Brough Superior Motorcycle To Go Under The Hammer
This Article Originally Appeared On Wired
This is a Brough Superior, a stunningly beautiful motorcycle and one of the finest brands of its age. It is for sale, and when the hammer drops at the auction later this month, there’s a good chance it’ll bring in more than $500,000.
If you haven’t heard of Brough Superior, it’s time you learned. After leaving his father’s motorcycle company, George Brough (pronounced “bruff”) started his own in 1919, hence the “Superior.” To build his bikes, he gathered high-quality parts from various suppliers. He used engines from motorcycle brands like J.A. Prestwich and Matchless, and some from Austin, the car company motors.
The British motorcycles were produced for just 21 years, from 1919 until 1940, but built a fanatical following. T.E. Lawrence owned eight and died riding one in 1935 (the crash is the opening scene of Lawrence of Arabia). George Bernard Shaw and Orson Wells also rode them. Jay Leno owns six. Brough advertised itself as “the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles,” and legend has it when Rolls sent someone over to insist that Brough to stop using its good name, the chap was so impressed by what he saw that he dropped the issue.
Brough’s bikes were fast, too. One was used to achieve the 1937 speed record of 170 mph, and every bike that rolled out of the factory came with a certificate guaranteeing it could hit 100 mph within a quarter mile. Members of Brough’s racing team proved themselves at the Brooklands oval, one of the world’s first motorsports tracks. When the oval shut down at the beginning of World War II, another Brough rider, Noel Pope, held the track records for both sidecar and solo runs. He hit 123.51 mph on his record lap sans sidecar. Civilians who bought these ultra-fast bikes would have to be mental to try and hit three figure speeds on the public roads from that era, which is why most other bikes went only 60 or 70 mph.
Only 3,000 or so were built, of which roughly 1,100 survive. In 2008, a Brit named Mark Upham bought the naming rights and started making new bikes under the Brough Superior name, but it’s the original models collectors covet.
Perhaps the most desirable is the SS100, a creation Brough said was “a big solo machine, built up to an ideal, not down to a price.” Seen with modern eyes, the 986-cc fire-breather’s exposed oil lines, glass-enclosed oil pump, and long, sleek gas tank are stunning. The patented front fork was taken from Harley-Davidson’s early designs.
The bike being sold by Bonhams is an Alpine Grand Sports model. Introduced in 1925 with a new frame, windshield, tool box, and a compression ratio, it was made for long-distance touring. The model was an accomplished competitor, winning races like the Austrian Alpine Trial, which took riders through Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, and the famed, hairpin turn-riddled Stelvio Pass. George Brough rode it and won 51 consecutive races before a blown tire ended his streak.
This specific SS100, frame number S1987, left the factory on March 13, 1929, with a sidecar included. The bike traded hands across the Atlantic, moving between Massachusetts and England, and was restored in the early 2000s. After that, the owner toured the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. Bonham’s estimates the bike will sell for between $428,000 and $508,000—enough to buy a modern Rolls-Royce.