Pre-War British motorcycle valuation: 1939 Ariel Red Hunter

I gave some pre-sale valuation feedback on an interesting bike over the weekend: a 1939 Ariel VH500 Red Hunter. Raced with some success in the 1950s/60s, the bike had been modified to make it lighter using well manufactured alloy parts and the engine had also been modified to lift compression and deliver a bit more power. The bike was presented in very good order: unrestored with wonderful patina.

About Ariel Motorcycles

Ariel is an interesting manufacturer from a valuation point of view. Founded in 1870, the company grew from cycle manufacturing to unveiling its first motorised cycles in 1902 and went on to produce some very innovative motorbikes. The Ariel design team included two legends of British motorcycle history: Edward Turner and Valentine Page. Both progressed to greater things and their work for Ariel has gone down in history.

Ariel was run by Jack Sangster and his success with Turner’s 1930 Ariel Square Four and the later VH500 Red Hunter allowed him to buy the Triumph motorcycle company in 1936. He later sold both companies to BSA (the Birmingham Small Arms company) and took a seat on the BSA board. He eventually took over full chairmanship of the BSA group.

While BSA continued to manufacture Ariel motorcycles through the 1950s and 60s, the bikes were fairly drab in comparison to the pre-war machines. Most of the Red Hunters seen for sale nowadays are 1950s BSA examples and, while they do command a reasonable value, they are nothing like as stylish as the pre-war Ariels.

A 1939 VH500 Ariel Red Hunter is pretty unique: most would have been manufactured shortly before war broke out. We can safely say that production in 1939 was low, so this is a rare survivor. It is difficult to find many examples of 1939 VH500s online – let alone bikes that are actually for sale or have sold.

Ariel motorcycle valuation and investment

Pre-war bikes are sought after by collectors. A VH500 with well documented and pretty successful historic race history is a rare thing and that counts for a great deal when it comes to desirability. TT bikes of this era are extremely desirable and that classic bike cachet of ‘a dangerous time but living for the moment’ will certainly have an impact on the value of other race machines from the period. The Ariel brand also enjoys a vibrant following, supported by Draganfly and the Ariel Club Slovakia and cult followings like this can often throw up quite a lot of interest.

Looking at sales, there is some evidence to suggest that the brand is currently undervalued versus other pre-war manufacturers. Auction prices for an apparently original and complete light restoration base starting circa £5k in Sept 2015 up to £9k for a very nice example located in France a few years later. Not huge numbers for pre-war runners.

Old race stories and unfakeable patina often appeals to collectors, so I stuck my neck out a bit and put my low estimate circa £9k. The history and archive appeal to me says it might top out well ahead of that but that is a little bit of guesssswork bassed on previous sales and we don’t know how coronavirus will put people off paying record prices for an uncertain investment opportunity. A lot of these bikes change hands behind closed doors and true data is hard to come by.

If I was sending this bike to auction with fully documented race history and period photos etc, I would be keeping my fingers crossed for a winning bid somewhere around £10.5 – 12k. It is important to play up the history to bring out the serious race bike collectors and people who see Ariel as one of the opportunities for long term investment. I am probably in that group somewhere.

Library photo from Wikipedia shared under CC licence


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