Top 12 – May and Hammond bikes for auction

Top Gear presenters' collections have real appeal, and start from £800

TOP GEAR might not be very interested in motorcycles but there's no doubting presenters James May and Richard Hammond are. 

The pair are auctioning some of their machines and the interesting collections have the hallmark of obsession. Instead of the Ducatis and Harleys the celebrity set normally stick to, this is the stuff of youthful nostalgia to real long-term riders - machines bought for their meaning, not on a whim.   

Better still, Bonhams' estimates suggest they’re far more affordable than their TV-star-owned status might lead you to expect. Price of entry could be as low as three figures.

They're due to be auctioned at the Stafford Show on April 26.

We're listing them in price order from highest to lowest. 

12: Lot 335: 2010 Norton Commando 961SE – £14,500-18,500

Few bikes are as divisive as the latest generation of Nortons. Some see them as an inspiring British effort to revive a legendary name, others as warmed-over rehashes of bikes well past their use-by dates. Either way, somehow the Norton Commando 961SE is much more a ‘Hammond’ bike than a ‘May’ one, so it’s no surprise to see that this offering is from the collection of Top Gear’s shortest presenter. Number '45', it’s part of the first batch of 200 Commandos, fitted with carbon-fibre wheels and a sports exhaust system, and Hammond bought it brand new in 2010. Perhaps the fact it’s for sale is reflected in its lack of mileage - the picture on Bonhams website shows just 667 on the clock. Unsurprisingly, it’s in ‘as new’ condition.

11: Lot 333: 2010 Yamaha SR400 'Grievous Angel' by Deus Ex Machina – £8,000-12,000

Given James May’s reputation for liking to get his hands dirty, it’s no surprise to find a special in his collection. What does come as a shock is the fact that he didn’t make it himself, instead opting to buy one of Deus Ex Machina’s creations. Not that he hasn’t worked on it; as this Telegraph column explains, he’s had to make some repairs… So, what is it? Well, it’s a reworked SR400 in the typical Deus Ex, surfer style. Maybe not quite the right image for Captain Slow, which in turn might explain why it’s being expelled from his garage. Bonhams says it’s mainly been used for display rather than riding, but has been run regularly to keep it all going and is in excellent nick. Still, wouldn’t you rather build one yourself?

10: Lot 336: 1970 Triton 500cc 'Café Racer' – £6,500-8,500

Another Hammond lot, this Triton combines a 1954 Triumph pre-unit Tiger 100 engine with a 1956 Norton Dominator’s featherbed frame, and we’ll let the Hamster off for not building it himself, since it’s been registered as a Triton since way back in 1970. Restored in 2008 by its previous owner, and winner of several awards over the years, Hammond bought the bike just a year ago at the Bonhams Stafford sale. Presumably he hasn’t clicked with the bike, since it’s set to cross the block again only 12 months later.

9: Lot 332: 1971 Kawasaki 250cc A1 Samurai – £5,000-6,000

One of James May’s bikes, the Kawasaki is much more the sort of thing you’d expect him to own – a slightly obscure machine that probably isn’t right at the top of anyone’s wish-list, but becomes desirable for being a timewarp slice of the '70s. Restored by a previous owner in the '90s, it’s said to have had minimal use since May bought it.

8: Lot 334: 1977 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing – £4,000-6,000

This isn’t just a ‘May’ bike or a ‘Hammond’ machine, but both! Currently part of Hammond’s collection, he bought it from James May in 2013. Given the current Goldwing’s liner-like proportions and full-fat tourer style, it’s easy to forget that the Wing started life as a naked four-cylinder, although even then it was a beast of a bike. This early machine has only 13,000 miles on the clock and spent much of its early life in storage, and its condition lines up along with its mileage and celebrity history to make it one of the most desirable machines in this list.

7: Lot 337: 1975 Yamaha 49cc FS1-E – £2,500-3,500

We don’t really need to explain the mystique of the Yamaha FS1-E here. If you’re of a certain age then you’ll probably have the same desire that led both May and Hammond to buy Fizzies. If you’re any younger then you’ll be looking at it wondering why old farts get misty-eyed about a puny-looking moped, and no amount of background or context will get you to change your mind about it. Hammond’s 1975 model is in that shade of brown that seems to have disappeared since the '70s came to an end. It's described as ‘superb’ and has been part of his collection since December 2011. Is it worth £2,500-£3,500? Almost certainly. To someone.

6: Lot 326: 1974 Yamaha 49cc FS1-E – £2,000-2,400

Can't quite stretch to Hammond’s FS1-E? Well, how about buying James May’s? He bought it at the same time as Hammond (December 2011). In fact, Hammond bought it, and it’s his name on the receipt. May has only done 50 miles on it since it came into his possession. Maybe he hasn’t got that Fizzy fever after all. It’s said to have been restored in 2007 and to be ‘generally good’ in terms of condition, but with a weak clutch.

5: Lot 327: 1976 Suzuki AP50  – £2,000-2,400

The same money is also expected to be enough to get your hands on this Suzuki AP50, also owned by May. It’s in much the same mould as the Yamaha, and was restored in 2013 (although Bonhams describes it as a ‘good amateur restoration’ rather than a professional one.) Whether that amateur was Mr May himself or a previous owner isn’t clear from the description. It’s MOT is expired, but apart from needing its rear wheel to be trued, a new battery and an engine tune, it’s said to be in very good condition.

4: Lot 331: 1975 Honda CB200 – £1,500-1,800

Maybe we’re an odd lot here, but it seems that as we get to the cheaper end of the offerings the bikes get increasingly tempting. While few people ever drooled over a CB200, even when they were new, this bike has the same sort of retro appeal that a mint Mk1 Ford Escort exudes, elevating it above its lowly status. Or maybe not, depending on your point of view. May bought the bike back in 2011 and it’s got a recently repainted tank and side panels, along with an MOT to March 2016. Is it worth £1,800 to someone? We’d be surprised if it isn’t.

3: Lot 330: 1973 Honda CD175 – £1,400-1,800

It might only be a couple of years older than the CB200 above, but the CD175 is from an earlier generation of bike, and looks it. This is really a 1960s machine that’s struggled on into the '70s, and even its black paintwork seems to pigeonhole it into the earlier decade. In May’s collection since August 2012, it’s had a new cam chain in 2013 and is described as being in good ‘patinated’ condition. It needs a new clutch cable and perhaps a battery, hinting that it hasn’t been used much in recent months. But the estimated price doesn’t appear to put any premium on the fact that James May owned it, and while he’s no Steve McQueen, surely it’s a little bit of history that other, run-of-the-mill CD175s can’t lay claim to?

2: Lot 328: 1980 Ossa 250cc MAR Trials Motorcycle – £1,200-1,500

This is more like it! Completely impractical, needing work and looking slightly frayed around the edges, you can see how it might have appealed to James May. He only bought it a year ago at the last edition of the same Stafford sale that it’s now being re-sold at, so it clearly didn’t live up to whatever expectations he might have had, but it looks tempting at the low price Bonhams is estimating. The ‘MAR’ bit refers to it being a Mick Andrews Replica, in honour of the British rider who helped develop Ossa’s machines. The bike’s previous owner restored it, including rebuilding the 250cc two-stroke single.

1: Lot 329: 1979 Suzuki TS250 – £800-1,200

Another of May’s bikes, this TS250 hasn’t been part of his collection for long but it’s a decent example of a machine that surely hits the current ‘scrambler’ fashion on the head. An American import, it’s been mildly refreshed and even has a new-old-stock exhaust fitted to bring it back to standard spec. It’s nowhere near perfect, but if it’s anywhere near its £800 lower estimate then surely it’s an opportunity not to be missed. Again, it’s a bike that even without James May’s name on the V5 would be well worth a look.