Unrestored classic motorcycles

Unrestored classic motorcycles are a unique market all to themselves. Classic motorcycles that are fifty plus years old, or even twenty five years old, always come with their own issues related to age however well they’ve been looked after. However, there are a group of buyers who won’t entertain anything short of a museum piece in the collection. They are a very small group of collectors who always get what they want and they are prepared to pay for it. You can spot such collectors as they usually have a lot of unrestored, beautiful classics and even have rooms built for them. They are OCD. There is a very large group who claim they fit into this category, but they never want to pay the premium and have an empty garage, or buy machines they believe to be original which are not. Finding unrestored examples is beyond challenging, I’ve been searching for the correct Green Frame since 2016 for one such customer and I’ll find it for them. These unrestored museum grade classic motorcycles can vary in quality and quite often some of them are just too far gone and need restoration, but there are plenty that require preserving just as they are. At The Motorcycle Broker we have different ways we handle classic motorcycles- preservation, conservation and restoration, but that is for a different article I’ll write soon.

Unrestored classic motorcycles
This 1974 Ducati GT750, owned by Ian Falloon, is a great example of an unrestored classic motorcycle.
1974 Ducati GT750 original paint rear of tank 2
You can see the difference between the paint faded by the sun and the unexposed paint. You can also see how atrocious Ducati’s original paint was as well.

Museum condition

We sold Ian Falloon’s 1974 Ducati GT750 to a collector last year and it’s incredibly preserved. Unfortunately, being a candy bronze over silver in colour, the paint has faded a lot where the sun reached the bodywork. The reason for this is that candy paints should be lacquered over, but the factory just didn’t bother with that final process in the 1970s, so any candy Ducati will be faded. This particular example is a wonderful reference machine to really understand how the machines really came from the factory and also how they degraded over time, in terms of finish. We have also used to to perfectly match the candy bronze in areas where the sun didn’t touch the bodywork, so we can authentically recreate that candy bronze restorers always get so wrong. There is a 1976 Ducati 900SS which we are selling that has everything it was sold with, airbuses, 32mm carbs, Lafranconi exhausts as well as the Contis, tool box, owners manual- everything. It only has 3,000 miles, but unfortunately one of the Contis has been caught on something while manoeuvring and is slightly scraped. It’s certainly not from a tumble, it’s just been caught and grazed slightly, but this doesn’t detract from what an incredible find this machine is. We found a 1978 black and gold 900SS with all of its original parts and with just 3,000 kms from new for a collector two years ago. These types of machines are highly desirable to such collectors and will always be sold at a substantial premium.

Unrestored Ducati NCR LHS
An unrestored genuine Ducati NCR

How big a premium for unrestored classic motorcycles?

How big a premium for unrestored classic motorcycles will collectors pay? The honest answer is that it depends on the motorcycle, some collectors will pay over double, others 25%, some 50%, it depends on the machine. It’s all about desirability and supply and demand. There are very few Green Frames that are unrestored, and the same is true of all the round case Ducatis, because no one ever bought them as investments in the 1970s. Such motorcycles would have been bought by people who owned them, died, passed them on to someone who didn’t want to ride them but appreciated their beauty and kept them in the correct environment as an objet d’arts. Some people bought them, rode them a bit and either the bike scared them or they perhaps didn’t like how it rode for them. Again, they couldn’t bear to part with it as the delicious Ducati cast a spell with its beauty and became a very well looked after objet d’arts. However, there are probably more brand new Ducati Superleggeras than examples with miles on the clock, making one to ride worth more than a new one. These machines were bought by speculators who believe and Ducati with an S or an R in the title is a great investment and it’s proven to be not the best investment strategy for classic motorcycles, as I wrote back in 2020 in this article.

Unrestored Honda CB1100RB RHS power out of corner
Unrestored Honda CB1100RB

Classic motorcycle investment demands context

Classic motorcycle investment demands context, or investment becomes speculation and becomes the undoing of investment. It’s pointless buying an unrestored ex-courier 1995 Honda CB500 twin expecting to make your fortune, it just isn’t going to happen. Finding an unrestored 1970s MV Agusta 750 Sport will be a great gold mine if the owner is happy to hang on to it for long enough. If you’re looking for one, then you have to be patient, until the right machine comes up, and you will have to pay what the seller is asking. If you try to batter them about their price, they will only answer, “Go and find another one then” They know there aren’t others out there and they will wait until they get what they want for the bike. There are no bargains among these collectors and they will only sell if they want to at the price they want for their machine and if they don’t want to sell their machine isn’t going anywhere. It’s important to understand the context of the unrestored classic motorcycles you want in your collection. Not every old motorcycle is a classic and there is a big difference between patina and something that needs restoring. These classic motorcycles are only original once and keeping them that way for as long as possible is a noble pursuit. If you’re thinking of investing in an unrestored classic motorcycle, you have to be prepared to pay anything up to double the value of a very well restored classic motorcycle.

Unrestored 1976 Ducati LHS with kit
Unrestored 1976 Ducati 900SS with everything it came from the factory with.

Preserving your unrestored classic motorcycle

Preserving your unrestored classic motorcycle is as important as acquiring an unrestored classic motorcycle. I have seen collectors go to incredible lengths to preserve their classic motorcycles, some have built temperature and moisture controlled rooms for them and others have built entire houses for them. Unrestored classic motorcycles do require more attention to the conditions they’re kept in compared to restored classic motorcycles. The older paint is aged and also doesn’t offer the longevity of modern paints. Cellulose paint continually shrinks over time because it never cures and thinners are always leaving the paint, which causes it to shrink, craze and crack. Chrome which is fifty years old has suffered the ravages of our cruel atmosphere for half a century which always takes its toll. Corrosion is increased incalculably by the presence of ozone, sulphides and other gases in our atmosphere rather than water. We supply these bags and boxes in which to store motorcycles to prevent corrosion, which will preserve your unrestored classic motorcycle perfectly.

Unrestored 1976 Honda CB750K6
Unrestored Honda CB750K6

Riding an unrestored classic motorcycle

Riding an unrestored classic motorcycle is an absolute joy and it’s perfectly safe to do so. Obviously if you own a Green Frame with 300 miles from new riding it will just make you anxious, but most of these unrestored classic motorcycles are perfectly rideable and have already survived for fifty years, so they’re fine to ride and enjoy. Nearly all of the motorcycles built from the late 1960s onwards in Japan and Italy were incredibly reliable and good for very high mileages, certainly far greater mileages than collectors will do over a twenty year period. Provided they have been set up correctly and taken care of, there’s no reason they can’t be ridden and enjoyed today.

In summary

In summary, you make your own choice about whether you only invest in unrestored classic motorcycles, restored classic motorcycles or a mixture of both. If you choose to solely focus on unrestored examples you do limit the number of buyers wanting such a machine when it becomes time to sell. However conversely, unrestored museum examples command premiums up to 100% over restored examples and there is practically no competition as if someone wants your museum piece classic motorcycle they can’t find another example for less when you market your’s. Sellers can command the price they wish for their museum grade unrestored classic motorcycles and there are enough investors who only buy such machines to make them an excellent proposition. Whichever you choose, they provide great fun and great tax free profits. If you want to source an investment grade unrestored classic motorcycle, contact The Motorcycle Broker.

Paul Jayson

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