February 17, 2011

Classic American Motorcycle Auction

Here, from Classic American Iron Magazine  is a listing of the various classic American motorcycles, other than Harley and Indian, that sold at the recent Bonhams classic motorcycle auction in Las Vegas.

We have already listed the Harley and Indian motorcycles that sold at this auction. So here are the other American motorcycles. Please note all quoted sale prices include the buyers preimum.


1911 Curtiss Marvell motorcycle

Lot 181 sold for $52,650.  Ex-Otis Chandler
1911 Curtiss Marvell 500cc Single   Engine no. 1274

As a young man, Glenn Curtiss had a passion for bicycling and competition. His drive to compete and be the best propelled him throughout his career and life. Bicycling transitioned into motorcycling at its infancy and motorcycle racing. By the ripe old age of 23, he was already marketing the Hercules and within two years his motorcycles had his name emblazoned across the gas tanks. A very competent competitor, Curtiss was the very first American motorcycle champion in 1903. His expertise however was in creating reliable and powerful engines, building simple single cylinder machines, V-twins and the extraordinary “W” three cylinder configuration.

His eyes however began looking to the sky as Curtiss was drawn to the fascination of powered flight. Even by 1904, he was supplying engines to lighter-than-air dirigibles builders. Motorcycles probably became less important to him during these years as he dreamt of becoming the first person to successfully fly a heavier-than-air craft. While the Wright brothers eventually earned those honors, it did not stop Curtiss from developing new engines. He has been widely recognized for a land speed record using an eight cylinder engine of his own design that was destined for aircraft use, and constructing a special chassis for a record attempt. On January 24, 1907 at Ormond Beach, Glenn Curtiss piloted his motorcycle to a one-way record of 136.4 mph on the Florida beach. His record stood for 13 years against both motorcycles and cars.

As the fascination of powered flight became a reality for Glenn Curtiss, his involvement in motorcycle production tapered off and the production of the famous Curtiss motorcycle ended in 1909. However he was not completely out of the industry as it may have served him well and allowed him to finance his aircraft designs. With a new engine and a new chassis, the famed Curtiss was then marketed as the “Marvel” with the partnership of C. Leonard and Elizabeth H. Waters, and remained based in Hammondsport, New York. The Waters had formerly owned the Motorcycle Equipment and Supply Company, and supplied MESCO engines to small builders and individuals for motorcycle construction. They even marketed a complete motorcycle named the Erie from 1906 through 1909. However, by 1913, production of the Marvel ceased.

The new Marvel was quite ingenious and bristled with innovation. At a time when most manufacturers used atmospheric intake valves, the new Marvel engine featured a jug cylinder with overhead valves and a unique actuation design that used a single pushrod to open both the intake and the exhaust valve mechanically. The 500cc engine developed 4 to 5 horsepower, substantially superior to anything else on the market at that time, and was one of the earliest overhead valve applications. Curtiss may have also had ambitions to race this engine as the top of the cylinder has a spare boss intended to add a second spark plug in the head. An open magnet Bosch magneto provided reliable ignition to run the engine and a glass bowl Heitger carburetor controlled the fuel supply.

The chassis was as unusual as the motor. Instead of simply clamping the gas tank and oil tank on a conventional frame, these parts were brazed into the frame which used cast bulkheads. The engine served as a stress member of the frame. A sturdy fork of Curtiss’ own design handled the poundings received on the road.

1913 Excelsior Model 4C Autocycle motorcycle

Lot 194 sold for $38,610  1913 Excelsior Model 4C Autocycle Engine no. 20134
It would be easy to argue that of America’s early “Big Three” motorcycle manufacturers, Excelsior should have been the one with the best shot at longevity. By the time Chicago-based Excelsior Supply Company made its first motorcycle in 1905, it already had three decades of producing frames and parts for the bicycle industry. Building on that experience, Excelsiors quickly gained a reputation for rugged dependability on the corrugated roads of the day, and for speed at the racetrack.

In 1911 that good standing attracted Ignaz Schwinn of bicycle fame, who was planning on manufacturing Schwinn motorcycles to meet the growing demand for motorized two-wheelers. But why start from scratch when neighboring Excelsior might be open to an offer? The deal was completed early in 1912, with Schwinn acquiring all of Excelsior’s assets for $500,000. To avoid confusion in the marketplace, the Excelsior nameplate would continue to be used. The change in ownership did nothing to harm the company’s reputation for speed, either. Later that year Excelsior man Lee Humiston became the first rider to be officially timed at 100 mph; a few days later he set every time/speed record from 2 to 100 miles. Excelsiors were winning on dirt-tracks, board-tracks, hillclimbs and reliability runs.

Business was good too – so good that in 1914 the Excelsior operation was moved into a veritable palace of manufacturing, a modern and efficient six-story reinforced-concrete structure that featured excellent lighting, forced-air ventilation and even a test track on the roof! At the time, no other motorcycle-maker in the world had a better facility. In 1917 Henderson with its upscale four-cylinder model was added to the Schwinn stable of motorcycles.

This 1913 Model 4C Autocycle is from the last year of production for 30.50 cubic-inch (500cc) four-stroke Single. Afterward big Excelsiors would be V-Twin powered, though a 500cc two-stroke utility model would later join the lineup. The Excelsior was purchased from Donald Boyer of Arkansas in 2003 and has previously resided with an Illinois based collector. It is an immaculately detailed West Coast restoration completed at a cost of more than $28,000 with such period embellishments as polished and machine-turned engine cases. It has seen just light use since restoration and presents as freshly done.

As it turned out, after going from strength to strength, Excelsior closed its doors in 1931. Rather than risk not surviving the Great Depression, Mr. Schwinn simply shut down motorcycle operations. It’s unclear whether that was the right decision or not, but here’s a shining example of an Excelsior from the company’s glory days when all was before them.


1929 Henderson KJ motorcycle

Lot 199 sold for $45,630 1929 Henderson Streamline KJ  Engine no. KJ34264

How’s this for irony? The fast four-cylinder Henderson was a favorite of speed demons and officers of the law who chased after them! When Detroit’s Henderson brothers founded their firm in 1911, the goal was a luxurious, reliable machine. With its long 65-inch wheelbase, the bike certainly gave a stately ride, which customer Carl Stearns Clancy soon put to good use as he became the first motorcycle rider to circumnavigate the globe on two wheels. His Henderson covered 18,000 miles in 10 months of hard riding.

That was just the start of record setting for Henderson, which soon had the advertising tagline “Foremost among Fours.” In 1917 Alan Bedell broke the famous Cannonball Baker’s transcontinental record, gunning his Henderson from Los Angeles to New York in seven days, 16 hours. Bedell had already set a closed-course record on the bike, covering a distance of 1149 miles in 24 hours. Also in 1917, Roy Artley set a Three Flags Classic record aboard his Henderson, riding from the Canadian border to Tijuana, Mexico in three days, 25 minutes.

All of this long-distance glory snagged the attention of Ignaz Schwinn, looking to add a top-shelf four-cylinder model to his growing line of Excelsior V-Twin motorcycles. A deal was done and stating in 1918 Hendersons would roll from Schwinn’s fancy new factory in Chicago. Upgrades and improvements were constant, and by now wheelbase had shrunk to a more sporting 58 inches. In 1920 came a complete redesign, the Model K, now with an 80-cubic-inch (1300cc) engine, the first motorcycle power plant to employ a full-pressure lubrication system.

More and more police departments nationwide were ordering Hendersons. The smoothness of the four-cylinder was a sales point, as was its flexibility – a Henderson could be lugged down to below 10 mph in top gear then smoothly accelerate away. But it was the bike’s outright speed that sealed the deal. A favorite fleet-sales technique was to have a PD’s assembled brass stand on a closed-down stretch of highway while a Henderson flashed by at 100 mph. Nothing on the road could outrun a Henderson Four.

In 1929 the Henderson and designer Arthur Constantine crossed paths. Already on Excelsior’s payroll with his revolutionary Super X, Constantine was charged with taking the Four to the next level. The result was the Streamline KJ, sharing the smooth rounded styling of the Super X but with 40 horsepower at 4000 rpm. It’s no small irony that when Mr. Schwinn told his motorcycle divisions in 1931, “Gentlemen, today we stop,” he did so with full order books and arguably the best V-Twin and four-cylinder American motorcycles to date.

The 1929 Streamline KJ on auction here is recent complete full restoration. In 2005 the bike was completely torn down and a three year restoration process was begun. The bike was a running original piece formerly in the Gene Baron collection that had an older repaint when it was purchased by the current owner. During the restoration the bike was completely gone through and now with a complete motor rebuild and it’s striking finish in the company’s trademark green-and-cream it is a stunning piece to add to any collection.

More at http://www.bonhams.com/cgi-bin/public.sh/WService=wslive_pub/pubweb/publicSite.r

You can discuss these classic American motorcycles or auction results at the American Iron Magazine forum or the Classic American Iron forum.

Filed under Events, History, Motorcycle Places, News by Staff Report

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