Las Vegas, NV

Rare 1908 Harley-Davidson Sells at Auction for $850,000

Douglas Pilarski

The Motorcycle Was Found in a Wisconsin Barn in 1941
1908 Harley-Davison Strap TankPhoto byDouglas Pilarski

The 2023 Mecum Vintage Motorcycle Auction started with a question. Could this rare early H-D set the high-water mark for vintage cycle prices?

In 1908, the Model 4 was on offer at $210. This motorcycle last appeared at auction in 2007, selling for $198,000. One hundred fifteen years after it was produced, we have our answer. The same bike sold in Las Vegas for $850,000, a multiple of more than 4,000 times its original selling price.

Production of Harley-Davidson motorcycles started in a small backyard wooden shed. That year the company built only five motorcycles.
4 hp One Cylinder EnginePhoto byDouglas Pilarski

This particular motorcycle was found in a barn in Wisconsin by David Eulien in 1941. Mr. Uihlein was an avid collector. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 89. Ulien’s collection of antique cars included 1930’s Indianapolis 500 race cars.

Eulien was known to restore many cars with his own hands. 1925 Bugatti Brescia Type 23 Roadster, a gift to Eulien’s wife, won a blue ribbon in 1989 at the Concours d’elegance in Pebble Beach, CA.

The 1908 Strap Tank restoration was completed by Paul Freehill of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The restorer referred to the same model displayed at the Harley-Davidson Museum to ensure correctness.
1908 Strap Tank Engine DetailPhoto byDouglas Pilarski

Bikes sold that year were available in an optional piano black. Yet, most of the 450 bikes left the factory dressed in Renault Gray with Carmine Red pinstripes. It is interesting to note that production moved to a larger facility and employed eighteen workers in total.

These grey machines earned the nickname Silent Gray Fellow, and the name even appeared in H-D advertising. The strap tank refers to bikes of that era that featured nickel-plated steel straps designed to hold the oil and fuel tank inside the frame.

This coveted bike could get forty miles per hour. The 26.8-cubic-inch (440-cc) single-cylinder engine produced close to 4 hp, and the top speed was nearly 40 MPH. The Model Four offered the rider weak braking. A bicycle coaster brake was mounted on the rear wheel to slow down the bike.
Auction TagPhoto byDouglas Pilarski

A direct drive transmission supplied the power to the rear wheel. It employed a one-inch wide leather belt engaged by an idler pulley on the driver’s left. A spring-mounted bicycle seat and double sprung front forks provided suspension. The bicycle pedals started the engine.

To prove the bike’s dependability and performance, Walter Davidson ran the cycle for fifty miles on one quart of oil and a single ounce of gasoline to win the 1908 Brass and Horns trophy. By 1909, sales jumped to 3,100 units from 8 bikes sold in 1904 and 1905.

The strap tank gained a reputation for robust performance, a hallmark that lives on today. Only a dozen or so of the 450 motorcycles produced in 1908 by Harley-Davidson survived.
Rare barn find pushes off to new homePhoto byDouglas Pilarski


  • Engine: Single cylinder w/ IOE cylinder head
  • Displacement: (440cc)
  • Horsepower: 4
  • Bore x stroke: 78 mm x 89 mm
  • Fuel system: Schebler updraft 1-barrel carburetor
  • Transmission: Direct drive from the crankshaft pulley
  • Electrics: 6-volt dry-cell battery

About Mecum Auctions Mecum Auctions is headquartered in Walworth, Wisconsin, and since 2011 has been ranked No. 1 in the world with the number of collector cars offered at auction. Mecum Auctions hosts the world’s largest collector car auction, held annually in Kissimmee, Florida, and the world’s largest motorcycle auction in Las Vegas. Mecum’s website is updated daily with the latest consignments.

Douglas Pilarski is an award-winning writer and journalist on the west coast and covers luxury goods, horology, exotic cars, CJ-CX, workplace issues, fine dining, lifestyle, and millionaire travel. He is a regular contributor to and Editor of Journal Blue on Contact him at

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Douglas Pilarski is an award-winning writer & journalist based on the west coast. He writes about luxury goods, exotic cars, horology, tech, food, lifestyle, and workplace issues!

Beaverton, OR

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