Exploring a wonderful slice of cool Britainnia in our July 20th/21st Antiques & Interiors Sale, Penzance Saleroom.
There can be few more iconic scenes in cinema history, than Steve McQueen, the ‘King of Cool’ himself, roaring off on his stolen motorbike in ‘The Great Escape’. The bike was actually a disguised British Triumph, not an historically correct BMW that the German Army used, which McQueen refused to ride. As he crashes and is captured, he affectionately pats the bike.
McQueen was an avid bike lover and he owned a great many classic early British bikes.
He more than anyone, is responsible for the enduring love affair so many people have with motorbikes and notably the legendary British marques.
McQueen’s era, the 60s and 70s was not a good time for UK bike manufacture. The introduction of the CB750 by Honda in 1969 marked the beginning of the end of the British bike industry. British engineering had reigned supremely dominant for most of the century but Japanese manufacturers, with their sights set on the hugely important American market, were about to take over, with very fast, cheaper machines.
However fifty years on, there is a resurgence in interest in British bikes from that golden era when British manufacturing led the way. Collectors of pre-war bikes and rare models will now pay huge sums for vintage bikes from classic brands like Norton and Triumph, and also less well known makers such as Zenith and AJS, which is why our July 20th Antiques Sale will set enthusiasts pulses racing high.
The sale contains nine classic motorbikes that date from the 1920s up to 1966, all in wonderful vintage condition. They come from the estate of a bike enthusiast and collector and the collection reads like a roll call of greats; Norton, BSA, Ariel, Triumph, AJS, Zenith and New Imperial. All of these manufacturers will have dedicated collectors for their bikes but to have a broad range of makers and bikes is very exciting.
Collectively, they are like a herd of magnificent beasts and make an impressive line up. Individually, there are some really special bikes; the 1948 Norton is a Model 18 - highly prized by discerning collectors who have been known to pay upwards of £20,000 for an early model. The post-war Models 18s still have that distinctive early look, but a smaller price tag and this 1948 bike is every inch a cool classic, with a tempting estimate of £2000-3000.
There are three Triumphs (McQueen’s favourite) in the sale, two of which are also the most valuable in the collection, a 1935 and 1936 Triumph 6/1 650cc twin-cylinder. These are rare machines, initially created by legendary designer Val Page for the side-car market, which was however, quickly overtaken in the 1930s by lightweight cars like the Austin Seven. Costing £76 in 1934, they were also Triumph’s most expensive bikes at that time.
Production stopped early and no more than 600 were ever made. Both these motorbikes carry an auction estimate of £7000-9000.
A rare early Ariel is another interesting bike; this is a 1931 Ariel 500cc twin-cylinder motorcycle known as a ‘sloper’ again designed by Valentine Page.
So designed because they afforded a marked lowering of machine centre- of- gravity , which in its turn improved handling. Other advantages were better accessibility of the engine and better cooling of the cylinder. It was one of the most expensive models in the 1931 range. Very few were built, and the model was abandoned 1933. The auction estimate for this rare machine is £3000-4000.
The oldest bike in the collection and also the most local is a 1928 Zenith 500cc JAP motorcycle. (See top photo)
This is an older restoration, with an old and current logbook.
The Zenith, with its fantastic early Cornish number plate RL 8570 was first registered in Cornwall on 7 September 1928 and has remained in Cornwall with only two further owners prior to being purchased in 1973 by the current owner.
There’s not enough space here to talk in detail about all the wonderful bikes in the sale, they simply have to be viewed and cooed over in the flesh. Most are heavyweight and powerful beasts but there is also a 1953 BSA Bantam, the entry level machine for so many, and a world-wide classic, comfortable, tough and which handled well. It’s in gorgeous condition and will be very nostalgic for a lot of old school bikers.
The entire auction of 800 lots can be viewed at our Penzance saleroom on
Saturday 15th July, 9am to 1pm, Monday 17th, Tuesday 18th and Wednesday 19th July, 9am to 5pm
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