Top Gear mystery driver The Stig's helmet triples its estimate to bring £4,300

If you want evidence of the popularity of the global car collecting markets, look no further than the viewing figures for the BBC's Top Gear.

At the last count, the popular car magazine programme has an estimated 350 million viewers worldwide, with noted collectors like Jay Leno and pop singer Jay Kay often appearing at guests.

The mysterious Stig, in one
of his white helmets

Now, after years of promoting the joys of classic automobiles, Top Gear itself has now become a star on the auction block with a prized piece of memorabilia.

The item in question was a racing helmet worn by none-other than 'The Stig', the show's mystery test driver who left the show in a blaze of controversy earlier this year.

Sophia Vaizey, a former production co-ordinator for Top Gear, consigned the helmet to the sale held by Gorringes Auctioneers in Lewes, East Sussex.

Vaizey was reportedly given the helmet as a leaving present. It is autographed by presented Richard Hammond, various production crew members and The Stig himself.

It's believed that The Stig - aka driver Ben Collins - wore the helmet from 2002-2005 to drive various high-powered cars around the famous Top Gear race track.

According to UK newspaper the Telegraph, Vaizey deliberately timed the sale to capitalise on the controversy surrounding Collins's recent departure from the show.

Unmasked: driver Ben Collins
signs autographs in 2009

Much publicity surrounded Collins's decision to release his autobiography, The Man in the White Suit, which reveals his identity as The Stig after years of anonymous driving.

Citing "intellectual property" among other things, the BBC attempted to block the release of Collins's book, resulting in a High Court battle.

Mr Justice Morgan refused the BBC a temporary injunction to block publication by HarperCollins, as by then The Stig's true identity had been widely reported in the press.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Collins would join Top Gear's rival show Fifth Gear as a presenter.

Meanwhile, Top Gear presenter James May has stated that The Stig character will be 'killed off' and replaced for the programme's next series.

And as for The Stig's helmet? Sophia Vaizey clearly timed her sale well. In the end, the white helmet brought £4,300 - over three times its £1,200 pre-sale estimate.

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