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Cutaway tearaway at Bonhams auction

A cutaway AJS 500 twin exhibited by the London factory at early 1950s shows including 1952 Earls Court was a sensation at the Bonhams stupendous £3.4m auction at Stafford recently.

Estimated at £8000-£12,000 it sold for £68,750 including 25% automobilia premium, almost six times top estimate. Bonhams would reveal only that it had gone to a private buyer in America. Among interested parties was American TV host Jay Leno who has a vast collection of bikes and cars.

The AJS was the first ‘complete’ bike lot to come under the hammer at the two-day auction, getting the bike lots off to a storming start and ending up as seventh best seller overall. A standard 1954 AJS 500 twin is worth £3000-£5000 in today’s market.

Vendor Robert Hamilton of Wigwam Motorcycles had bought the machine for £8000 in June from private owner Shaun Wright who had tried to get UK and US museums to buy it or put it on display on permanent loan. All said they had no room, he reports.

Wright sold the AJS with its large and heavy stand containing electric motors and rollers to work the suspension and make the pistons go up and down.

Buyer Hamilton restored the stand, which had been painted white, to its original varnished wood finish, and returned it to working order. He then filmed this fascinating machine in action for YouTube building up pre-auction interest.

Accepting that the AJS might only make bottom estimate, Hamilton, a Harley-Davidson collector, was amazed when steady bidding took it to £55,000 under the hammer.

Said seller Hamilton: “Wow! Never expected that outcome. I’d been nervous ever since I committed to sell with such a low reserve, but the bidding gods were on my side.”

Shaun Wright, a Norwich gardener, was philosophical about more than £40,000 slipping through his fingers.

“This is an important bike, a stunning piece of engineering. I am very annoyed with myself for letting it go,” he said. “But Robert paid me the asking price. He did a good job on the marketing, and it’s his good fortune.”

Wright had obtained the sectioned AJS via a dealer involved in dispersing exhibits from the Pembrokeshire Motor Museum which closed at the end of 2014.

Top seller at the Bonhams auction was a dismantled project 1925 Brough Superior sand racer at £264,500 (top estimate £180,000) including 15% premium. The auction sold 92% of its 500 lots.

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