Motorcycling: Bidders fly into top gear

Norman Fox says Mike Hailwood's memorabilia exceeded all auction expectations
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The Independent Online
Bidders at last week's auction for a collection of motorcycles and memorabilia owned by the widow of the late Mike Hailwood left believing that the centrepiece, a 350cc four-cylinder Honda that the world champion rode in the Sixties, had been bought back by the factory and would be sent to their museum in Japan. In fact, it had been purchased for pounds 169,388 by Bob Heath, a classic bike enthusiast and racing contemporary of Hailwood. Heath will return the bike to full working order before it appears at events in Britain.

Hundreds of enthusiasts attended the auction held by Coys of Kensington. Every item was sold, almost all at prices hugely above expectations. The Honda was an exception since Coys anticipated bidding to reach pounds 200,000, but when one of the bidders was recognised as Neil Tuxworth, race team manager of Castrol Honda, it was assumed that there was no point in anyone else getting involved in serious competition. In the event he was bidding on behalf of his friend Heath whom he will help to restore the machine. After collecting it in London, Heath, nine times a Manx Grand Prix winner, proudly sat on the bike in his van and said: "I'm just so honoured to have it. I've been in the same races as Hailwood but we weren't in the same league. I didn't go to the auction. I think that when the others saw Neil there, they thought Honda being Honda they'd outbid everyone. I would have liked the whole collection to be kept together, but there wasn't enough time to get anything organised."

Although the campaign to keep the collection in one piece failed to materialise, fears that a lot of the items would go abroad were unfounded. The 1979 Suzuki RG500 on which Hailwood successfully made a comeback to the Senior TT after 10 years in retirement was bought by the Isle of Man Tourist Board for pounds 35,288. The board also spent pounds 1,764 on a Rosebowl, presented by TT marshals, and some of Hailwood's TT replica trophies. All the board needs now is the proposed motor-sport museum which has not yet reached the drawing-board.

It was the prices paid for seemingly more mundane items that surprised even the auctioneers. A spokesman for Coys said: "We had never experienced anything quite like it. The atmosphere was not just enthusiastic, but reverential. Everyone wanted to have a part of this great, respected champion's collection". The red, white and gold leathers and boots worn by Hailwood in the TT races of 1978 and 1979 fetched pounds 3,294 and his famous helmet in the same colours and black leather boots that the auctioneers suggested might reach pounds 1,000 were sold for pounds 2,117. A framed picture of him riding a Norton on the Isle of Man in 1960 and two other pictures estimated to fetch not more than pounds 75 were actually bought for more than pounds 1,000.

Enthusiasts who had hoped to obtain some small memento at a modest price found themselves disappointed. Four signed photographs were bought for pounds 588 while the anticipated figure was not more than pounds 25. Four winners' sashes went for pounds 212 and a Team Hailwood anorak made for the 1979 TT races fetched an astonishing pounds 188. The Coys motorcycling expert Anthony Godin said: "I don't think we will ever see anything like this again."