Monday, May 20, 2013

Royal Enfield Interceptor's numbers didn't tell full story

The eBay Buy It Now price came down when questions arose.
How much do the serial numbers on a valuable old motorcycle matter? A Royal Enfield Interceptor recently offered for sale on eBay in California, with an initial Buy It Now price of $12,000, was not correctly identified, thought some experienced Interceptor owners and restorers on the Royal Enfield Interceptor Yahoo group.

Unsatisfied with the original explanation offered by the seller, at least one group member attempted to contact the seller to tell him that the ad was incorrect.

In the end, the seller ended the auction early "because the item is no longer available."

The seller had advertised the motorcycle as"a 1968 Royal Enfield Interceptor Mark 1A." Group members asserted that the motorcycle appeared to have earlier model motor, although perhaps in a Mark IA frame.

A Mark IA Interceptor would be more sought after and valuable than earlier models.

Grace's Guide explains that:

"The Series 1A Interceptor was introduced in 1967 with two sub models GP7 and TT7. The major change was the introduction of coil ignition, eliminating the magneto. The U.S. models received a new chrome tank, a new seat, instrument mounts, handlebar, fenders etc. All S1A interceptors had twin Mark 1 Amal carburetors. The breather system was modified to eliminate most of the oil leak problem that plagued the Royal Enfield twins since the 1950s."

The eBay seller stated in his ad that "This is a super example of this bike. Those in the know realize that once in a while a nice Mark 1B comes up, but never a 1A."

Why, then, for instance, did its motor have a magneto, a feature supposedly eliminated in the Mark IA? If the motor is not a Mark IA motor, how could this be a Mark IA Interceptor?

Inaccurate descriptions by sincere but uninformed sellers are not unusual on eBay. But this seller cited the motor and fame numbers of the motorcycle to back up his claim.

He quoted a letter from the Royal Enfield Owners Club in the UK identifying motor and frame number 644 as a Mark IA. The club possesses the factory records. But while the number 644 was assigned by the factory to a Mark IA, that doesn't strictly prove that this motorcycle is it. Numbers can be incorrectly stamped at the factory or altered at the factory, or later, although this usually leaves tell tale signs.

None of the original pictures in the eBay ad showed any number.

The seller added this note to his ad on May 13:

"I have received several emails from Enfield owners who question the provenance of this bike...

"Here, the frame and engine number is 644. I have an official letter from the The Royal Enfield Owners Club — as most know, the holder of what is left of all the old Enfield production records. This letter states that frame and engine number 644 'were assigned to an Interceptor Mk.1A. The machine was built to Road Sport specifications and was originally finished in red and chrome. It was dispatched from the factory on 3rd January 1967 to Shores (dealer on east coast) in the USA.'

"So, you have here, a Mk.1A with alloy headstock. Made in 1967 right at the end of the series. My guess made in Redditch, from stocks."

The seller suggested that any variations in the motorcycle could be accounted for by the "death throes" of the Royal Enfield company, along with the rest of the British motorcycle industry. "That is why by 1967 and onward, no two Brit bikes are exactly alike. This is well known."

Some members of the Interceptor Yahoo group still found this hard to accept, regardless of the numbers,  since the motor shows features generally thought to have been changed or abandoned for Mark IA production. Some identified it as possibly built in 1965.

While concerned that the ad might result in a sale to an innocent buyer unaware of these questions, several on the Interceptor Yahoo group expressed sympathy for the seller, who stated that he has spent more than his own asking price buying and restoring the motorcycle.

Appreciated just for itself it is a very pretty motorcycle. The seller pointed this out in an additional note added on May 16:

"I am not swearing on a stack of Bibles that this is a genuine Mark 1A bike... Does it have this part on it or this part on it; all I can say is take a look at a nice Royal Enfield."

He also lowered the Buy It Now price to $10,900 and posted pictures of the clear "644" numbers on frame and motor. The motor number pictured, however, also included the letters "YB," which typically identify earlier motors — not the Mark IA.

In the Burton Bike Bits registry of Mark IA Royal Enfield Interceptors, YB-644 is the only one listed with "YB" instead of "IA" as a prefix. On the other hand, the registry of Mark I Interceptors shows that "YB" is typically followed by five digits, not three.

There must be more to this story. One theory offered on the Yahoo group: perhaps the long ago dealer replaced a blown engine with a spare, under warranty, and stamped the unmarked cases to match the frame.

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