Heavy Hitters: Top Sellers from Bonhams Autumn Stafford Sale

Top Sellers from Bonhams 2023 Autumn Stafford Sale
Bonhams’ Autumn Stafford Sale
wrapped up a couple weeks back, and while we covered several interesting Lots before the auction, the stars of the sale deserve their time in the limelight—accompanied by their eye-watering hammer prices. With the staggering number of pre-war British motorcycles in the docket, you’ll be surprised to find the list of top sellers includes a couple of prominent Japanese GP racers and Ducati race replicas to boot.

Kork Ballington's 1979 Kawasaki KR250
Kork Ballington’s Championship 1979 Kawasaki KR250 Equipped with the No. 1 plate and presented largely in as-raced condition, it’s no surprise that the top seller of Bonhams Autumn Stafford Sale was the 1979 championship-winning Kawasaki KR250 of Kork Ballington. Stored for years in a climate-controlled trophy room, and sold with rare factory spares and GP trophies from the 1980 season, the KR250 was hammered away for a staggering £92,000 [$112,305].

1979 Kawasaki KR250
Kawasaki was largely absent from GP racing in the 1960s, and faced an uphill battle to make competitive small cc road-racing bikes in the coming years. Their parallel-twin two-strokes employed conventional rotary-valve induction, making the bikes considerably wider than the competition. That was until a young engineer named Nagato Sato drafted a new tandem-twin design, with one cylinder directly behind the other with their cranks joined by gears.

Sato’s design placed the rotary valves and carburetors on the left, offset by the ignition and primary drive on the right. In addition to slimming up the powerplant, the design also allowed for asymmetrical inlet timing and freed up room to increase the engine’s transfer porting. The new Kawi tandem twin didn’t outclass the competition’s output by leaps and bounds, but the finished KR250s and 350s were lightweight, had low frontal area and were piloted by some fantastic riders.

Kork Ballington's 1979 Kawasaki KR250
Kork Ballington got his shot on the new KR in 1978 and didn’t disappoint, bringing home the 250 and 350 World Championship titles in ’78 and ’79. Anton Mang would follow in his footsteps, taking the 250 title in ’80 and ’81, and the 350 title in ’81 and ’82—establishing the Kawi KR as the bike to beat.

Lot 455 is one of the two bikes that Ballington rode in the ’79 and ’80 seasons, and was verified to be his championship-winning machine from 1979. Ballington stored the bike in his trophy room after acquiring it from Kawasaki in 1982, where it sat unused, except for the occasional ride on the street outside his home. Trophies from the 1980 season and valuable works engine spares accompanied the sale.

1975 Ducati 750 SS
1975 Ducati 750 SS Street-legal examples of a brand’s finest road-racing machines have always appealed to collectors and boy racers alike, and as such a purebred example, the Ducati 750 SS has always been quite sought after. Few could afford the price though, considering the 750 sold for over $7,000 when new, and if you want one today, the price is roughly £59,800 [$72,916].

1975 Ducati 750 SS Engine
The story of the 750 SS starts with the 1972 750 Sport, Ducati’s most aggressive V-twin so far, and the basis for Ducati’s 750 cc road racers of the day. Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari rode two works 750s to a 1-2 finish at the Imola 200 in 1972, besting proven Triumph Tridents, Yamahas, Kawasakis and (notably) the 750 MV Agusta of Giacomo Agostini. The works bikes were fit with upgraded Lockheed brakes, full fairings and high-compression top ends with desmodromic cylinder heads, but were otherwise very similar to the production models.

1975 Ducati 750 SS
A landmark victory for Ducati’s V-twin, the brand quickly moved to capitalize on the success at Imola with the 750 SS. The model was essentially a legalized version of the ’72 racers, fit with a smaller cockpit fairing, a center-axle fork, Brembo brakes and just enough lighting for the street. The chassis utilized the 90-degree engine as a stressed member and was quite stiff, and cornered quicker by utilizing 18-inch wheels. The fiberglass fuel tank, right-hand shift and unfiltered Dell’Orto carburetors were carried over as well.

Top Sellers from Bonhams 2023 Autumn Stafford Sale
Lot 436 is a 750 SS model built late in December of 1975. It bounced around Italy for a while (always selling for a good deal over MSRP) before landing in the hands of an eclectic collector who painted the bike pink before placing it in storage for nearly 30 years. A comprehensive restoration was done in 2014, and the bike is said to retain all its original major parts.

1971 Kawasaki 500 cc H1RA
1971 Kawasaki 500 cc H1RA Kork Ballington’s KR250 wasn’t the only green machine from his personal collection at Bonhams’ Stafford Sale, and Lot 446 would go down as another top seller at the event at £57,500 [$70,181]. This 1971 Kawasaki H1RA was raced in-period by Ballington’s regular teammate Gregg Hansford, who rode the bike to victory in the 1973 Australian Championships.

1971 Kawasaki 500 cc H1RA Engine
Kawasaki debuted the new H1R as a racing version of the 500 cc Mach III roadster in 1970. While the 75 bhp three-cylinder engine showed promise, the chassis was outclassed by the competition, and Kawasaki had to settle for second behind MV Agusta’s Giacomo Agostini.

The H1R wouldn’t achieve major success until 1971, when Team Green veteran Dave Simmonds commissioned Ken Sprayson to design a better-handling chassis for his bike. With its Achilles heel addressed, Simmonds piloted the Kawi to victory at Jarama, and fourth in the World Championship after missing several rounds.

Top Sellers from Bonhams 2023 Autumn Stafford Sale
Fast forward to 1972, and the mother of the up-and-coming rider Gregg Hansford purchased this particular Kawasaki H1RA at Brisk Sales in Brisbane. While Hansford’s national career wouldn’t take stride until the late ’70s, it was on this Kawasaki H1RA that he won the 1973 500 cc and Unlimited Australian Championship titles. Years later, Kork Ballington was able to purchase the freshly restored H1RA with its original 500 cc engine, citing fond memories of his personal H1R from the 1972 South African National Unlimited Championship.

2008 Ducati 990 Desmosedici RR
2008 Ducati 990 cc Desmosedici RR Not every machine graced with the Race Replica designation is built to the same grade, but if that suffix is attached to a Ducati namesake, it’s usually something right on the ragged edge. Boasting nearly 200 hp and the power-to-weight ratio of a fighter jet, the Ducati 990 cc Desmosedici RR is a machine that proved its pedigree.

The production version of the 990 Desmosedici RR was based heavily on the ’06 GP6 race bike, campaigned successfully by the likes of Loris Capirossi, Sete Gibernau and Troy Bayliss. It was powered by basically the same desmo 90-degree V4 engine, and used the GP6’s trellis frame with the engine as a stressed member and the swingarm bolted through the crankcase.

2008 Ducati 990 Desmosedici RR
Achieving a number of ‘firsts’ for a production bike, the RR was equipped with a structural carbon-fiber seat and subframe, and lightweight Marchesini forged magnesium wheels. Öhlins suspension with race-caliber Brembo brakes and radial monoblock front calipers were fit, along with carbon-fiber bodywork and an aluminum fuel tank. The finished RR would rev to 14,200 rpm, returning 200 hp with track accessories fit, and weighed just 376 pounds with the extensive weight-saving measures.

2008 Ducati 990 Desmosedici RR
Ducati built just 1,500 examples of the 990 cc Desmosedici RR, and they sold for a whopping $72,500. Lot 418 was number 431 off the line, and lived a well-pampered life of dry storage and the occasional use, covering a total of 5,397 miles. Depreciating very little since new, the Ducati RR was sold for £49,450 [$60,329].

Top Sellers from Bonhams 2023 Autumn Stafford Sale
1938 Brough Superior 982 cc SS80 Project There’s never a shortage of brilliant early British motorcycles at the Stafford Sale, but one can’t help but notice the auction’s top sellers were a bit more contemporary. In fact, just one of the top-five hammer prices went to a pre-war bike, and it’s a project! Disassembled in the 1950s, and in need of a complete overhaul, this 1938 Brough Superior SS80 still managed a £49,450 [$60,364] hammer price.

1938 Brough Superior SS80
The SS80 was one of George Brough’s earliest successes, with production starting in 1922, and ending with the outbreak of WWII in 1939. Initially, the SS80 was powered by a side-valve J.A.P. engine, and Brough became the first person to top 100 mph at Brooklands on a side-valve with one of these machines. From 1935 on, Brough used 982 cc V-twins from Associated Motor Cycles, similar to the Matchless Model X, with modified bottom ends for the SS80. 460 SS80s were built in this configuration, including Lot 475, of which, around 300 are believed to still exist.

This 1938 SS80 has been owned by the same family since 1951, where it dutifully served side-car duty and occasional rally use before it was disassembled and boxed up in the mid-’50s. A restoration was started at Brooklands Classic Cars in the 1990s, and subsequent work was completed thereafter, but the Brough was never finished. The bike is only loosely assembled currently and will require a full restoration, but all the big-ticket items are said to be numbers-matching—confirmed by the Brough Superior Club. Winter project anyone? [Images courtesy of Bonhams]

1938 Brough Superior SS80 Project