It’s amazing how much some people are willing to pay for a bike, especially a rare unit that’s out of production or one of a kind. Then again, rarity isn’t the only factor that’s considered by bidders.
There are a lot of auctions that happen in the United States, but here is a list of the most expensive motorcycles ever sold at auction stateside. The information gathered here is primarily based on Mecum Auction’s 2021 list. You may find that there is a pattern to this top 10 list. You’ll find a lot of Harley-Davidson motorcycles here as well as a few Vincent motorcycles and a wild card of an Indian.
10. 1944 Harley-Davidson FL ($143,000 USD)
Kicking off the list is a Harley-Davidson FL that was auctioned off at an eye-watering $143,000 USD. Yep, that’s the tenth most expensive bike on this list and we’re not even in the top fives yet. The model is one of Harley’s first examples that came with the overhead-valve big-twin, but that’s not what makes it special. Only 172 FL units were produced during this model year due to the war effort, and this particular lot was museum-purchased in 1989. It’s one rare bike, but it’s not the last FL model to make the list.
9. 1903 Indian ($143,000 USD)
Tied up with the tenth spot on the list is this early 1903 Indian motorcycle. Before motorcycles had chunky tires and dedicated chassis with big engines in them, this is what your great-great-great grandad probably puttered around with, motorized bicycles. Though, what makes this model most spectacular is the amount of documented history it’s gone through. This Indian motorcycle was once owned by Gus Cheleini, one of the first motorcycle racers in the United States. It even has the documents to prove it with the same bike in the pictures. Its new owner can only display it is not legal for road or highway use, but what a display piece it is.
8. 1953 Vincent Black Shadow ($148,500 USD)
New motorcyclists might not even recognize Vincent, but two-wheel history buffs know that this was the fastest motorcycle in the world from 1948 to 1973. That’s a reign of 25 years. The model was able to hit a top speed of 125 miles per hour, which was stratospherically fast for the time back in the late 40s. The nameplate managed to reach this speed thanks to a 998cc V-twin motor which made a staggering 55 horses when new. Now, most middleweight motorcycles can easily hit 125 miles per hour, but Vincent were achieve that over 70 years ago.
7. 1938 Harley-Davidson EL ($154,000 USD)
Otherwise known as the most collectible H-D ever, the EL model featured a design that would shape and mold Harley-Davidson into the icon that it is today. Otherwise known as the Knucklehead, nobody really knew about the EL back then as H-D didn’t list it in its 1936 catalog out of fear that offering an overhead-valve V-twin to the public could be a recipe for disaster. Even the, however, it’s still a style icon for many aficionados, which is a big deal for many H-D collectors.
6. 1936 Harley-Davidson EL ($159,500 USD)
Following the Harley-Davidson EL in seventh is yet another EL, but this time it’s one of the first ELs from H-D. The nameplate got its start in 1936, and this so happens to be one of the first 100 units from that very year. It’s an early model Knucklehead, which makes it extremely collectible. As an early model, it comes with some rather unusual parts that were not normally found in the later model years. It even came with a frame that was unique to the 1936 year models.
5. 1953 Vincent Black Shadow ($165,000 USD)
Yet another Vincent motorcycle makes the list, but what makes this model more expensive than the other one? Frankly, it could have boiled down to a bidding war between two buyers, but this model comes from the same year as the last one. It’s been restored well with new parts which include an exhaust system, seat, and clutch among other parts, but the kicker is that it runs and it’s been test-ridden. If you can ride a piece of history, I’m sure it’s worth every penny you pay.
4. 1947 Harley-Davidson FL ($192,500 USD)
If you haven’t noticed already, Harley-Davidson motorcycles seem to be a favorite at US auctions. Can you really blame collectors though? While we had an earlier FL model in the list that took 10th place, this particular FL is from 1947, the last production year for the nameplate prior to the Panhead engine.
3. 1946 Harley-Davidson FL ($220,000 USD)
Surprise-surprise, yet another Harley-Davidson FL, but this time it’s from 1946. The model year had lower production numbers compared to the 1947 production run of the FL, which would justify its over $20,000 USD price premium over the 1947 model. Compared to the early models in the FL series of H-D, this 1946 production model had more chrome bits. Harley-Davidson ended up selling more FL units than EL units, selling about three for every two ELs that rolled off the lot.
2. 1943 Harley-Davidson E Model ($220,000 USD)
In 1935, Harley-Davidson was eager to pull the sheets off its newest Knucklehead overhead valve engine to the world at its annual convention. Development for the motor was delayed by the Great Depression, and the war effort wasn’t going to make things easier on H-D to produce this particular model for civilians. This was also a time when H-D was just coming back after having survived the Great Depression, and it was only one of two manufacturers that did. Only 158 units of this 1943 model year were ever produced by the brand, making it one of the rarer issues from the brand.
1. 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank ($297,000 USD)
A desirable Harley can take many forms, but this is the most desirable one of them all according to auctioneers. This is the first-ever model from the Milwaukee-based company, and it’s called the Strap Tank. The bike’s passed through many hands before it ended up at the Mecum auction block in 2021. Its highest-ever recorded price was at $650,000 USD, so the buyer that snagged this for just under three hundred grand is one very lucky individual.