The 20 Most Expensive Motorcycles Ever Sold At Auction

Photo: Bonhams, Ex-Jack Ehret 1951 Vincent Black Lightning

In 1885, what is widely considered to be the first-ever motorcycle was unveiled with the Daimler Reitwagen. In the subsequent 136 years, the motorcycle industry has enormously evolved, giving rise to a massive array of thousands of different two-wheeled genres, makes, and models. And whether it be for their rarity, competition and/or ownership history, or other historical significance, a select number of bikes stand above the rest, boasting astronomical values afforded only by an elite and affluent few.

Auctioning off motorcycles is by no means a recent phenomenon, though the last decade or so has seen the record for the highest-ever-selling bike broken several times over—most recently in January of 2018 when an ultra-rare Vincent land speed racer brought in nearly $930K, besting the previous record set in 2015 for a Steve McQueen-owned board track racer by almost eighty grand. With experts readily admitting that the existing standing records very well could be broken in the immediate future, we thought now would be the perfect time to bust out the history books and count down the most expensive motorcycles ever sold at auction.

1911 Flying Merkel Board Track Racer


Touted as “a testament to the pioneering years of American racing ingenuity,” this all-original 1911 Flying Merkel board track racer was purchased new by a Virginia-based FM dealer who campaigned the inlet-over-exhaust V-Twin in races on the East Coast prior to the start of WW2, at which time it was transported the bike to storage. Though not a single surviving example was believed to exist, this 1911 specimen was rediscovered in 1980. Now wearing new motorcycle tires, this otherwise bone-stock example remains in relatively astounding condition, considering its 110-year-old age coupled with its immense level of originality.

Adjusted For Inflation: $464,975
Auction House: Mecum
Date Sold: March 21, 2015

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1927 Harley-Davidson FHA 8-Valve Racer


With hardtail frames, skinny, primitive tires, no brakes, and average speeds exceeding 100mph, it’s frankly unsurprising that the vast majority of the pre-Depression-era dirt oval and board track racers have been destroyed or lost to the sands of time. It’s also a big part of what makes this sidecar-equipped Harley-Davidson racer so noteworthy. Upon its release, this then-state-of-the-art 999.6cc V-Twin featured four-valves per cylinder and a Bosch magneto ignition. Pronounced flat spots on the tires (and rims), and the Harley’s original patina leave absolutely zero doubt as to this elite American-made example’s originality.

Adjusted For Inflation: $465,194
Auction House: Shannons
Date Sold: September, 2015

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George Brough’s 1939 Brough Superior SS100


Based in Nottingham, England, Brough Superior is one of the all-time most legendary marques in motorcycle history. Often referred to as the “Rolls Royce of motorcycles,” Brough Superior only produced just under 3,050 across the company’s brief 21-year existence–all of which were thoroughly high-performance, high-dollar machines, and a great many of which were custom built-to-order. And while all surviving Brough examples are objectively elite and highly-sought-after motorcycles, this particular WW2-era specimen stands out from the crowd due to the fact it was owned and ridden by none other than George Brough, the founder, owner, and operator of the highly-celebrated British brand.

Adjusted For Inflation: $468,384
Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: April 27, 2014

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The Vincent Black Lightning is another holy grail motorcycle model with a rich competition history. This particular bike is not only one of the 1,507 seldom-seen Series C specimens but is also one of the even rarer 15 “White Shadow” variants ever produced. The White Shadow sported polished bare metal crankcases, rather than the normally blacked-out cases, but was otherwise pretty much identical to the standard model. What’s more, this Vincent Owners Club-certified example also wears the brand’s factory “Chinese Red” paint—a special livery typically reserved for Rapide touring bikes—as a custom-ordered factory option, essentially making it a true one-of-one specimen.

Adjusted For Inflation: $470,567
Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: January 7, 2016

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1926 Brough Superior SS100 Alpine Grand Sports


In 1924 Brough Superior pulled the cover off of its game-changing SS100 (or SuperSport 100), a four-cam J.A.P ‘KTOR’ racing-engined, high-performance model that was marketed and sold with the guarantee that each unit could break the 100mph barrier on quarter-mile runs. The following year in September, George and the gang unveiled a revised version of the SS100 christened the Alpine Grand Sport. Powered by a 980cc overhead valve engine with an eight brake horsepower output, this new touring-focused variant offered improved handling characteristics, a lower center of gravity, bolstered fuel capacity and range, a small fly-screen, a pair of onboard toolboxes, and saddlebags made by fellow British outfit, Brooks.

Adjusted For Inflation: $513,444
Auction House: RM Sothebys
Date Sold: October 31, 2012

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1929 Brough Superior SS100


To say the SS100 was “ahead of its time” would be a massive understatement. The cutting-edge British-built two-wheeler featured a calculated collection of premium off-the-shelf components with Webb and Enfield hubs, dampers made by Bentley, Harley-Davidson forks, and a race-bred J.A.P ‘KTOR’ engine. Famously owned by T. E. Lawrence, (aka “Lawrence of Arabia”), SS100 specimens were used to achieve a slew of world speed records and lap records at various race tracks across the world—many of which would stand unbroken for several decades.

Adjusted For Inflation: $555,350
Auction House: H & H
Date Sold: October, 2010

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1922 Brough Superior SS80 'Old Bill'


Throughout his lifetime, George Brough owned and competed on a myriad of different Brough models, one of the most famous of which is known as “Old Bill.” Named after the iconic cartoon penned by British artist, Bruce Barnsfather, this 1922 SS80 example was used to achieve George’s first-ever five-lap expert race victory, though later on the same day a tire blowout would land George in the hospital. The bike was fixed up and crashed again, before being used for road-going duties in London, at which point it was again damaged during a German Blitz. Eventually, after trading hands on numerous occasions, the bike landed in a motorcycle museum where it remained until going under the gavel in late 2012.

Adjusted For Inflation: $532,485
Auction House: H & H
Date Sold: October, 2012

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1939 BMW RS255 Rennsport Kompressor


While it obviously looks pretty outdated and long in the tooth by today’s standards, upon its release, BMW’s RS255 was a tremendously state-of-the-art machine, having enormously benefitted from a full 15 years of development. This decade-and-a-half of R&D would ultimately give way to a racer with telescopic forks, a coil-sprung plunger system-equipped rear damping system, and the German brand’s quintessential boxer twin engine with twin overhead camshafts, magnesium cylinder head covers, and a powerful top-mounted supercharger. BMW’s immense investment into the blown boxer would eventually pay off when an RS255 was ridden to victory at both the European and German championships in 1938.

Adjusted For Inflation: $536,193
Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: January 10, 2013

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1932 Brough Superior BS4 Project


Though the Brough Superior name is fairly synonymous with V-Twin engines, the British brand did in fact dabble in producing four-cylinder engine models at numerous points in time, the most fruitful of which was with the BS4 in the early 1930s. Utilizing the three-speed gearbox and 13hp 747cc inline-four engine found in the Austin 7—a British two-door economy car produced from 1923 through 1939—the BS4 would only ever see 10 units completed before the plug was pulled on the project. The fact this particular example—Frame No. 4004 and Engine No. M131039–is far from complete, is in somewhat rough shape, and nonetheless remains on this list should give you a decent indication of its overall rarity and prestige.

Adjusted For Inflation: 522,203
Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: April 24, 2016

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1912 Henderson Four


While four-cylinder engines are commonplace in cars and motorcycles today, this wasn’t the case in motorcycling’s infancy in the early 1900s. One early outfit that would pioneer this powertrain configuration was Detroit’s Henderson Motorcycle Company, which in 1912 debuted its first model with the highly-influential Henderson Four. This first-year example still packs its original 966.8cc F-Head inline-four engine, and remains in 100% original condition, standing today just as it did when it rolled out of the factory in Michigan 109-years-ago. Furthermore, this specimen is said to be the only unmolested and unrestored example in the world, making it a very unique and special piece of American motorcycle history.

Adjusted For Inflation: $520,203
Auction House: Mecum
Date Sold: January 28, 2017

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1929 Brough Superior SS100 Alpine Grand Sports


There are only a few Brough Superior SS100 Alpine Grand Sports (or AGS) examples currently in circulation, though the cleanest of the small bunch is almost certainly this stunning 1929 AGS-spec SS100. Originally purchased new in March of 1929, this Depression-era superbike model spent the next seven decades being bought and resold—during which time it crossed the pond to the US. Around the turn of the millennium it was shipped back to its native UK, where world-renowned Brough specialist, Tony Leedal treated the SuperSport to an absolutely immaculate professionals restoration.

Adjusted For Inflation: $543,660
Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: November 30, 2014

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1930 Brough Superior SS100


When a motorcycle is partially assembled and partially in crates, and still manages to earn a spot on the list of most expensive bikes ever sold, you know there’s gotta be something very special happening. And that’s exactly the case with this SuperSport project. The bike was originally owned by F. P. Dickson, who campaigned the SuperSport at the ISDT Switzerland in 1930 on a three-man team comprised of Dickson, Eddy Meyer, and their good pal, George Brough. And, while it is in pieces, it does pack its original frame and matching numbers gearbox and JAP engine—the latter of which boasts a re-conditioned crankshaft assembly and all-new pistons, valves, and valve springs, and was recently inspected and signed off on by Technical Advisor to the Brough Club, Dave Clark.

Adjusted For Inflation: $552,200
Auction House: H & H
Date Sold: March, 2019

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1940 Crocker Big Tank


There are certain names in the motorsport realm that carry an unparalleled amount of weight thanks to their innovation and success of the race track, and while the Carroll Shelby’s, Enzo Ferrari’s, and Bruce McLaren’s are all household names, another lesser-known but equally deserving individual was Al Crocker. Crocker produced what then were considered ultra-high-performance and cutting-edge bikes, all of which were custom-built-to-order and were available in displacements ranging from 1.0L to 1.5L—the latter of which generated an impressive 60hp. The fastest production motorcycles upon its release, this 1940 Big Tank specimen is one of just 64 units built. In 2012, it was acquired by Los Angeles-based Crocker experts, 1346Venice, which treated the prized American V-Twin to a Concours-grade restoration.

Adjusted For Inflation: $559,835
Auction House: Mecum
Date Sold: May 19, 2019

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1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer


In the earliest days of motorcycling, before the sport had really come into its own, most motorbikes could best be described as pedal-powered bicycles fitted with small primitive engines. One major evolutionary step in the moto chain was the Cyclone from St. Paul’s Joerns Motor Manufacturing Company. Kicked along by an incredibly modern 45hp 999.6cc overhead cam, shaft- and bevel-driven V-Twin, the Cyclone bridged the gap between a motor-powered bicycle and a bonafide motorbike. Capable of triple-digit speeds and devoid of any braking system, this skinny-tired two-wheeler has campaigned on the banked walls of motordrome tracks of the era, where it gained an impressive reputation amongst both manufacturers and the general public.

Adjusted For Inflation: $666,215
Auction House: MidAmerica
Date Sold: July 13, 2008

1939 Crocker “Big Tank”


One could easily be forgiven for thinking early Harley or Indian motorcycles represent the most expensive American bikes ever sold at auction, but that honor undoubtedly goes to Crocker, which occupies four spots on this list. The 1939 “Big Tank” example seen here has been beautifully restored by Germany’s Michael Weigert with Crocker expert, Chuck Vernon overseeing the process. Powering this WW2-era steed is a liter-sized V-Twin, while pumps in the road are soaked up through a girder fork and a double-sprung tractor-style bobber seat.

Adjusted For Inflation: $716,590
Auction House: Mecum
Date Sold: January 26, 2019

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1907 Harley-Davidson “Strap Tank”


After completing a few prototypes and their first five early “production” units out of a small shed in Milwaukee in the early 1900s, William Harley and the three Davidson brothers moved into a markedly larger factory on the city’s Chestnut Street in 1906 where the four began producing their first real production model known as the “Strap Tank” (for obvious reasons). Widely considered to be the best, cleanest unrestored example in known existence, this 1907 Harley-Davidson “Strap Tank” specimen is not only one of the first 207 built (including prototype units) but is believed to be the 94th Harley-Davidson machine, resulting in it being the most expensive motorcycle ever sold from the iconic cruiser brand.

Adjusted For Inflation: $785,022
Auction House: Mecum
Date Sold: March 21, 2015

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1937 Crocker “Small Tank”


Throughout Crocker’s history the American outfit produced two main model variants; the “Big Tank;” and the “Small Tank”—named such for the different shape and size of the fuel-cells. Because less than 70 surviving examples are known to exist today, each one commands an enormous price when they cross the auction block. And that’s how things played out for this particular “Small Tank” specimen from 1937 when it went under the hammer at Mecum’s Monterey sale over the summer of 2019 where it became the fourth most expensive motorcycle ever bought at auction.

Adjusted For Inflation: $727,786
Auction House: Mecum
Date Sold: August 17, 2019

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1936 Crocker “Small Tank”


Early on in the American brand’s history, prior to it gaining traction with the public and expanding its production facilities and labor force, Crocker produced its first bikes via the company’s founder, Al Crocker, and partner, Paul Bigsby—who interestingly enough, also invented the Whammy Bar—machined and constructed each unit by hand themselves, though this highly personal practice ceased after a little over a dozen specimens. This particular 1939 Crocker “Small Tank” is one of the original units hand-built by Crocker’s founders and is completely unrestored, even wearing its original factory paint. What’s more, this very bike is widely believed to be the only unrestored, comprehensively documented, genuine Crocker V-Twin in existence.

Adjusted For Inflation: $839,753
Auction House: Mecum
Date Sold: August 17, 2019

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Steve McQueen’s 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer


In addition to being known the world over for an iconic acting career and an impeccable sense of style, Steve McQueen was also famous for his ties to motorsport with both an illustrious and incredibly active personal race history and a fairly unrivaled collection of elite cars, trucks, and motorbikes. Unsurprisingly, every vehicle previously owned by the “King of Cool” (or his Hollywood company, “Solar Productions”) is bestowed with an enormous supplementary value, and the Indiana native’s immaculate 1915 Cyclone board track racer is no exception. This restored example was purchased from McQueen’s estate sale in 1984, four years after his death, before becoming (at least for a time) the most expensive motorcycle ever auctioned in 2015.

Adjusted For Inflation: $935,440
Auction House: Mecum
Date Sold: March 21, 2015

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Ex-Jack Ehret 1951 Vincent Black Lightning


Having fetched more than 25-times the average American’s annual income, this 1951 Vincent Black Lightning you see here is the most expensive motorcycle ever to go under the hammer. One of approximately 33 race and track-spec units ever produced and one of 19 still known to exist, this full matching numbers example was famously ridden by Jack Ehret in 1953 to a speed of 141.509mph, achieving a new world land speed record and utterly destroying the previous record of 122.6mph (which was achieved aboard a Vincent). Ehret also experienced a slew of additional are wins and lap records across various classes and disciplines, and the Aussie racer even campaigned his machine in sidecar events. What’s more, this bike–which is sold with Ehret’s sidecar and race bodywork—was re-commissioned by the late Patrick Godet, who until his death in 2018, was considered the world’s most eminent restorer and reconditioner of Vincents.

Adjusted For Inflation: $962,747
Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: January 25, 2018

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The 25 Most Expensive Cars Ever Sold At Auction

Interested in checking out the automotive-counterpart to this piece? Then cruise on over to our breakdown of the most expensive cars ever sold at auction for a joyride through history’s highest-selling seven and eight-figure specimens.