Author Topic: What's It Worth? '54 Bullet, Matching Numbers  (Read 460 times)

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nonfiction

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on: February 28, 2021, 06:47:36 pm
Here I've been contentedly tootling along on my pretend-old Bullet, when without really trying I'm suddenly offered a gen-you-whine old Redditch one that looks just about exactly the same.

I'm struggling to know what it's worth or how sensible it would be for me to undertake its ownership.

Here's what I know (or am told): 1954 Bullet. Numbers matching. Owner says it's a 500. Seems to have alloy barrel. Not big head. Looks like Indian build trials tank (no original tins available that I know of). Definitely not all original, maybe some bitsa in the wheels/frontend. Runs, but needs some finishing (looks like fork legs might be in need of replacement). Bike is in the USA.

See pictures, and please offer advice/thoughts/ballpark values such as they occur to you. Thank you for your time.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2021, 06:50:11 pm by nonfiction »


Adrian II

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Reply #1 on: February 28, 2021, 10:45:22 pm
Could be a genuine '54 (early) 500, the engine looks right with the 9 hole timing cover, there were no Big Head engines until a few years later. The following year saw Royal Enfields being sold under the Indian name in the USA for the next four years or so (that's Indian BADGED, not built in India). The frame is the early Bullet frame, not the intermediate '54/55 type with the cast steel swinging arm lug used on UK models, but ones like this were still used on the '56 Indian Woodsman. If you wanted lights on that you'd need to replace the Lucas N1 magneto with a MO1 magdyno, as the crankshaft is pre-alternator.

Shame the speedo mount has been hacked off the top yoke/triple tree top, but replacements are still available. The gas tank seems to be one of Hitchcocks' own trials tanks, most likely it would have had a 3 UK gallon steel tank.

Don't know what that front brake is off, 6" single sided RE front hubs and brakes are still available, though it might originally have had the double sided 6" SLS front hub, which first appeared around then.

Value? What will the owner take for it?

A.
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AzCal Retred

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Reply #2 on: March 01, 2021, 12:21:26 am
What's your goal? You have a perfectly satisfactory trail bike that is already SORTED, so unless you are wanting to build a road bike or take up restoration/bike shows or just have extra money to burn up, you are already where you wanted to be.
Now, a proper trials machine that already has the 250 frame conversion, primary gearing and correct transmission would be of more interest I think.
Restoration is a rabbit hole that you need a pretty compelling reason to go down, like the machine belonged to your father, or there's a particular category of racing you want to compete in.
AdrianII is right on the money here - "Value? What will the owner take for it?"  It's a project in search of a new home. If the present owner wants you to have it, anywhere from free to maybe $500 - $1000 should keep everyone happy. Other than that you really need to figure out why you want it.
A brace of 1999 Bullets: 1 Red Deluxe, 1 Green Standard. Also, 1 wee orphan 1956 Fire Arrow project.


nonfiction

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Reply #3 on: March 01, 2021, 01:21:25 am
Adrian II, good info and thoughts, thanks. And ACR, you pose good questions.

The fella is asking $3K, but that’s clearly just a starting point.

If I bought it, it would mainly be to swap the engine and gearbox into my Indian frame and chop it into a hardtail dirt track gravelscratcher bobber, barely street legal and full of piss and vinegar.

That’s a vision I’ve fancied for a future iteration of my current Iron Barrel Indian Bullet. And I could keep refining that bike Into a bulletproof adventure bike.

In other words, it would allow me (theoretically) to double up on projects that might have happened over a much longer time.

Theoretically.

But the long and short of it is, now that I’ve tarted my 2007 up a bit, I have a sense I really dig rough-and-ready old Brit dirt bikes, and this seems like a decent candidate. I do appreciate that it’s not the smaller frame, and I also know the top yokes are still available (I just had Hitch send me one!). It’s probably pie in the sky. Fun to think about nonetheless.
« Last Edit: March 01, 2021, 01:24:00 am by nonfiction »


AzCal Retred

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Reply #4 on: March 01, 2021, 04:21:32 am
Here's a similar starting point for $800 less up front, roughly local too.
I would haunt Craigslist for the 1985-2008 "$1200 non-runner" Bullet myself. Anywhere within 1500 miles is doable.
I like the idea of two identical project powerplants - less learning, more riding. Parts are mixable. Special tools do double duty.
Searches under ($250 - $2500) "motorcycles" and "motorcycle parts" are productive, folks mispel alotte....so many slip thru unnoticed.

https://seattle.craigslist.org/see/mcy/d/kirkland-1958-indian-woodsman-500/7284370269.html
1958 Indian Woodsman 500 restoration project w/title. Royal Enfield - $2,200 (Kirkland)

The "piss 'n vinegar" part costs money. At least a steel con rod and forged piston are needed to keep from fragging the cases when the stock "Velveeta-grade" conrods & pistons detonate under throttle. I just got the forged 6.5/1 H's slug, $200, should be here Friday. We'll see how well it fits the new alloy barrel I bought 10 years back from Kevin at CMW. :o  I'm not after big power, I just don't want the crankcases to get fragged halfway to Minden, 80 miles from nowhere. The steel rings should seal better & last much longer than the stock cast iron ones, hopefully getting my oil consumption down from 500 miles/quart!  ;D

Sounds like you just want the engine/trans guts as a transplant to an existing Indian frame that you plan on making into a hardtail? You might want to pop the shocks off your Bullet, make up a couple struts and toot around on that for awhile to "pre-run" that hard tail dirt bike concept. H's has a nice kit that doesn't preclude a return to stock if it doesn't work out, better than permanently carving up an artifact.

Personally, I'd keep polishing on your trailbike. It's very easy to get distracted and sink time (you could be trail riding!) & money into a machine that you find you aren't riding much. You very obviously are enjoying your trailrides, a hardtail bobber might just become exotic garage art after a day or so spent at the local gravel pit sliding around.

Maybe instead of a $3000 parts bike one time, bide your time, get vaccinated, keep an eye on Craigslist, make a couple overnight road trips (with little mama to share the trip, of course!) and end up with a couple project Parts Bullets and have cash left over...? Just a thought. - ACR -
A brace of 1999 Bullets: 1 Red Deluxe, 1 Green Standard. Also, 1 wee orphan 1956 Fire Arrow project.


Adrian II

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Reply #5 on: March 01, 2021, 12:34:25 pm
Quote
If I bought it, it would mainly be to swap the engine and gearbox into my Indian frame and chop it into a hardtail dirt track gravelscratcher bobber, barely street legal and full of piss and vinegar.

Not sure if I have understood this correctly, but please DO ***NOT*** CHOP AN ORIGINAL CLASSIC BIKE, NOT NOW. Quite enough of these have been ruined already by the chopper/bobber cult. :( If that old girl has survived this long, wouldn't a restoration be kinder? Here's another '54 500 for the US market, from Hitchcocks' Instagram Archives. The one we're discussing would have looked a lot like this.



Anyhow, don't you guys have all kinds of wonderful custom flat-track frames over there? Why not put something together in one of those?

A.
Grumpy Brit still seeking 500 AVL Bullet perfection! Will let you know if I get anywhere near...


nonfiction

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Reply #6 on: March 01, 2021, 05:55:40 pm
@Adrian II... ABSOLUTELY I am NOT thinking of cutting an original frame, or any such silliness. Cutting an Indian frame does not exactly feel like sacrilege to me, however, and I do really love the utter bare-bones .

That Woodsman (?) picture you posted is pretty much an ideal aesthetic for my #1 bike. Beautiful and practical. Swoon!

@ACR, you speak wisdom. I defer, and with a note of gratitude: This is the best board I've ever been a part of, and responses like this from folks like you are a big part of the reason why.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm not still gonna flirt up the owner of that '54 Bullet. He's got a bunch of other old dirt iron, and we're talking about doing some rides.


Adrian II

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Reply #7 on: March 02, 2021, 12:47:29 am
Quote
ABSOLUTELY I am NOT thinking of cutting an original frame, or any such silliness.

Whew! Glad to read that. Unfortunately, there are those who still do. Even the Indian-built iron barrel frames are worth keeping intact, as they're not making any more of those either.  ;)

The archive picture is the bike that would become the Woodsman the following year when RE stuff was sold under the Indian name in the USA, for 1954 it was still the 500 Royal Enfield Bullet export scrambler. The Woodsman was pretty much identical apart from what was on the side of the gas tank. This is a prime example of what was known as badge engineering, much the same way as AJS and Matchless in the 50's and early 60's were effectively the same bikes.

A.
Grumpy Brit still seeking 500 AVL Bullet perfection! Will let you know if I get anywhere near...


Karl Fenn

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Reply #8 on: March 02, 2021, 03:40:48 pm
I think 3k is high for this, it's not exactly mint and the chrome is bad in places, not the best example.


AzCal Retred

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Reply #9 on: March 02, 2021, 05:00:10 pm
Hi Karl - which Enfields are you riding? I was wondering because I hadn't seen any pics yet of your machines or projects.
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Bilgemaster

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Reply #10 on: March 02, 2021, 07:44:05 pm
That pretty bike certainly has possibilities. Glad to hear confirmation you're not thinking of hacking it up, but then I had already gathered somehow that this was never the plan. I can't say exactly why, but I've always found those old school lugged joints up near the steering head on Redditch-built frames especially attractive somehow, compared with the slapdash welded plates of the Indian-made ones...Sure, it's a small detail, but I guess it's similar to those sturdy joints of my old Matchless-framed Norton-engined and badged hybrid "Desert Sled". It just looks "tidy" to me, I suppose--made with evident quality and care to its construction, like a really fine pre-'80s Reynolds double-butted and lugged frame bicycle.

As for whether you  should be the one to take up that pretty rescue dog and give it a good home, only you can decide that. If you absolutely MUST have it, then that alone would be a fine indicator of eventual success.

Valuewise, I expect those decades of Indian production long after Redditch had shuttered its doors, and the subsequent "grey imports" of Indian-built Bullets purporting to be Redditch-built ones, either for registration's sake under a mocked up "Antique" banner, or perhaps less often as outright frauds, may have taken a lot of the wind out of the sails of the actual  collectible vintage Bullets where price is concerned, compared to other marques. One can debate whether those Indian-made Bullets fully deserve their reputation as being at best "finicky" or "making Urals seem reliable", but it exists all the same. If most folks have even ever heard of Enfields, that's often all they've heard about them--that they're unreliable. So, that's another headwind a classic Redditch-built Bullet will have to fight in its valuation. But then, as a buyer all of this works in your favor, right? In the end, I expect a good portion of the only folks likely to really knowledgeably appreciate that ride are right here on this Forum. So again, all that really matters is your gut feeling and sense of motivation. That whole logical dollars and cents or risk/reward  metric is kind of out the window with a true vintage Bullet. How do you feel about that old beast?
« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 07:48:11 pm by Bilgemaster »
So badass my Enfield's actually illegal  in India.

(Legal enough to pass muster if they don't look too closely in Woodbridge, Virginia, where the buses don't run at night, holidays or weekends and I'm a contender for 'Village Idiot')


nonfiction

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Reply #11 on: March 02, 2021, 09:25:31 pm
@Bilge, those 'tidy' lugs on the Redditch frame are definitely part of the charm of this idea for me. The other part of the equation is when I picture my Indian frame chopped into the shape of the bike in the attached picture, that magneto-sparked British powerplant stuck in it with very little else: minimalist and cobby and loud as all hell.

This vision is not predicated on there being a vintage model close to hand--I could do it with a rough Indian Bullet in fine conscience as well. The appearance of that '54 just sparked a little flame of urgency that has since at least partly guttered out.

@Karl, thank you for the weigh-in on the price. I agree, and likely wouldn't consider spending more than something close to half the asking price, unless I learn there is something more special about the bike than is evident to me. I expect to see it in person later this week... out of curiosity.


Bilgemaster

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Reply #12 on: March 02, 2021, 10:11:22 pm
That is a fine looking blue beastie. But on the other hand, I can't help always feeling the irony of hard-tailing a Bullet, which really made its bones precisely because it was pretty much the first production bike with shocks and a swingarm, the superior tractibility of which in turn led to its domination of those International Six Day Trials (ISDT) mixed surfaces torture tests, what we now call "Enduro", throughout much of the immediate postwar period, as described here: https://speedtracktales.com/2013/12/20/internationally-famous-royal-enfield-at-the-isdt-1948-1953/amp/.

I gather that it was those swingarm-borne successes that may have led to the Indians reckoning the Bullet would be a suitable mount for their troops, which in turn led to their embrace by their home market, which eventually begat the one sitting in my driveway.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of those lovely bobbed hand-fettled creations of Craig's at Doghouse Customs (here's a peek at his most recent springer-forked ongoing opus almost prepped for coating, etc.: https://youtu.be/kwFUn_9oX3I). But all the same, shocks were what first elevated and sustained the breed. Taking them away just seems somehow a little like taking away Minnesota Fat's Rambo pool cue and handing him a mop.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 10:22:27 pm by Bilgemaster »
So badass my Enfield's actually illegal  in India.

(Legal enough to pass muster if they don't look too closely in Woodbridge, Virginia, where the buses don't run at night, holidays or weekends and I'm a contender for 'Village Idiot')


Adrian II

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Reply #13 on: March 02, 2021, 10:23:32 pm
I don't think this latest one is so much of a custom bike, it looks more like a 500 Fury that was hard-tailed for actual flat track racing use back when the bike was first imported. Note there is no front brake on this one! Notice also the front forks have bee flipped around to move the front axle back, possibly to quicken the steering geometry.

The pin-striping on the tank suggests an Indian-badged version originally (see Grumbern's Indian chief), but the RE and later Redditch-built Indian badges are interchangeable. If that one was originally sold as an Indian big head Westerner it was one of only 20 made, the total number of mechanically identical RE Furies built was only (just shy of) 200.

Not a fan of Craig's, I wish he'd stop ruining perfectly sound Bullets. Like I said, they're not making any more of them. The guy's stuck in a rather unfortunate rut.

A.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2021, 10:25:41 pm by Adrian II »
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Reply #14 on: March 03, 2021, 08:13:38 am
That '54 Bullet looks pretty well sorted to me, even if not original. It appears to have a Tiger Cub or similar, rear hub, with bolt on sprocket - a fairly common modification, and a nice conical alloy front hub. Similar in many respects to my own, non original, non matching numbers 1955 machine, which I value at around £3500. the non Big Head 500 Redditch machines have been said to be even rarer than the later Big Head versions.
 B.W.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2021, 08:37:47 am by Bullet Whisperer »


nonfiction

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Reply #15 on: March 05, 2021, 12:03:24 am
Bullet Whisperer, that red trail bike is pretty darned inspiring. Just about as elemental a motorbike as you're ever gonna find. Love it. Thank you for posting your thoughts as well.

I'll report more when I've seen the '54 here in Seattle.


Bullet Whisperer

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Reply #16 on: March 05, 2021, 09:37:51 am
Bullet Whisperer, that red trail bike is pretty darned inspiring. Just about as elemental a motorbike as you're ever gonna find. Love it. Thank you for posting your thoughts as well.

I'll report more when I've seen the '54 here in Seattle.
Thank you! While digging around among my You Tube videos, I managed to find a clip of a short ride on it ...

 https://youtu.be/okP2JGjV9fc

 B.W.


nonfiction

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Reply #17 on: March 05, 2021, 03:54:44 pm
"You've got to remember to be home before dark..."

Love it! Thank you for sharing.


nonfiction

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Reply #18 on: March 11, 2021, 06:39:19 pm
I went and met the owner of that '54 Bullet last evening. It's just one of a whole fleet of really interesting old Brit iron. Mainly BSA and AJS/Matchless singles and twins, some in museum condition. The Enfield is definitely the runt of the litter, but it's no less lovely for it.

I'm unlikely to buy the bike from him, but he did offer me the ride if I want to 'compete' on it at the Vintage Trials event at the LeMay Marymount Motorcycle Days (https://lemaymarymount.org/product/lemay-motorcycle-days-2/) upcoming (local trash collection baron built world-class car/motorcycle collection and holds annual events).

Was sort of thinking to ride my Indian Bullet in that, though not sure they'd let me, it being 'pretend old' and all, so this works out pretty well. I get the fun part of ownership, with fewer of the hassles or expenses! Of course, there will have to be some garage time, getting to know my new buddy (and the guy that owns it!), as we work to tie the swapped-in front wheel in tight (seems to be off something Spanish), or maybe put a different front end on; dude's got a bunch of Ceriani bits lying around that might work. He's built and run a number of trials-ish bikes.

I'm excited!


AzCal Retred

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Reply #19 on: March 12, 2021, 01:28:36 am
Nonfiction - what a great opportunity! Your Patrón is I'm certain happy to see a fellow enthusiast appreciate & enjoy something he appreciated. Ceriani's were the gold standard. Sort the front brake, fork oil weight and spring rate if you can before the meet. Shoot some pictures of the ongoing transmogrification, OK?  :)
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Adrian II

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Grumpy Brit still seeking 500 AVL Bullet perfection! Will let you know if I get anywhere near...