this hot rod Norton on the road, where it belongs. Frankly, Dunstall’s 810cc cylinders were problematic (pulled threads/loose cylinder studs) and the 850 throws in the bonus of having a better bottom end. Peeking at PD’s flexible top-end oilers, 932 Concentrics, intakes and exhaust, I’d wager the package included his high-performance camshaft, re-degreed valves and intake porting. The reality? At 130-mph-plus it bettered a new Z-1, thus coining the phrase ‘The World’s Fastest Production Motorcycle’. Note full Dunstall fiberglass body, special exhausts and Dunstall inscribed controls. Wows. Nolan Woodbury
Honorable mention: 1983 Suzuki GS1100ES – Sold – $3.300
(1983 Triumph Bonneville T140ES TSX $8.800 – 1997 Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird $3300 – 1938 Vincent HRD Series A Twin 998cc
$330.000 – 1983 Honda CB1100F $27.500 – 1974 BMW R90/6 $5500 – 1982 BMW/MKM 1000 $28.600 – 1956 Douglas Dragonfly 348cc
$18.150 – 1988 Honda CBR 1000 Hurricane $22.000 – 1972 Norton Dunstall Commando 810cc $20.900 – 1972 BMW R75/5 $2200)