BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WKRG)— There are so many vintage motorcycles at Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham it’s almost mind-numbing. It’s the largest collection in the world. They literally have them stacked four stories high. And then there’s the basement. The display is awe-inspiring to anyone. But those who really know what to look for can spot the most rare bikes among the masses.
Saturday, Bonhams will be at the museum auctioning off one of the rarest of all, a 1959 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin. It’s expected to go for as much as half a million dollars. This is all happening during the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival. About 85,000 motorcycle fans from across the globe are gathered in Alabama this weekend at the site.
1940 Crocker Big Tank V-Twin
Engine no. 40-61-114• Formerly owned by Crocker employee Elmo Looper
• From the last two years of Crocker motorcycle production
• One of fewer than 30 Big Tanks built
• Engine and transmission overhaul by Mike Lange
It’s not the only rare bike up for grabs. Here’s the full press release from Bonhams:
Crocker and Merkel among world’s most desired collectors’ motorcycles; Bidder registration now invited for sale hosted with Barber Vintage Festival
This is a press release from Bonhams…
Los Angeles, CA (August 30, 2019) – In anticipation of its second annual auction “Collectors’ Motorcycles at the Barber Museum,” Bonhams is very pleased to announce the consignment of two very rare and highly sought-after collectors’ motorcycles – a 1940 Crocker Big Tank and a 1910 Flying Merkel Twin.
Called the “Duesenberg of motorcycles,” Crocker is the definitive American motorcycle – handmade, powerful and fast. Very much a Hollywood “hot rod” production bike, Crocker was created in and shaped by the culture of pre-war Los Angeles, California, by former Indian distributor Al Crocker. When it debuted, the upstart founder brazenly challenged world dominators Harley-Davidson, boasting of superiority. As the story goes, Al Crocker famously advertised that if any of his bikes were ever beaten by a stock Harley, he would refund the owner’s money. No refunds were ever requested.
As a bespoke machine, each Crocker was made to the specifications of its buyer. This expensive and time-intensive approach meant that quality remained high but output low. Total Crocker numbers never exceeded more than 125 units before World War II forced the firm’s closure, and today only around 50 of those units are accounted for, making Crocker motorcycles extremely rare.
After fading into relative obscurity for half a century, two major events transpired that vaulted Crocker to the consciousness of collectors worldwide. First, the Guggenheim Museum’s groundbreaking 1998 exhibit The Art of the Motorcycleprominently featured a Crocker (owned by famed auto collector Otis Chandler). Then, the seminal 2006 Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d’Elegancepresented Crocker as a featured marque with a record-breaking 20 examples on display. The attention provided by these two events – highlighting the marque’s unique history, success and rarity – suddenly made Crocker one of the most desirable and expensive motorcycles in the world. Since then, values of Crockers have increased by more than 500%.
The 1940 Crocker consigned to Bonhams’ sale is #4061-114, said to have been owned by Elmo Looper, former Crocker employee and the man who bought the spares and tooling from Crocker after the factory’s 1947 closure.
Flying Merkel of Ohio is the archetypal pioneering American motorcycle and represents all the attributes of desirability – innovation, high build quality, success in racing, low manufacturing numbers, short corporate lifespan, and few surviving examples. Produced in both single and twin-cylinder configurations, the scarce existing twins are today the most sought after. The 1910 v-twin to be offered by Bonhams has benefitted from an exhaustive and accurate concours-level restoration and is reported to run as beautifully as it looks.
Bidder registration is now invited for the October sale that’s to be held in conjunction with the world’s largest vintage motorcycle event – The Barber Vintage Festival – in Birmingham, Alabama. For more information, visit Bonhams.com/Barber.
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Chris Best is the News Director for WKRG. He’s a husband and father of four. He’s also a motorcycle enthusiast.