1951 Vincent Black Lightning. Photoraphs courtesy Bonhams.
Although the Jack Ehret-raced 1951 Vincent is not the most expensive motorcycle ever sold, it is the most expensive motorcycle ever bought at auction, commanding a stratospheric $929,000 at Bonhams Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction on January 25. Probably the second-most-recognizable Vincent Black Lightning ever made–behind the 1947 Vincent HRD that was ridden by a barely dressed Rollie Free on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1948–this impressive example set the Australian land-speed record at 141.5 mph in 1953.
The bike was a special-order unit built in the Vincent factory in Stevenage, England, for export to Australian Tony McAlpine. It is one of only 30 special order Black Lightnings ever produced. McAlpine sold the bike to rider Ehret who, after setting the new speed record, continued to race the bike to several victories down under.
The $929,000 price tag eclipses the record set by the Steve McQueen-owned 1915 Cyclone that sold for 825,500 at Mecum’s March 2015 auction in Las Vegas, as part of the E.J. Cole collection.
The aforementioned Rollie Free bathing suit bike, a 1947 Vincent, was last sold in 2011 for $1.1 million; however, this was a private sale and hence ineligible for an auction record. The current owner has generously allowed this bike to appear at several venues since its purchase.
The 1951 Vincent Black Lightning was owned for more than 50 years by racer Ehret, and sold in original unrestored running condition (although it was given a careful once-over by Vincent restoration expert Patrick Godet). It takes its place as the fifth-highest price ever paid for a motorcycle, behind the Captain America chopper, the gold-plated 1970 Speedway Racer Triple Crown Special, the Rollie Free Vincent, and a 1925 Brough Superior SS100. All those bikes were sold in private sales.
Other sales of note from the Bonhams Las Vegas auction included:
Lot 138–a 1926 Brough Superior SS80 that sold for $126,875.
Lot 168–a 1939 Brough Superior SS80 that sold for $120,500.
Lot 135–a 1955 Vincent Black Prince that crossed the stage at $104,650.
Lot 133–a rare red 1950 Vincent Rapide Series C sold for $92,000.
Full results of all the motorcycles, parts, and ephemera sold in Las Vegas are available at the Bonhams website. A full list of the top-ten selling motorcycles is also online at the Vintagent website, but it has not been updated to reflect this sale.