An Arlen Ness Custom Motorcycle Collection Rides to Mecum

Although Mecum is a prominent name in the car auction world, its offerings include more than that. Motorcycles also regularly cross Mecum’s blocks, and the selections range from rare classics to modern wheels and one-off custom builds. And it’s hard to talk about custom bikes without mentioning the late Arlen Ness, who’s often called ‘the king of custom motorcycles.’ Now, some of the bikes he built and owned could be yours.

For the first time, the Iron Maiden chopper Arlen Ness built is going on sale

The blue 1984 Harley-Davidson Arlen Ness custom Iron Maiden chopper
1984 Harley-Davidson Arlen Ness custom Iron Maiden chopper | Mecum

When he sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 79, Arlen Ness had over 40 years of experience building custom motorcycles. One of his signature styles was the ‘digger’ chopper, which draws inspiration from narrow, stripped-down dragsters. And he built many of his creations using vintage Sportster frames and engines.

This 1984 Harley-Davidson Iron Maiden-themed chopper both follows and breaks some of those Arlen Ness trademarks, Mecum says. Yes, it’s a digger with long springer-style forks. However, it features a Harley-Davidson Shovelhead V-twin, rather than a ‘conventional’ Sportster engine. But from the style to the rest of the mods, this is assuredly a Ness creation.

For one, Arlen Ness enlarged the V-twin to 1340cc and gave it a Riviera Engineering ‘Eliminator’ constant-velocity carburetor. And while it still has a kickstarter, he swapped out the cable-operated clutch for a hydraulic one. The chopper also has front and rear disc brakes; helpful, given its low curb weight and big engine.

In addition, this chopper is littered with Iron Maiden artwork, from the gas tank to the air-cleaner cover. Plus, Arlen Ness hand-engraved the metal filigree elements on the oil tank, gearbox, and engine covers. Little wonder it won five custom motorcycle awards and got some Miami Vice screentime.

Two of Arlen Ness’s personal custom Harley-Davidson FL Knucklehead motorcycles are up for grabs, too

Arlen Ness's custom green-and-white 1947 Harley-Davidson FL Knucklehead
Arlen Ness custom 1947 Harley-Davidson FL Knucklehead | Mecum

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The upcoming Mecum custom motorcycle auction doesn’t just include bikes that Arlen Ness built for other people, though. It also features some of his personal machines, including two Harley-Davidson FL Knuckleheads. For those unfamiliar with Harley acronyms, ‘FL’ signifies the company’s touring-focused models. Harley-Davidson still prefixes its bagger and Softail bikes with ‘FL’; for example, the current Fat Boy is technically the FLFBS.  

Ness’s career started with a 20-year-old 1947 FL Knucklehead, though neither of the two bikes is that specific motorcycle. However, he did use a yellow 1946 FL as a testbed for custom part concepts. And it features a hardtail frame with a Sportster gas tank, as well as that prominent 1213cc Knucklehead V-twin.

The green 1947 FL nicknamed ‘Flashy Knuckle’ is a bit more customized than the yellow bike. Although it has the same Knucklehead V-twin, it’s housed in an original frame with a custom front end. And on top of the green paint job, Arlen Ness also prominently printed his name on the gas tank.

Arlen Ness liked his stock bikes, too, like his 1965 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra Glide Panhead

Arlen Ness's red 1965 Harley-Davidson FLH Panhead Electra Glide
Arlen Ness 1965 Harley-Davidson FLH Panhead Electra Glide | Mecum

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There’s one Arlen Ness motorcycle coming up for auction that isn’t custom, though. That’s his 1965 Harley-Davidson FLH Panhead. But while the bike is stock, it’s still special for several reasons.

Firstly, 1965 was the last year for the Panhead V-twin before Harley introduced its successor, the Shovelhead, Hagerty explains. And this is after the Panhead bikes introduced important tech like hydraulic brakes, rear suspension, and telescopic forks. It also shifted (no pun intended) from a hand-operated shifter to a foot-operated one. Plus, while this was the Panhead’s last year, it was also the first year it offered an electric starter.

Because of that last introduction, Harley-Davidson gave the 1965 FLH Panhead a new name: Electra Glide. As in, the same Electra Glide that later introduced the iconic ‘batwing’ fairing. In short, Arlen Ness owned an original, first-year Electra Glide.

And now, you have a chance to own it.

When can you bid on these customized bikes?

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All four of these Arlen Ness motorcycles are hitting the block at the 2022 Las Vegas Mecum auction alongside well over a hundred other bikes. The auction runs from January 25-29. Bids for the Iron Maiden chopper start on the 28th, while the other lots are scheduled for the 29th.

Given the celebrity factor, as well as most of these motorcycles’ custom nature, these bikes might be pricier than the market average. And it’s worth noting that vintage Harley Knuckleheads are particularly popular—and pricey—right now. An excellent-condition 1946 or 1947 Knucklehead typically costs about $67,000 these days, Hagerty reports. Classic Electra Glides are still $15,000-$20,000 bikes, though, Hagerty claims.

Hopefully, whoever wins the king’s machines takes them out on the road.

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