E.J. Cole Col­lec­tion reads more like a his­tory of Amer­i­can-made mo­tor­cy­cles

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE HAN­LON

THE mo­tor­cy­cle world will hold its breath to­mor­row and Satur­day, when the largest and most sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tion of mo­tor­cy­cles ever auc­tioned at one time will sell at “no re­serve” in Las Ve­gas.

The 220-mo­tor­bike cat­a­logue for the E.J. Cole Col­lec­tion Auc­tion reads more like a his­tory of Amer­i­can-made mo­tor­cy­cles than a nor­mal auc­tion cat­a­logue, with ex­am­ples of many of the most im­por­tant mo­tor­cy­cles ever made in the United States go­ing un­der the ham­mer.

While there may yet be a big­ger auc­tion in the next 85 years, the E.J. Cole Col­lec­tion rep­re­sents the most im­por­tant mo­tor­cy­cle auc­tion that has been held in the last 130 years.

To date, only 27 mo­tor­cy­cles have ever sold for more than $300 000 at auc­tion. The Cole Col­lec­tion con­tains five mo­tor­cy­cles that Me­cum Midamer­ica es­ti­mates will sell for at least that amount.

The 220 mod­els con­tain sev­eral hid­den gems and a “bolter” might well emerge dur­ing the bid­ding if two col­lec­tors covet the same rare mo­tor­cy­cle. In the world of col­lectibles, value is in the eye of the be­holder.

Bid­ding starts at at 4 pm (Ve­gas time, 5 am SAST) to­mor­row and 11 am (2 am SAST) on Satur­day. Ex­pect the high­est bids to go on the three Har­ley-David­son Strap Tank Sin­gles in the col­lec­tion. The strap tank sin­gle is the popular name given to Har­ley-David­son’s first mo­tor­cy­cle, a 440 cc sin­gle cylin­der mo­tor­cy­cle with nickel-plated steel straps at­tach­ing the oil and main fuel tank to the frame.

Th­ese bikes are the most sought-af­ter of all Har­ley-David­son mod­els and when the Otis Chan­dler Col­lec­tion was sold in 2006, a 1907 Strap Tank Sin­gle sold for $352 000. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how this bike sells be­cause the orig­i­nal Otis Chan­dler bike, which set the record for a “strap tank”, ap­peared at auc­tion again ear­lier this yearand only fetched $165 000.

Lot F19 – es­ti­mated $18,000 to $20,000

Sadly, with an es­ti­mate of just $18 000 to $20 000, the de­light­fully ec­cen­tric 1922 Ner-a-car (above) isn’t re­ally a con­tender for a top 250 spot, but it is yet an­other in­di­ca­tion of the lev­els of in­no­va­tion the Amer­i­can mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try once ex­hib­ited. The feet-for­ward, hub-cen­tre steered, Ner-A-Car in many ways at­tempted to do what Honda suc­ceeded in do­ing with its step-through de­sign 50 years later, and was mar­keted as a low-cost al­ter­na­tive to a mo­tor car. Like Honda’s ubiq­ui­tous (at least in Asia) scoot­ers, the Ner-a-car of­fered free­dom from road grime and en­gine flu­ids, en­abling rid­ers to wear or­di­nary clothes. The com­pany was funded by King Gil­lette (of safety ra­zor fame) and one of its strong­est ad­vo­cates was the leg­endary Cannonball Baker who rode one from New York to Los An­ge­les in 1922, with the to­tal jour­ney of 3,364 miles tak­ing 174 hours and cost­ing $15,70. Baker later started a Ner­acar deal­er­ship in Los An­ge­les. Around 10 000 were man­u­fac­tured in the United States and an­other 6 500 were pro­duced un­der li­cence in Eng­land by Sh­effield-Sim­plex.


Though only built for two years (1910-11), the Detroit mo­tor­cy­cle uses very large­di­am­e­ter tub­ing for its frame, which con­tains both the gas and oil tanks, sim­i­lar to the Pierce mo­tor­cy­cle. The Detroit fea­tures a di­rect flat-belt drive and lead­ing-link fork, and the en­gine is a 30.5 cu-in. (500cc) F-head sin­gle, with the throt­tle and ig­ni­tion con­trolled by twist­grips on the han­dle­bars, and rods to the car­bu­ret­tor and points as­sem­bly. This 1910 Detroit sin­gle is built around an orig­i­nal en­gine, and is ex­tremely rare, be­ing one of just three known to ex­ist.

One of the true clas­sics in the Cole col­lec­tion, this 1907 In­dian Tri-Car With Sedan Chair is for all in­tents, a chauf­feured arm­chair. It was made in the pe­riod where per­sonal trans­porta­tion was still find­ing its way, and while the ped­alpow­ered rick­shaw be­came com­mon­place in some coun­tries, putting the pas­sen­ger dead-cen­tre in harm’s way proved folly and most tri-cars used the pas­sen­ger space for more com­mer­cial en­deav­ours and the trans­porta­tion of goods.

1908 Read­ing Stan­dard Sin­gle TriCar, Lot S115 – es­ti­mated $65 000 to $85 000.

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