This past week, January 24-28, was the 32nd annual Mecum “Vintage & Antique Motorcycle Auction” in Las Vegas, held at the South Point Hotel & Casino. Nearly 2000 motorcycles crossed the auction block, including bikes from some 15 private collections such as Jim’s Forever Collection, Mike Wolfe’s As Found Collection, and the BMW Centennial Selection from the Black Forest Collection, among many others.
However, it was a 1908 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank (Lot S174.1) that stole the show. One of the oldest surviving models of an incredibly rare breed, it was discovered in a barn outside Milwaukee in 1941, kept in Wisconsin for 66 years, and comprehensively restored by Paul Freehill of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“There is no more important model than the legendary Strap Tank — it’s the first of the breed, and the earliest Harley-Davidson model one will ever find, as the prototypes that preceded it are long gone.” -Mecum
Harley-Davidson produced only 450 of the models in 1908, and less than a dozen are thought to survive — and few in such condition as this one.
In 1905, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson began production in a small wooden shed, turning out just five bikes in that first year. In 1906, they moved to a new factory on what would become Juneau Avenue — still home to Harley-Davidson HQ — and produced about 50 bikes.
These early models earned the name “Strap Tank” due to the nickel-plated steel bands that suspend the fuel and oil tanks from the frame.
Harley turned out about 150 motorcycles in 1907, and 450 in 1908.
“These earliest Harley-Davidson Strap Tanks are the most coveted of all Milwaukee machinery. They established the pattern for all future production, combining a clean yet conservative styling, a somber color scheme, heavy-duty cycle parts and an engine a little bigger and stronger than the rest.” -Mecum
Very few of the surviving Strap Tanks are as correct and original as this one, which includes the original tank, wheels, engine belt pulley, seat cover and muffler sleeve. The engine is no. 2241, and the carburetor no. 1049.
Obviously, more than a few folks thought this 1908 Tank Strap was a truly exceptional machine, as the hammer dropped at $850,000. Add in the estimated Buyer’s Premium and fees, and this 115-year-old Harley-Davidson commanded a mind-blowing $935,000 — a new world record!
The bike now tops The Vintagent’s list of the Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles, beating out the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning that sold for $929,000 in 2018.