A 1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead recently emerged from a cottage garage in Haviland Shores, Canada—a true barn find.
“Barn finds have more appeal than a restored bike or car. If an old Corvette was found in a barn it is worth a lot more than one at your neighbour’s that he spent $30,000 to restore,” says Auctioneer Vernon Bailey. “There’s an aura about this bike. There was just over 7,000 of them built,” he said.
The Knucklehead design was discontinued after 1947, making this model among the most desirable.
The item didn’t go up for bids because Ontario’s Public Guardian and Trustee — who were conducting the auction — were hesitant to sell the item with no ownership papers.
Bailey said in 1947 people didn’t worry as much about ownership papers.
“[The Public Guardian and Trustee] were convinced after speaking to nieces and nephews and neighbours that the owner was the legitimate owner of the bike,” added Bailey.
Police were called during the sale because so many cars were parked on both sides of the road during the auction, said Bailey.
He weeded out some low phone bids before Saturday’s auction because he had a verified email bid for $15,000.
“I had guys call from southern Ontario asking what I thought it would go for and I said ‘I know it will do over $15,000.’ They said ‘Oh, it will never do that. It will cost $18,000 to restore,’ and I said, ‘Everybody is telling me it’s not going to be restored.’”
“I think it also seems to be a craze that we’re in right now because a lot of cars are not being restored. If someone were to find a 1957 Chevy right now — all dull and a bit of rust on the chrome — that’s probably the way they would drive it,” said Bailey.
When bids hit $22,000 there were eight bidders left in person and by phone — and a whole crowd of on-lookers.
“In my business in Northern Ontario — we’re not talking about California or Arizona where a lot of that stuff might be discovered — to think it was found in a little garage in Haviland Shores…” said Bailey.
Once the hammer fell the final bid was $40,000, sold to a phone bidder in British Columbia.
“After 30 years this is like my Stanley Cup,” said Bailey.
As he was finalizing the sale over the phone, one of the unsuccessful bidders inquired how the winner was going to have the bike shipped.
Bailey said the unsuccessful bidder — who had brought his own equipment to safely ship the bike — offered to crate it up and send it out west even though he did not win the auction.
“It’s just kind of the trust between Harley collectors and auctioneers in our crowd,” said Bailey.