LONG DOMINATED by the European marques, those standouts from Great Britain and Italy, the vintage motorcycle market is undergoing a monumental shift. Once considered old or merely used, Japanese bikes are now entering the hallowed status of being considered vintage. With an abundance of parts and a growing fan base, the very bikes that ushered in the modern motorcycle market are turning up at auctions and in collector’s garages.
Dealernews columnist Mike Vaughan — he himself of a very polished powersports industry vintage — delves into this niche market to get a snapshot of what’s happening, takes a look at some of the players and reviews a couple of books written about motorcycles (and motorcycling) of yore.
The Old Bike Business
Most powersports dealers don’t deal in vintage bikes, and many franchised dealers won’t even work on a motorcycle of any brand that’s more than 10 years old, but you may be missing an opportunity to generate a bit more cash flow. Vintage is a moving designation, organizations responsible for determining just what is or isn’t vintage declare that virtually any motorcycle 25-years or older to be considered vintage, or if not vintage at least collectible.
While vintage owners come in all shapes, sizes and ages, the majority are probably older and more affluent than the general motorcycle public. It’s been my observation that they typically own several vintage bikes, and possibly cars, and one or more newer motorcycles as well. Some of them collect riders or are interested simply in restoration and/or display. Others want to ride and race, and some do it all.
While the collector car business, particularly those of the same vintage as the largest segment of the vintage bike market, has taken a tremendous hit, motorcycles have not. For $40,000 you might pick up a so-so late ’60s muscle car. The same amount will get you a trio of potentially trophy wining British twins of the same era taking up about the same amount of garage space.
Folks involved in the business end of the vintage market feel while business is not growing by leaps and bounds it is at least holding its own in terms of volume. One advantage vintage bikes enjoy over new motorcycles is price flexibility, the lack of an MSRP, and the necessity in most cases to get a certain sales margin to cover operating costs. And in many cases, most vintage bikes are traded without the benefit of an auction or dealer.
Sales in 2009 of vintage bikes were rather sluggish as collectors began to adjust to the new economic realities. According to Glen Bator, president of Bator International, a firm that auctions, brokers, restores and specializes in the sale of high-end collector bikes, prices are down about 25 percent to 30 percent from where they were a few years ago.
“A Triumph that might have sold for $10,000 three or four years ago is now going for $7,500,” Bator says.