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Suzuki Katana 1100

The Price Game

(from our Travels with Guido series, MT #240, Jan 2011, posted May 2020)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Should an old bike ever be worth more than it was new?

(Ed’s note: these prices are from early 2011)

What on earth is going on with bike values at the moment? You may not have noticed, but the price of anything with a bit of age on it is going ahead leaps and bounds, particularly if it’s British or Japanese.

I was chatting with a bloke called Derek Pickard the other day. An engineer by trade, he’s been around bikes forever and is the scrutineer for the SR500 Club (among others) – in other words the man you see for approval when you want to register a bike on historic or club plates.

Muggins has season tickets to his shed, as Mr P has just signed off my seventh permit. We were chatting about how, despite the motorcycle industry going through a bit of a low patch at the moment, values for anything that can be vaguely described as classic or historic is going through the roof. He reckoned that if a motorcycle had some historic interest, was more or less complete and had a pulse, it was worth at least five grand.

He’s right. We have seen some significant jumps in recent times. For example, I saw a mint condition, 100 per cent original low-mile wire wheel Katana 1100SXZ offered online recently. Sure, one in that condition is very rare, but we’re nevertheless not talking about 250 kilos of solid gold. Or are we? Bidding went to $20,000 and didn’t meet reserve. I’m told off-line bidding went to 23k. Is it really worth that much? Even though I own a good (but nowhere near mint) example, I can’t see the value.

Let’s talk Nortons. Staffer Greg Leech bought a Commando in need of a freshen-up around 2005 for $4500. He spent a few quid on it, but not what you’d call a fortune. Another colleague, Dingleberry, bought his complete about three years ago for (I think) about $8500. It recently sold, with ease, for $14,500. Even humble Triumph Meriden twins and Tridents are going for $10k and more.

Of course the grand prize for ‘what the hell is going on here’ has to go to the original Kawasaki Z1 900, aka the Jaffa. They’ve been worth a bit of money for several years, but now you’re looking at $25,000 for a good original example. 

It is indisputably an historically important model and a pretty good ride for its day. We’re nevertheless talking about a mass-produced motorcycle that any cashed-up loon could walk into a showroom and buy – not some hand-built masterpiece.

It’s a little reminiscent of where classic car values were going before the global financial crisis. By far the most notorious example was the Ford Falcon GT-HO Phase III. Prices reached around $900,000 at one point before crashing back down to as low as mid three hundreds. They’re a nice thing with a great race pedigree, but there’s no getting around the fact (if you’re being unkind) they’re a souped-up family car – and not a terribly sophisticated one.

Motorcycle prices can get just as mad. We did recently see a half-million dollar Brough Superioat auction. Admittedly there we’re talking of a true hand-built machine that was at the Rolls-Royce end of the market in its day. Even so…half a mil?! These things were bespoke frames and fittings wrapped around a proprietary engine/gearbox unit. You could build ten of your own for that sort of money.

Should an old Z900 or Katana – even rare versions – go for more than the modern equivalent of what they were worth new? I doubt it. Keep in mind they were the ZX-10R or GSX-R1000 of their day, and the latter two are worth around $18,000 to $21,000 on the road. Give me the modern toys any day when it comes to going for a sports ride.

So what do you get with the old stuff? Well, for me, half the attraction is admiring the lines – particularly on something as wild as the Kat. It’s a reasonable ride, but truth be told it’s not great by modern standards. There is nevertheless a peculiar joy in straddling something that’s got a bit of age and history, while there’s the risk you’ll meet lots of new and interesting people.

Is that worth the extra dough? I’m sill struggling with the concept of paying more than the current equivalent of new price…

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