Powerplus | Camelback | Boardtrack racer | Fake bikes
Lightweight | Model K | Mark Bryan | Damian Jones
H&H Auctions fake Indians sold
Q. When is an Indian Camelback not an Indian Camelback?
A. When it's a 1920 Hayward scooter engine fitted to an unidentified pushbike frame (see image immediately above).
Here's another one.
Q. When is a circa 1922 Indian Boardtrack racer not a circa 1922 Indian Boardtrack racer?
A. When it's an AJS V-twin engine in another unidentified bicycle frame (see the blue bike further below).
These questions arise following H&H Auction's recent "successful" (quote/unquote) sale at Donington Park, Leicestershire on the 28th July 2016 in which eight motorcycles were listed as Indians, of which six were total fakes. Here are the offending bikes:
Lot 11. Indian Lightweight, circa 1910. Listed by H&H as: Barn find, JAP single engine, no paperwork, will require re-commissioning. PLEASE NOTE: We are unable to identify the manufacturer of the frame. Is complete with single cylinder JAP sidevalve engine and 1930's BSA fuel tank.
Lot 12. Indian Racer, circa 1920. Listed by H&H as: Barn find, JAP engine, no paperwork, will require re-commissioning. PLEASE NOTE: We are unable to identify the manufacturer of the frame. Is complete with single cylinder JAP overhead valve engine, Lucas magneto and Albion gearbox.
Lot 13. Indian Boardtrack Racer, circa 1922. Listed by H&H as: 61 cu in twin, single gear, no paperwork, will require re-commissioning. PLEASE NOTE: We are unable to identify the manufacturer of the frame. Is complete with V-twin AJS engine with Thomson-Bennett magneto.
Lot 17. Indian Powerplus, circa 1920. Listed by H&H as: Barn find, no paperwork or engine fitted, will require substantial re-commissioning. PLEASE NOTE: We are unable to identify the manufacturer of the frame. Is complete with Schebler carburettor (nice touch with the carb - Ed)
Lot 18. Indian Model K, circa 1920. Listed by H&H as: Barn find, no paperwork, will require re-commissioning. PLEASE NOTE: We are unable to identify the manufacturer of the frame. Is complete with believed to be Villiers 2 stroke engine.
What H&H said
We spoke to Mark Bryan (image immediately above), H&H's Motorcycle Specialist and asked why these bikes were listed as Indians when, to anyone with any significant motorcycle knowledge (which excludes us - Ed), they're manifestly not. Said Bryan;
"Well that's what the vendor told us, so that's how they were listed."
"So if we produced a Honda 50 and asked for it to be listed as a Brough Superior, that's how you'd list it?" we said.
"Yes," said Bryan.
So we highlighted the "Indian Boardtrack racer" and asked which bit of it is actually Indian? Bryan explained,
"We did mention on the listing that we're unable to identify the manufacturer of that frame."
"That could be inferred merely as auction house caution," we suggested. "In other words, you might feel it probably is an Indian frame, but are unable to positively identify it. Therefore, it's not exactly a denial."
Then we pointed out that the engine is an AJS V-twin, to which Bryan said:
"We did put a SALE NOTICE on the listing to highlight that fact."
Which is true, except that that notice came fairly late in the day, and certainly after we had already posted a news item on that bike (see Sump Classic Bike News June 2016). In other words, that bike was not listed as an AJS bitsa. But why so?
"After the bikes were listed, said Bryan, "we received numerous calls telling us that the bikes were incorrect."
"But you still listed them as Indians?" we said.
"Yes," said Bryan, "but we put up a SALE NOTICE to highlight our doubts."
"But you still listed the bikes as Indians?" we repeated.
"That's what we were told by the vendor."
Next, we patiently explained that simply declaring the frame as unidentified and mentioning that the engine is an AJS V-twin isn't the same as advising visitors that the machine cannot, in all conscience (and probably not in law) be realistically listed as an Indian.
But Bryan didn't seem to understand the point that none of these six bikes is in any way, shape or form an Indian motorcycle. Clearly, they're all fakes and bitsas, and by listing them as Indians, H&H is (a) complicit in directly selling these bikes as Indians to people who don't know any better, and (b) guilty of adding credence to the dodgy provenance if and when the bikes are re-sold.
So we spoke to Mark Bryan's boss and Sales Manager, Damian Jones (image right). He's ex-Cheffins, and ex-Sotheby's too with 11 years in his current job. He said;
"Look, I don't know the ins and outs. But yes, we have to take a vendor's word. When a seller tells us that a bike is X, we list it as X."
X being an unknown quantity. Which, of course, undermines the whole point of having a motorcycle specialist. Any bloody fool can, after all, simply write down what a seller claims, but a motorcycle specialist is supposed to check the details—which in these instances included no supporting (or refuting) documents.
"We can't know every bike," said Jones.
"How long have you been in business?" we asked.
"23 years," said Jones.
"And how many motorcycles have you sold?"
"I don't know," said Jones.
"But it's got to be thousands, hasn't it?"
"I really don't know the numbers," said Jones.
We also pointed out that if there was any doubt about the provenance of these bikes, the listing should have been amended to fully express the doubts. In other words: INDIAN BOARDTRACK REPLICA. Or: IN THE STYLE OF A 1920s INDIAN RACER. Or COMPLETE AMATEUR LASH-UP PURPORTING TO BE A VINTAGE OR VETERAN INDIAN.
There were numerous other issues and questions surrounding the unloading of the bikes, not least the fact that most riders/buyers would consider the sale of these machines as sharp practice, at best, or outright fraud, at worst. Doesn't that bother H&H?
"We took our guidance from the vendor."
So there you have it. H&H Auctions can't tell the difference between a motorised pushbike and a genuine sporting motorcycle classic from yesteryear. Evidently they have no marque experts, no generally switched-on specialists, no reference books, and insufficient savvy. Or is H&H a little smarter than we think?
At Sump, we've covered H&H sales many times, and we probably will again. But we'll be a lot more cautious in future, and so should you. Someone's head ought to be rolling over this. It's a serious blow to whatever reputation H&H's enjoys among its customers and peers, and it could leave the less informed buyer considerably out of pocket.
▲ 1920 150cc 2-stroke Whippet Scooter built by WGC Hayward, of Twickenham, Middlesex (now South West London). This is where the above "Indian Camelback" engine would normally be fitted. You can check out this cool runabout at the Sammy Miller Museum.
We did invite H&H to email us a statement further explaining/justifying its position, but we haven't yet received anything. Meanwhile, at the time of writing (hours after we spoke to H&H), we see that the bikes are still online. But at least they can't do any more (immediate) damage to anyone's wallet or purse because they've already been sold. Here are prices:
Lot 10 - Indian Lightweight: £470
Lot 11 - Indian Camelback: £828
Lot 12 - Indian Racer: £492
Lot 13 - Indian Boardtrack Racer £3,584
Lot 17 - Indian Powerplus: £455
Lot 18 - Indian Model K: £806
Note that although these prices are relatively low, we're fairly certain that had a bidding frenzy kicked-off among the ignorati, H&H wouldn't dream of bringing that hammer down until the last possible moment.
Sounds like someone got a lousy deal.
FOOTNOTE 1: This Fake Indian story first appeared on Sump Classic Bike News, August 2016.
FOOTNOTE 2: H&H has since responded to this news item. We've received an email from Julian Roup, Head of Press, and we're treating the detail as private correspondence. But essentially, H&H has stated that it will be implementing tougher controls on how bikes are listed and will NOT automatically be accepting a vendor's description of a given item. The email adds that H&H is proud of its reputation for integrity, but accepts that this issue has not shown the firm at its best.
— Sam 7
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Copyright Sump Publishing 2016