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Harley-Davidson EL auction record set, then broken, in Las Vegas
The unrestored 1940 Harley-Davidson EL, sold by Bonhams. Photo courtesy Bonhams Auctions.
When the green 1940 Harley-Davidson EL took center stage in Las Vegas last week, the crowd on hand helped fuel a bidding war that saw prices quickly escalate beyond six figures. When the sale concluded, the winning bidder had paid $159,000 (including buyer’s fees) for the honor of adding the unrestored EL from the Pierce Family Museum to their collection, setting a new world record price for the model at auction. That record would stand for a mere 48 hours, as just two days later a rival auction house had sold a fully restored 1936 Harley-Davidson EL for an even higher price of $179,850 (including buyer’s fees), once again establishing a benchmark for the model at auction.
Launched without ceremony in 1936, the Harley-Davidson EL was an entirely new motorcycle from the ground up. Debuting a duplex-tube frame, the EL also introduced Harley-Davidson’s overhead-valve, large-displacement (60.33-cu.in.) V-twin “knucklehead” engine, named for the distinctive shape of its valve covers, to a production motorcycle (though the brand had previous experience racing overhead-valve engines).
The EL also introduced a pump-driven recirculating oil system as well as a four-speed transmission, and its teardrop-shaped dual gas tanks remain a fixture of Harley-Davidson design to this day. Erring on the side of caution for its radical new motorcycle, Harley-Davidson initially minimized marketing efforts, going so far as to exclude the knucklehead from 1936 product catalogs in case the bike didn’t live up to the brand’s expectations. History tells us that the EL was a success, and the knucklehead engine remained in production until 1947, replaced by the “panhead” V-twin engine in 1948.
Bonhams sold the unrestored example on Thursday, January 9, (briefly) establishing a new world record price for the model at auction. Said to be among Wayne Pierce’s favorite motorcycles, the EL sported an in-period aftermarket green paint scheme, as well as period accessories such as twin rear fender bars, chrome fender stripes and embossed leather Harley-Davidson saddlebags, complete with decorative conchos. For the buyer desiring patina, this example’s originality certainly added to its value.
The restored 1936 Harley-Davidson EL, sold by MidAmerica/Mecum Auctions. Photo courtesy Mecum Auctions.
MidAmerica Auctions set a new record for the model just two days later, selling a restored 1936 Harley-Davidson EL from the George Pardos Collection for a price of $179,850. A stunning example of a first model year EL, the motorcycle was restored by Ken Presson in the late 1990s, and judged 99.75 out of 100 at Antique Motorcycle Club of America meets in both 1998 and 1999. Described by MidAmerica as “close to perfect,” the Venetian Blue with Croyden Cream EL has been featured in a series of paintings by artist David Uhl, including Rose , The Real Thing . and The Art of the Motorcycle .
This 1911 Harley-Davidson 7D Twin sold for $283,400. Photo courtesy of Mecum Auctions.
Rounding out the top five sales at the Bonhams Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction were an unraced 1978 Ducati 900 NCR. which sold for $175,500; a 1973 Ducati 750SS. which sold for $137,000; a second 1973 Ducati 750SS. which sold for $134,250; and a 1954 BMW Rennsport RS54. which sold for $126,000. At the MidAmerica sale, other motorcycles in the top five included a 1911 Harley Davidson 7D Twin. which sold for $283,400; a 1937 BMW R37. which sold for $218,000; a 1955 Vincent Black Prince. which sold for $136,250; and a 1914 Harley-Davidson 10F Twin. which sold for $114,250.
For full results from Bonhams’s Las Vegas sale, visit Bonhams.com. For full results from the MidAmerica/Mecum Las Vegas sale, visit Mecum.com .
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