Rare, vintage motorcycles are similar to vintage cars in that unrestored versions with their original parts can often bring in more than a restored version. Then again, some restored classics can also bring in a lot, but neither of them will bring in as much as ultra-rare vintage cars.
That being said, there are some beautiful motorcycles out there with grand histories behind them that collectors dream of finding. Legendary bikes with only 30 or fewer models ever made; barn finds and bikes gathering dust in the woods or on farms or in garages—these are the types of things that treasure seekers crave.
Here we have 15 of the rarest bikes ever found, all gathering dust and rusting away to the elements. But once found, they hype up the motorcycling world like no other.
15. The Broughs Of Bodmin Moor
via Twitter/Adrian Brown
This long-lost trove of rusted Brough Superiors was found in the U.K. in 2015, and was quite a historic find because of the rarity of the bikes found: a 1938 Austin-engined dualie BS4; two decomposing SS100s; some SS80s, and more. They were found in miserable condition but still brought in between $118,400 to $177,600 at a Bonhams auction later that year.
14. This 1939 DKW NZ350 Found In 2009
This relic from 1939, a DKW NZ350, was found in 2009 deep in a Polish forest about 25 miles from Warsaw. Morbidly, the bike was found alongside the corpse of its rider, a Nazi Wehrmacht officer. They were found by a farmer in 2009, though the bike was stripped of many of its military accouterments. The dog tags on the rider helped to identify him, but people are more interested in the bike.
13. The Mysterious 1916 Traub
The 1916 Traub motorcycle find was one of the most mysterious ever, after being found by a plumber in a hole in a wall at a Chicago apartment residence in the 1960s. It’s a mystery because there’s no evidence of a Traub motorcycle company, and no other Traub has ever been found. It turns out the bike was stolen by the elderly building owner’s son before he shipped off to World War I.
12. This 1910 Royal Pioneer From American Pickers
This 1910 Royal Pioneer was found alongside a 1911 Flying Merkel and 1910 Harley-Davidson by Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz of American Pickers. The bikes were found in the backroom of an owner’s Ford Lauderdale, Florida house. The Pioneer was a 500cc single-cylinder bike that was just one of four built-in 1910. The bike, considered a “Holy Grail” was bought by the pickers for $60,000.
11. This 1937 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead From American Pickers
Another exciting find for the American Pickers duo was this red 1937 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead that was found collecting dust in a 1920s Kansas theater house. Not all of the parts were original—the bike had a 1938 fork and a 1939 frame, but Mike Wolfe still shelled out $20,000 for it, and he then added it to his personal collection.
10. The Legendary 1942 Von Dutch XAVW From American Pickers
Mike Wolfe once said, “If pinstripers had a Mount Rushmore, Von Dutch’s face would be on it,” when asked how big this bike was. The ’42 Von Dutch XAVW conversion bike was found in North Carolina, featuring a VW engine, a Honda 450 tank, a Harley XA frame, and Moto Guzzi components. The Frankenstein bike was bought for $21,000, and of course Wolfe never sold it, probably because what a big deal Von Dutch was in the ‘60s.
9. This Zundapp RS 7450 Motorcycle From American Pickers
Bikes from the second World War era are worth a lot of money, so imagine the glee that Mike Wolfe and Frank Fitz felt at finding this rare Zundapp RS 7450, complete with a sidecar, gathering dust in Germany. They paid $1,000 to ship it to the states, on top of the $10,500 to buy it outright, and then had it restored. They managed to sell the marvelous restoration for $18,000, though, so it was a big win for the pickers.
8. The Hebert Brothers' Rare Indian Bikes From American Pickers
via Geek Bobber
In 2019, the American Pickers made history on the show with their biggest “pick,” when they found a group of rare Indian motorcycles and shelled out $62,000 to buy them. Visiting the Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, Western Massachusetts, the motorcycles were from the prized collection of the Hebert brothers, who owned the brewery. Included in the mix was a buried 1940s Indian, and the money the Hebert brothers got was used to enhance their brewery.
7. Rare Ace Motorcycles From American Pickers
The final American Pickers treasure found were these four extremely rare Ace motorcycles, in which they came unrestored and one in which Mike Wolfe shelled out $90,000 to buy! These bikes were ones he wanted to keep, but spending such a large sum of money meant he had to sell them (or at least a couple) to recoup the massive cost - and the largest motorcycle pick of the show (this happened in season 17).
6. The Bonneville Salt Flats Racer From The World’s Fastest Indian
One of the world’s most famous bikes, the 1920 Indian Scout featured in the popular 2005 film, The World’s Fastest Indian, was a barn find. The original Bonneville Salt Flats racer was ridden by Anthony Hopkins in the film, who starred as New Zealand racer Burt Munro. The history alone behind this bike is fascinating, and could take up an article of its own. Just know that it set land speed records in 1967 by reaching 183.586 mph.
5. The Jeff Begg Collection Barn Find
via VAS Mobitech
This huge stash of vintage motorcycles, dubbed the Jeff Begg Collection, was a barn find found in 2019. Begg was a businessman hoarder who died and left behind buildings stuffed with rare automotives, including 63 bikes in all—heavily British oriented—and a rare 1952 Vincent Series C Rapide. It all went up for sale in a one-day auction by VanDerBrink Auctions in Springfield, Michigan.
4. This 1927 FHA 8-Valve That Broke Auction Records In Australia
via New Atlas
This decrepit looking Harley-Davidson barn find complete with sidecar actually broke the auction record in Australia when it sold for 600,000 AUD ($420,000) in 2015. The 1927 FHA 8-valve V-twin Harley was a racing machine that was found in storage, where it had been for more than 50 years. Fewer than 50 of these bikes were built, so for one to turn up in Australia after decades set the motorcycle world abuzz.
3. The Rickey Jensen Barn Find Indian Collection
via Classic Cars Journal
This extraordinary barn find of rare Indian motorcycles was owned by Rickey Jensen, the late owner of RJ & C Metal Fabricators. A welder and fabricator, after Jensen died, his huge collection turned up in a padlocked barn. There were 15 vintage Indian bikes and hundreds of pieces of Indian memorabilia. Some of the bikes include a ’46 Indian Chief, ’41 Indian Four, ’12 Indian Model D, ’28 Indian Ace Four, and more.
2. This Unrestored 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank
In 2015, this unrestored 1907 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank motorcycle shattered marque records when it sold at auction for $650,000, becoming the most expensive Harley ever sold. Previously part of the E.J. Cole Collection, it’s one of 150 Harleys built in 1907. It was the 37th bike to roll off the assembly line that year, originally sold to Albert Bongers of Nebraska, where it remained in his family’s collection until the dead of his son in 1992.
1. The Record-Setting Unrestored 1951 Vincent Black Lightning
via Robb Report
We’d be remiss not to mention the legendary Holy Grail of motorcycling, the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning, which became the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction when it brought in $929,000 at Bonhams. It was an unrestored bike, meaning it had gathered dust at some point in time, and is one of 31 models of its kind ever built. It was owned by racer Jack Ehret, who used it to set Australia’s land speed record of 141.5 mph. It broke the former $775,000 record from a 1915 Cyclone once owned by Steve McQueen.
References: thedrive.com, autoblog.com, rideapart.com, hagerty.com, masslive.com, freep.com, newatlas.com, hemmings.com