Rocker Jerry Lee Lewis's Harley sells for $385,000

You can buy Jerry Lee Lewis' motorcycle
You can buy Jerry Lee Lewis' motorcycle

Jerry Lee Lewis's 1959 Harley-Davidson sold for $385,000 at an auction Saturday in Florida.

Until it was sold, it was owned by Jerry Lee Lewis, the legendary rock-n-roller, known to his many fans as "The Killer." Lewis was at the auction in person to send it off to its new home.

While the price was high, it was a long ride away from the record auction price for a motorcycle. That record was set last October when a red-white-and-blue custom Harley-Davidson (HOG) chopper ridden by Peter Fonda in the 1969 movie Easy Rider sold for $1.35 million. The second-most expensive bike ever sold at auction, was a 1910 Winchester, which went for $580,000.

Still the bike was special -- even if it been owned by someone without a plaque in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame it would still be worth a lot for a motorcycle, said Bob Golfen, a writer who follows collectible cars and motorcycles.

He estimated the bike's inherent value at $100,000 to $120,000. Mecum auctions, the company selling the bike, broadly agreed with that estimate.

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At his professional peak the late 1950s and early '60s, Lewis was famous -- or infamous -- as the original bad boy of rock-n-roll. A brilliant showman, he played piano with a wildly aggressive style, attacking the instrument with fists and feet as if it were his detested opponent in a drunken bar fight.

But he also knew how to slow it down and build tension, keeping his audience rapt while he pounded out a driving rhythm as they waited for whatever might come next.

jerry lee lewis harley davidson

The titles of his best-known songs went go along with his white-hot stage presence. Among the most memorable were "Great Balls of Fire," "Breathless" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On." He later found success as a country music singer and had a string of hits in that genre.

Lewis has owned the bike since it was given to him by Harley-Davidson in 1959. An identical motorcycle was given to Elvis Presley a little later. According to Lewis, "The King" was jealous that "The Killer" had gotten his Harley first and Lewis even offered, jokingly, to trade with him.

Lewis evidently didn't ride the motorcycle much. Despite 55 years of ownership, it only has 2,257 miles on the odometer.

Celebrity ownership can add to the value of a collectible motor vehicle, but it isn't consistent. With automobiles, only past ownership by the actor Steve McQueen reliably adds value -- in his case, huge value -- to a vehicle. His name worked for motorcycles, too. A 1971 Husqvarna McQueen owned, otherwise worth about $6,000, sold for $144,500 last year.

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