This best classic motorcycles to invest in 2023 is much more about Japanese motorcycles, as we’ve covered the Italian ones in parts one and two. Japanese motorcycles have had some great little burst outs over the last year or two and they are indicators of what’s to come. Honda RC30s have gone ballistic over the last few years which have focused investors’ gaze upon the Honda CB1100R series. The sale of the Kawasaki Z1900 at Mecums early this year is going to drive Z prices upwards. These are just the canaries going off in the mines for now, but Japanese motorcycles are going to seriously increase in value in the coming years. Just because a specific model which is highly collectible hasn’t gone up significantly recently, doesn’t mean it won’t kick on. This only means that it’s a matter of time before a new world record price is set for that machine causing values to increase substantially. These are the machines to quickly slide in and acquire right now as you’ll be looking over your shoulder in a year or two’s time and wishing the you had bought it at today’s price.
Classic motorcycle market demand
As we rote in this article there is a lot of classic car money pouring into classic motorcycles, back in 2019, which is seriously increasing demand and therefore prices. Another driver is the demand from Japan and the USA, which were historically markets from which European countries sourced classic motorcycles for their home markets. The Japanese and American markets are enormous and they have realised how good these classic motorcycles are from this era. All of the quality examples have been exported and now they want them back. Also the trend of classic car owners in those countries, seeking out investment grade classic motorcycles is also feeding further demand there. We picked up on this trend back in 2021 in the first paragraph of this article about classic motorcycle prices rising due to export demands. Later in that article you can read about China starting to get on board, albeit very slowly, but the demand from there is destined to revolutionise the classic motorcycle market. There is also the prospect of a new market emerging in the Arab nations, as their motorcycle markets are rapidly growing. The Arab nations are already avid classic car fanatics with deep pockets and high expectations, which will increase demand further.
I think these may take a pause for a little bit as prices are incredibly strong right now, but there are no bargains. I may be wrong about prices levelling for a while, as the price of Ducati 916 SPs have increased in a similar manner but are continuing to rise. Usually classic motorcycles make a sharp increase in price and then take a breather, but demand is so strong and seems to be constantly increasing. The Honda RC30 requires a lot of work as the fibreglass body work shrinks, the seat units tend to sag and the fibreglass micro blisters, all of this is due to age. Dealing with the pearlescent white base bodywork is massively time consuming and requires great skill. Even when the fibreglass has been dealt with correctly, the paint scheme is complex and costly. These bikes, like anything which has fairings and large bodywork covering the engine, chassis and rear suspension should not be bought without removing all of the bodywork. Engines are crammed into the tiny chassis so even stripping carbs to clean them is a long job. Engine paint is usually on its way out and the frames usually require very careful re-finishing. So many of these machines were raced for so long that finding one which hasn’t been raced is very challenging. Finding an investment grade example is always going to be something of a mission. These iconic Hondas are going to continue to increase sharply in value over the coming years.
Kawasaki Z1 900
The Kawasaki Z1 900 series have been classics since they were first delivered in 1972, even in 1974 the 1972 models were changing hands for more than the price of a new one. A new world record of US$55,000 for a 1973 example (it was not even a 1972 model but it was the same colour) was delivered by Mecums Auctions in January 2023 and this is a serious warning that Japanese classic motorcycle values are going increase seriously in the coming years. The bike in question was by no means an investment grade example with hardly any original parts. This is a profound development of a trend that has been going on for over two years (check the link two paragraphs above). The buyer was a car buyer bidding against another car buyer which also goes to show how much interest is moving into classic motorcycles from classic cars. Japanese classic motorcycles will increase in value fiercely in the coming years, but only investment grade examples will really make the grade as the US market matures and develops like the US classic car market has. This market is quite unsophisticated at this moment in time, but that will change very quickly and they will want investment grade examples rather than shiny Dinky toys, just the same as the car market pays strong premiums for investment grade examples. The 1972 Kawasaki Z1 900 was a fine motorcycle when it was new. However, as the carbs improved running year on year the original items were ditched in favour of the latest ones from the later models. These machines come with coded date stamps on the wheel rims telling the year and month of production of the rims. Other parts have these coded date stamps, so investment grade examples need to have these all present and correct. The first 1,200 of the 1972 model are almost like prototypes and command an enormous premium. After those first 1,200 Kawasaki only made a further 3,650 of the 1972 model, so these are the real Z1s which are the investors’ dream. For 1973 Kawasaki made 17,000, ’74 they built 22,500 of the Z1A and from 1975 the production numbers increased a little. Over the following years so many of the Kawasakis were destroyed in accidents, were “improved upon” by home butchers, broken for spares and stolen. Many turned into choppers during the late 1970s and early to late 1980s, as the custom motorcycle scene exploded and these Kawasakis became very cheap donor motorcycles from the breakers yards of the day. The few beautiful examples that are left have often fallen victim to home restorers who have ditched the expensive to re-chrome, original, stamped parts in favour of ready-chromed poor imitations. Cost of restoration far outweighs the value of a restored example and home restorers are notorious for cutting corners (I am genuinely sorry to those who do not fall into this category- you are a very rare breed indeed). Other peoples restorations are quite often more costly to deal with than restoring an original example.
The Honda CBX1000 has been a great performer for investors and the market has split into investment grade examples and those that are not. Prices vary enormously between the investment grade example and the non-investment grade example. These are very rare machines, with only 24,000 being originally produced and there are very few investment grade examples left. It’s only a matter of time before one sets a world record at auction and investors start to hunt them down and prices will rocket. This is the Aston Martin DB4 of the classic motorcycle world, they are a masterpiece of engineering. The Honda CBX1000 is all about the motor which is used as a stressed member instead of having any lower frame rails. To really understand what an incredible motorcycle these are, I highly recommend buying George Beale’s incredible book about replicating Honda’s RC174 300cc six cylinder racer from 1966. Although the CBX1000 doesn’t share any components with the race bike, the engine design and layout was the blueprint for the CBX which is why it went from concept to market in two years. This is a 24 valve, six cylinder, six carb, DOHC 1047cc motorcycle built in 1978 and producing 105 BHP. They have two sets of cam chains, with two sets of tensioners, a primary drive chain which has a primary chain tensioner which works using oil pressure. As we wrote about back in early 2022 in this article about Honda CBX1000 cam chain tensioners and cylinder heads, these bikes require a full engine rebuild due to age. It doesn’t matter how low the mileage is or what service history the bike has the cam chain tensioners need replacing and this requires a full engine strip. Cylinder heads usually require skimming and valves and valve guides require checking. If a seller tells you the motor has been stripped and the bike is good to go then it is imperative to know who rebuilt the motor and what parts they used. We are rebuilding four CBX1000s, as I write this, that other people recently rebuilt. Once the work is done, these bikes are good for the next forty years. The Honda CBX10000 is an absolute pleasure to ride and are great for high mileages, provided they’re correctly serviced at the right intervals. These motorcycles are destined to go to over £100,000 for investment grade examples in the coming years and for good reason. Try restoring one yourself and see how much it costs you!
The Honda CB1100R series is one of the earliest Japanese homologation specials and comes with history. Ron Hallam won the British MCN Street Bike series first time of asking in 1981 on an unmodified CB1100RB. We sourced Ron’s winning motorcycle for our customer who is a very proud owner. It’s always been hard to find investment grade examples of these Hondas and values were sub £15,000 two years ago, however we have now moved on. These are rarer than RC30s and RC45s and it seems that their day is coming. This CB1100RD sold at auction in May 2022 for £26,438 at Silverstone Auctions which indicates were prices are heading for these, that is a massive jump in price in a very short space of time. The first year of production Honda CB1100RB is the most collectible and desirable of the three year production run. This sudden price jump is a sign of serious demand due to the sharp price increases of Honda RC30s, and 45s. RC30 and 45 owners are also quite enchanted by the comparative value the CB1100R series offers by comparison, so they are starting to hunt them down to add to their collections. They are also very user friendly, fast, road bikes with great handling and are good for long journeys, as they don’t have such an extreme riding position as the 30 and 45. These beautiful machines hand built in the HRC race department are clearly going to become a lot more sought after and will increase in value sharply sometime in the future. This series of Honda homologation specials clearly offer great value and are a lot of fun to own and ride.
The old Suzuki GT750 is another range of classic Japanese motorcycles that have always been desirable. Prices have really stagnated over the last five years or so, which indicates that they are overdue a price increase. Cost of restoration is far greater than the value of a decently restored example and two strokes are highly desirable. These are remarkable motorcycles from an era that is now fully extinct and can never be repeated. These motorcycles were designed as long distance mile munchers, they’re very comfortable for both rider and pillion. There is no snappy power band to speak of, like the smaller 250 and 400cc two strokes of that era. These engines were designed to deliver enormous torque and they do it with grace. It’s a matter of time before these Suzukis come into their own and investors will want to add them to their collections. The GT750 series ran for six years and the first year of production J series is the most collectible. Very few of these bikes have been professionally restored and have ended up with powder coated frames, poorly built motors, poor chrome, poor replica parts and really need restoring again to chase out the inherent problems. The GT is a great motorcycle once it’s been done correctly and finding investment grade examples is seriously challenging. Finding an original example which requires restoring is the best way to find an investment grade example. I think the Barry Sheen story will also influence prices in the coming years, because the time will come when one of his race bikes sells for a world record and this will draw attention to the Suzuki story.
In part 4 we will examine more Japanese classic motorcycles which offer investors great value and headroom.