I have a strong stomach and can (and have) eat just about anything if backed into a corner. Luckily, restaurants typically don't have anything too nauseating on their menus, so I can order something like 'Poisson a la Dolomites' when overseas without knowing that mountain people eat their fish preserved in pickle juice, and eat it when it arrives. However, for certain "foods," I prefer to learn what I ate after
I ate it, not before. That would be especially important if I were served Cockroach Tartare at Chez Kirk.
Since we're speaking of Vincents…
What follows is speculation on the prices of Vincents (as well as all other pre-'70s British bike) from past, present and future auctions, largely edited from material I posted on the Vincent
Owners Club forum, but some from my 1962 Catalina thread.
What's interesting is that some people who like motorcycles enough to spend $100k on one of them at an auction don't seem to know that matching numbers add considerably to the worth of almost any British machine, from a $5k BSA to a $150k Vincent
. Harleys, early American machines, bikes with documented celebrity ownership or racing pedigrees, etc. are exceptions but, again, it's hard to imagine that someone planning to spend even $20k on a "collectable" motorcycle wouldn't know this as well. And yet, bitzas still slip through at matching-numbers prices. As mentioned very early in this thread, a Vincent
has three numbers that should match, vs. the two on BSAs, Nortons, Triumphs, etc.
Even in inflation-corrected dollars, $20k isn't pocket change. You would think that someone who had the financial acumen to accumulate that much "extra" money to be able to squander it on a non-necessity like a 60-year-old motorcycle, would have the financial acumen to determine the worth of what they were bidding on, before they bid on it. Although $20k isn't much compared with assets of millions, someone who accumulated such assets probably didn't do so by being frivolous with their investments. So, the only logical conclusion is that all these non-matching-numbers Vincents and Gold Stars are being bought by trust-fund babies, who inherited their wealth rather than worked for it.
Some years ago I looked at the asking
prices in old copies of Hemmings Motor News as well as selling
prices at auctions of Model T Fords, the last of which was made in 1927. Like the Vincent
, a Model T is an iconic vehicle, and prices rose consistently until approximately 1990, when they stagnated. At that time someone who was born when the last Model T was made would have been 63, and they probably wanted one when a teenager. That explains why prices kept going up until that cohort started to age out of out of buying cars c1990 because they began moving to retirement communities.
In 2023, someone who was born when the last Vincent
twin was made is 68. However, what a Vincent
has, that a Model T doesn't, is the ability to be safely used on modern roads. The lack of h.p. and adequate brakes means a Model T is only good for Sunday drives on lightly-traveled local roads. Unlike a Model T, a Vincent
can keep up with traffic on a modern Interstate highway. This factor may be what's helping keep Vincent
auction prices afloat past what would seem to be a natural best-by date.
Before proceeding, it needs to be said that there are issues with auction prices. Although prohibited in many States, in Nevada auctioneers are permitted to take fictitious bids out of the air until the reserve is met, in order to drive prices up. That means, for example, a bike that is listed as not selling with a "high bid" of, say, $100k might have had a $100k reserve, but an actual highest bid of maybe only $80k. Also, Mecums has a large stock of motorcycles they own themselves, and they can anonymously bid in order to take them back into stock rather than let them go for too little, which artificially inflates some listed selling prices. However, despite such issues, selling prices listed by Mecum in Las Vegas correlate with ones in their auctions in other States where some of these practices aren't allowed (e.g. California), as well as with those of other auctioneers in overseas markets (e.g. Bonhams in UK auctions). Also, a lot of people show up at the Las Vegas auction and actually do bid and buy. In any case, what follows assumes auction prices can be taken with more than a grain of salt.
I've been inconsistently tracking Series C Black Shadow auction prices since 2012. I have the following three recorded for that year:
2012 MidAmerica Las Vegas: 1952, mostly original, restored 2000, $80,000
2012 MidAmerica New York: 1953, $90,000
2012 Pebble Beach: 1953, stored since 1953, $110,000
average of above: <$93.3k>
According to the government's Consumer Price Index calculator, $93.3k in 2012 is equivalent to $122.4k today.
For what it's worth, I find a useful rule of thumb when dealing with selling prices is to discard the highest and the lowest and take the average of the remaining. But, for the purposes of this post, there were only two Series C Black Shadow sales at this year's Las Vegas auction so they will have to do. I realize the statistical problem of relying on small numbers, but the two that just sold in Las Vegas went for $71.5k and 115.5k, an average of $93.5k, which is essentially identical to the non-inflation-corrected price of a decade earlier.
But, it's worse than this data that indicates prices stagnated over the past decade. After 2012 prices actually kept rising along with inflation for a while, but then seem to have hit a peak and fallen.
2015 Las Vegas: 1954 $112,700
2015 Las Vegas: 1950 $112,700
2016 Las Vegas: 1950 C needs some work $92,000
2016 Safford 1951 $107,794
2016 Las Vegas: 1954 C original unrestored $126,000
average of above: <$110.2k>
Again, all of the above still constitute a relatively small numbers of sales so we shouldn't try to extract too much meaning. Still, a number to keep in mind is that, to keep up with inflation, that Black Shadow that sold at the bottom end in 2012 at only $80k (£65k) should sell for 104.7k (£85k) today, and I don't see a price that high being the case.
Tim Kingham's book 'the Black Shadow' contains well-researched price information up to its publication date in 2017. Usefully for our purposes, Kingham specifically excludes all non-British auctions whereas my data above (with one exception) excludes all non-American auctions. Averaging his data and extrapolating to today (green curve), implies British auction prices today "should" be ~£75k ($94.2k), i.e., the same as in the recent Las Vegas auction average.
However, I infer from comments made on the VOC that current British prices are lower than £75k. If so, and depending on how much lower they are, we could be hearing a slight sucking noise as bikes are shipped from the UK to the US to benefit from the higher prices here.
A cautionary tale is in the 1989 peak in Kingham's data, after which it took 15 years for prices to recover from that bubble. That bubble affected classic car prices as well, from which some vehicles (like the Model T) never recovered. Looking at the above curve, it might be argued that prices ever since the 2007 economic meltdown are themselves a bubble, and if/when that bubble bursts the "true" price of Black Shadows could drop to the ~£60k (~$74k) shown by the blue curve.
As for comparing sales of Vincents in different countries, there are a large number of factors that come into play, including currency exchange rates, cost of crating and shipping, customs duty, different laws on taxation of capital gains and inheritance, probate, etc. Even the degree of enforcement that Australia has on their total ban on the import and export of items containing asbestos which, if strictly enforced, basically removes that continent from being either a buyer or seller of Vincents.
If what I've written above is correct, the bad news is prices could be about to start dropping. The good news is, they will have to drop by a lot for long-term owners to actually lose money. The following graph shows Kingham's raw, not-inflation-corrected, prices. Avoiding problems of currency devaluation, different inflation rates in other countries, etc., the yellow line is from an on-line Bank of England calculator of the UK Consumer Price Index.
The yellow curve can be moved up or down to match the price someone paid the year they bought their Black Shadow or Rapide. Ignoring the late '80s bubble, it shows that prices of both basically tracked inflation until the early 1990s (Rapides until the early '00s), but since then have significantly exceeded it. As a result, if someone bought a Black Shadow 50 years ago, prices would have to drop to ~£22k ($27.2k) before they would have been financially better off having had their purchase price in the bank (having had it in Apple or Microsoft stocks is a different matter). I bought mine in 1991 so my break-even price is £25k ($30.9k). Money "invested" in replacement parts and the present restoration notwithstanding.
Asking prices can be overly-optimistic fantasies of owners, and private selling prices aren't available. I'm afraid the best we can do is try to weed out real vs. fictitious auction selling prices. Comparing those selling prices with the cost-of-living index should provide a fairly reasonable idea how Black Shadows are doing. That comparison in the above graph from Kingham's book shows they did quite well for 60 years. However, the relevant factors at play today (aging demographic, cost of fuel, cost of international shipping, rise of electric vehicles, legislation, etc.) are a different mix than experienced previously, so the writing may be on the wall for Vincent
prices in particular, and British bike prices in general. Or not.
I suspect the number of "younger" (i.e., less than 65) people who are interested in owning a Vincent
(or Bonneville, or Gold Star, or…) is smaller than the number of Vincents that could start entering the market in the not-too-distant future as their present owners move to retirement homes. This would mean that anyone who keeps themselves in good enough physical condition to be able to ride when they're 85 should find auction prices even more favorable at that time.
I have a matching numbers Black Shadow, and I don't intend to buy another, so it would be best for me if what I've written turns out to be wrong, and if prices quickly double and continue upwards from there.