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Why buying at auction is not as it seems

First of all, before I get emails from lawyers telling me to take down this page, I can only say that this page would not exist if "experts" within auctions would actual take a bit more time to verify what they are listing and not just key in what the seller tells them. I have created this page from sheer frustration of this lack of care and just relying on some micro caveat saying that it is your responsibility to check the bike. What some auctions actually mean is "it is your responsibility to check the motorcycle is actually what we have listed it as - even though we are the 'experts'"

I will only claim to be knowledgeable about WW2 German motorcycles, 1970s mopeds, 1950s AMCs and 1980s scramblers so I can only spot those, but whenever I get excited and see something I would like go up for auction, there is nearly always something that is substantially not right with it! To the point where is should not even be described the way it has; more commonly it is just that some large parts are not for the bike being sold.

First of all let me show you some examples...

H & H Auctions 2017:
bmw r35

This bike was offered by H & H Auctions who kindly sent me the numbers. The frame number was a WW2 BMW (3XXXXX) but the engine number they gave was neither a WW2 or post number, although the engine is an R35. The other thing that is important with any bike from this era is the location of the frame number and font. Certain countries in Eastern Europe like to cut the numbers off rusted BMW's and weld them into EMW's (Russian post 1951). You can also buy number stamps and German Waffen Stamps to fake your engine number!

I have no idea why H & H never publish engine and frame numbers except perhaps they cannot be bothered to get them.

Bonhams 2008:

This bike was offered by Bonhams and to be fair to them they have listed correctly the engine / frame numbers and the frame does belong to a 1943 NZ 350; however, the engine does not. Many of the parts are reproduction and not correct for the 1943 version of that WW2 motorcycle. I would perhaps be saying that it is forgivable but Bonhams are of course one of the worlds leading auctioneers and must be able to afford an expert that knows what is right and what is not; so we can only assume that they choose to omit relevant information or their expert is not so expert. Bonhams do however put more effort into verifying their motorcycles than most and this is the only example I have seen that makes it on to the website.

H & H Auctions 2017: (again)

This time they listed a motorcycle as :" c.1950 DKW NZ 350"
But since when did DKW make a NZ 350 after the war? they ceased production in 1945 with the DKW NZ 350-1 and later the Russians assumed control and made the IZH 49 and IZH 350 starting in 1948. All the parts are marked as IZH, the frame and engine numbers are different, none of them carry the Audi rings, so this is inexcusable! I emailed them and they changed it to IZH 350 after I pointed out it is like listing a kit car as a Ferrari, when it is a kit car Ferrari, not a Ferrari. No engine or frame numbers provided of course and now the photo has gone.

H & H seem absolutely reluctant to offer any professional description or engine and frame numbers (without asking) and until they do I would tread carefully as 4 out of 5 bikes I was interested have not been right.

I will keep adding to the hall of shame!

So what is going on?

What you can see from the above is that whilst the bikes are roughly what they say they are in most cases, there are material elements i.e that mislead and any self proclaimed expert auctioneer should know that. Wrong engines in wrong bikes, frame numbers not right for year stated, never made in the country claimed etc. The problem is rife with smaller auction companies and they really do not appear to care. Details of every motorcycle should be taken before listing and it is not much to ask.

Well I asked this question and getting any kind of answer is impossible. My instincts are that the auction houses scrabble for stock and will just take in whatever a seller wants and then list it with the seller's basic description, doing the absolute bare minimum and certainly not bothering to even get the engine and frame numbers or often even knowing their product.

What does the buyer get?

What you do get is a bill for 15% or more as a buyers premium (which is another story) which unless sellers at completely stupid, comes off what anyone is prepared to bid! You also get something often wrongly described.

How do they get away with it?

Simple: they have in their small print some wording about "satisfying yourself as to provenance", which basically is a caveat for saying "we can list what we want with minimal accuracy and input and it's your fault if you buy a pup, even if we advertised it as something else".
All I can say is that if this was any other industry you'd have some consumer body on your back.


Do your home work, as you are by being on this site! don't believe the barn find story or anything else that is written for that matter. One Zundapp I saw online in one of these Auctions this year, I also saw over in Austria two years before! Also an 1940 BWM R12 with a 1935 frame number and 70 Russian parts was being sold as ex-Japansese meseum yet one of my friends saw the bike in Europe 3 years before! It is a serious problem and the auctions are not helping.

Buying from an auction really is buyer beware if you rely on the auction "experts" don't be surprised if what you get later turns out to be something else

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Paul   10/07/2019 at 08:48:58
The IZH350 was purchased by me, as a soviet bike collector I recognised it as IZH when visiting the museum, for me lucky we wandered into the auction as I had previously tended to avoid them. I was not aware that the bike had previously been fraudulently described either by H&H or you have any previous history of the bike in the UK? After I purchased it was subsequently identified and registered as 1948..most oarts are original manufacture, even the tyres are very old USSR manufacture so the "been stored" part apoears correct. Cheers
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