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Rocker Jerry Lee Lewis’s Harley may set record at auction

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Posted at 4:11 PM, Jan 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-23 16:11:09-05

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Jerry Lee Lewis’s 1959 Harley-Davidson could become the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction when it’s goes under the hammer Saturday in Florida.

One huge selling point… This isn’t a motorcycle once owned by Jerry Lee Lewis. It is owned by Jerry Lee Lewis and the legendary rock-n-roller, known to his many fans as “The Killer,” will be there in person to send it off to its new home.

It’ll be a long ride to reach the record auction price for a motorcycle, though. That record was set last October when a red-white-and-blue custom Harley-Davidson 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.

“I could see this going for $500,000,” Bob Golfen, a writer who follows collectible cars and motorcycles, said of Lewis’s Harley.

Had 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 Golfen. He estimated its inherent value, had it been owned by just anyone, at $100,000 to $120,000. Mecum auctions, the company selling the bike, broadly agrees with that estimate.

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 and they waited for whatever might come next.

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.

It can be difficult to predict the impact that celebrity ownership will have on the value of a collectible motor vehicle. 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.

To break the two-wheeler record, Jerry Lee Lewis’s name would need to work similar mathematical magic. Of course, Jerry Lee Lewis has one huge advantage over McQueen. Lewis is alive and, if anyone knows how to pump up a crowd, it’s him.