A Brief History of Brough Superior Motorcycles
William Edward Brough was born in Derbyshire in 1861 and by 1899 had designed and built his own motorcar.
William’s first son, also called William Edward, was born in 1885.
George Brough was William’s second son and was born in 1890.
William Senior put his first motorcycle on the road in 1902 when George was only twelve years old.
In 1906, George and William Junior rode together in the first year of the Land’s End to John O’Groats Trials on machines built by their father.
William won a gold medal in the event while George struggled to finish.
George worked with his father for a while, however the struggle to complete the trials only served to fire up George’s enthusiasm for building better motorcycles than the ones built by his father.
A new name had to be decided for George’s machines and it is known that, in the local public house one evening, one of George’s drinking pals had suggested using the name ‘Brough Superior’ to which William is reputed to have answered back by saying that this presumably meant his machine would be known as the ‘Brough Inferior’.
George parted business company with his father and in 1919, purchased premises in Haydn Road, Nottingham. With the help of his friend, Ike Webb, George started to produce machines powered by large capacity V-twin JAP engines made by J.A. Prestwich of London.
Another of George’s friends, Harold Karslake, became his chief engineer.
It was through Harold’s brilliance that George Brough was able to bring his concepts to production.
The V-twin JAP engines were designed by Val Page who had served his apprenticeship at J.A. Prestwich.
The first production Brough Superior machine, which was exhibited to the public at the Olympia Show in 1921, featured a 986cc overhead valve V-twin JAP engine and a Sturmey Archer three speed gearbox with an Enfield Cush Hub.
In 1922, George Brough rode an early SS80, nicknamed ‘Spit and Polish’, at the Brooklands track where he lapped at over 100mph.
He crashed “Spit and Polish” on the same day when the front tyre burst.
George rebuilt the motorcycle and renamed it ‘Old Bill’, and went on to compete in various speed trials, hill climbs and sprint races, rather than circuit races.
The SS80 was introduced to the public in 1923 with a 988cc side valve V-twin JAP engine, although later models of the SS80 had a 982cc Matchless V-twin engine.
After H.D. Teague, the editor of ‘The Motorcycle’ had road tested the SS80, he suggested that it was the ‘Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles’ and subsequent ‘Brough Superior’ machines became known as such.
Bert Le Vack was a racing motorcyclist with a talent for engineering.
He further developed the ohv V-twin engine designed by Val Page and used it to set several speed records including a new World Speed Record of 113mph in 1924 on a Brough Superior fitted with this engine.
His development work was the start of the famous Brough Superior SS100.
The SS100, an overhead valve 50 degree V-twin road going motorcycle that could exceed 100mph, was first shown in 1924 at the Olympia Show ready for the 1925 season.
This machine benefitted greatly from the experience of Bert Le Vack.
The earlier model SS100s had an exhaust pipe on each side of the machine, whereas the later models featured both exhausts on the right hand side of the motorcycle.
At the 1926 London Olympia Motorcycle Show, the ‘Overhead 680’ was exhibited.
George Brough had convinced J.A. Prestwich to develop an overhead valve version of their existing 677cc side valve V-twin JAP engine.
This was fitted into a modified SS80 frame featuring Brough’s own ‘Castle’ front forks similar in design to Harley Davidson forks.
The Overhead 680 was built to supply Brough Superior quality at a lower price than was possible with larger engined machines.
At the Olympia Show in 1927, the first of the four cylinder Brough Superiors was introduced, however these were never to go much further than the development stages.
In 1929, Bert Le Vack set another World Speed Record of 129mph on a Brough Superior.
At the 1931 Motorcycle Show, a four cylinder machine intended for sidecar use was introduced for the following season.
This featured an 800cc Austin engine and a gearbox with reverse gear. An unusual feature was the twin rear wheel set up with shaft drive.
Only ten of these machines were produced.
1934 saw the introduction of the 11.50 with the 11.50 Special following in 1935.
The 11.50 featured a V-twin JAP engine manufactured exclusively for Brough Superior.
Eric Fernihough set a Brooklands lap record at 123.58mph in 1935 on a Brough Superior.
Perhaps the most famous person to ride Brough Superior motorcycles was Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia as most people would know him as.
Lawrence of Arabia was a personal friend of George Brough, therefore it is even more tragic that he was killed while riding a Brough Superior SS100 near Bovington Camp in Dorset in May 1935.
In 1937, two more World Speed Records were achieved on Brough Superiors.
One record was in the solo class at 169.78mph and the other record was in the sidecar class at 137.10mph.
Both of these machines were ridden by Eric Fernihough.
In 1939, Noel Pope went on to beat Eric Fernihough’s 1935 Brooklands lap record by riding his Brough Superior at 124.51mph.
One of George’s dreams was to create the shaft drive four cylinder ‘Golden Dream’ which only ever made it to the prototype stage.
Although it was shown at the Earls Court Show in 1938, it never went into full production.
It had an unusual flat four engine arrangement in that it was basically two flat twins, one on top of the other.
The engine was designed with the help of H.J. Hatch, a former Blackburne designer.
The ‘Golden Dream’ is on display at The National Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham.
Around three thousand Brough Superior motorcycles were manufactured before production finally came to an end in 1940.
George Brough died in 1969 although his name lives on amongst the many enthusiasts of the superior motorcycles he created.
The Brough Superior name has been revived by a company named British Only Austria who have formed a new company, Brough Superior Motorcycles Limited.
The company produces almost exact reproductions of the SS100 Pendine racers and the SS100 road machines from the 1920s.
Every Brough Superior fan should visit their website brough-superior.com, but make sure you have plenty of time…..you could be on there for hours!
Excellent engineering and quality do not come cheap and prices are said to be …
… “a confidential matter between Brough Superior and their customers.”