When you’re talking about highly collectible motorcycles, there are a few makes that consistently come up. Vincent. Brough Superior. Henderson. Occasionally, a rarity among rarities makes its way to the auction block, such as a Crocker Big Twin, or, if you’re really lucky, a Harley-Davidson Strap Tank. The latter extremely rare machine is what just took the honor of the top-selling bike at the 2023 Mecum Las Vegas auction, and one of the coolest things about it is that it’s lived in Wisconsin for its entire life.
As you can see in the video, as the bid amount quickly increased into the high six figure range, it still hadn’t met reserve. When it got to $850,000, the seller decided to lift the reserve—and indeed, that’s the selling price at which this pristine, beautifully restored, 1908 Harley-Davidson Strap Tank crossed the stage. Under Mecum’s listing of its top ten bikes from this auction, it gives the total price (including all applicable fees) as $935,000.
For those unfamiliar, the Strap Tank is most definitely one of the most important models in Harley history—if not the most important. This model is what evolved from William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson’s initial shed builds, and was the first model to roll out of the Chestnut Street—later Juneau Avenue—factory. It quickly established a reputation for the brand's builds that endured through the decades.
As the story goes, 150 Strap Tanks rolled out of the factory in 1907, increasing to 450 in 1908. Of those 450 bikes produced in 1908, fewer than a dozen are thought to still exist in 2023—and far fewer in as correct a condition as this one.
What makes this particular example so special? As the story goes, Milwaukee businessman David Uihlein, heir to the Schlitz Brewing fortune, discovered it in a barn about 70 miles outside Milwaukee, all the way back in 1941. This bike was complete—so he brought it home, and kept it there for the following 66 years. It was restored at some point by noted vintage Harley restoration expert Paul Freehill, and the original tank, wheels, engine belt pulley, seat cover, and muffler sleeve were included in this auction.