AJS Porcupine vs Pope Steam – The Battle On the Auction Block

What makes a collector motorcycle expensive?

It always comes down to a few key factors, provenance (can the history of the machine be traced and verified), scarcity, a racing pedigree never hurts and of course, beauty.

Beauty resides, for the most part, in the eye of the beholder, but there are some machines so magnificent in their engineering and design that they have a near universal appeal.

1954 AJS Porcupine

This rare 1954 AJS E95 “Porcupine” motorcycle was expected to become the world’s most expensive motorcycle when it went on sale at the Bonham’s auction at the Pebble Beach Car Week back in August, and it’s one of the only four AJS E95 Porcupines built by British manufacturer AJS.

The 1954 AJS E95 Porcupine, which has been on display in the National Motorcycle Museum in Coventry for last 20 years, got its name from the distinctive spiked fins on the sloping cylinder heads. What, aside from a remarkable profile, makes this bike so desirable?  The 1954 AJS E95 Porcupine rates such high appeal as it boasts two of the factors collectors value – rarity and a racing history.

“As far as motorcycles go, the Porcupine is at the very top. It is arguably the most beautiful, graceful and innovative racing motorcycle ever built, the perfect blend of technology and art,” said Bonhams CEO Malcolm Barber.

This ultra-rare 1954 AJS E95 Porcupine was expected to sell for a record price at Quail Lodge in Carmel, CA. The current record for the world’s most expensive motorcycle is held by the 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer, which went for $520,000 back in 2008.

The last Porcupine to sell was the privateer-raced Tom Arter E95 Porcupine, which fetched $258,500 in 2000, and it wasn’t in running condition…

How long do bikes stay at the top of the pile when it comes to price at auction?

Not very.

Last week I got a chance to see the next contender for the title in person at the Lee Hartung Estate auction just north of Chicago, and the two bikes couldn’t be more different.

The 1894 Roper Steam Motorcycle goes on the block at Auctions by RM’s debut Las Vegas sale on January 12-14.

This elemental Roper is one of just two steam-powered motorcycles built by Sylvester Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts. The eccentric bike is 117-years old and easily predates the earliest examples of both Harley and Indian motorcycles.

“We’re delighted to have been selected to present this historic motorcycle at our inaugural Las Vegas sale in January. A significant piece of Americana, it is arguably one of the world’s most important motorcycles. We anticipate strong interest in its sale,” said Glenn Bator, Head of Auctions America by RM’s Vintage Motorcycle Division.

The Roper motorcycle wasn’t an easy machine to to get going, but once the water boiler was fired and steam pressure was built up, the Roper Steam motorcycle could travel at a speed of 40 mph.

The frame of the motorbike is based on the Columbia bicycles, a water tank was placed just above the boiler that acted as a vent for the smoke that was created by the engine. The motorbike was designed without pedals and all the controls of the bike were placed on the handlebars.

Sylvester Roper died in 1896, and after that the motorbike was exhibited at America’s Circus City Museum and Bellem’s Cars of Yesterday. The bike was sold to a Long Island museum.

“With the only other Roper motorcycle ever built on long-term display at the Smithsonian Institution, the upcoming sale of this example presents an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime ownership opportunity for serious collectors,” Bator said.

The machine is one of a very small number of motorcycles built by Roper (nine in all), and was ridden by Roper regularly before his death in 1896. So regularly, in fact, that Roper actually died of a heart attack while demonstrating a bike very similar to the one on auction.

The other surviving steam motorcycle built by Roper is currently in the Smithsonian.

This 1894 Roper Steam Motorcycle is expected to fetch more than $550,000 at auction in January



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