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Brough Superior profile

(by Ian Falloon, Feb 2022)


Hand-made and in bigger demand than ever

Pre-war England sported a thriving motorcycle industry. But while majority of bikes on the road were utilitarian single cylinder ride-to-work machines for those who had money, the best, and most expensive, was the Brough Superior SS100.


Some things never change and today the Brough Superior SS100 stands at the pinnacle of collectibility and is still one of the most expensive motorcycles available.


During the 1920s, out of small premises in Haydn Road, Nottingham in the North of England, George Brough set out to build the ultimate luxury motorcycle to “cater for the connoisseur rider who will have the best and fastest machine on the road.” George also wanted his machines to be suitable for sidecar attachment and at that time the only competition for big twin motorcycles came from the American manufacturers.


Priding himself on the finish of his motorcycles, nickel plating was evident throughout, even on the fuel tank. At a time when motorcycles featured rectangular fuel tanks under the top frame tube all Broughs had a distinctive rounded saddle-style fuel tank. Unlike other motorcycles of the period the Brough Superior came fitted with number plates, horn, acetylene lamps and generator.


Brough Superior frames and some cycle parts were made in house, while the engines, magnetos and carburettors were sourced from outside suppliers. The advantage of this scheme was Brough was insulated from excessive tooling and design costs, but the downside was the company was dependent on the quality and supply from outside concerns.


The first Brough was the SS80, powered by a 1000cc side-valve V-twin specially manufactured by JA Prestwich (or JAP) and in 1924 the engine was redesigned to include overhead valves. The new 50-degree V-twin overhead valve design had two camshafts, each with two cams and enclosed rockers running on ball bearings. The two valves were opposed at 90-degrees and lubrication was by a constant loss mechanical oil pump.


Brough housed the new JAP engine in a double cradle frame developed from Bert le Vack’s record-braking machine that had achieved 182km/h at Brooklands in 1924. Sturney-Archer provided a stronger three-speed handshift gearbox and the SS100 debuted at the 1924 Olympia Show, each coming with a guarantee that it had been timed at over 100mph (161km/h).


In 1925 Brough and engineer friend Harold Karslake patented the Castle front fork, these more like those used on Harley-Davidsons than the Brampton type that distinguished other British motorcycles.


Later in the year the SS100 evolved into an even sportier version, the Alpine Grand Sports. The 995cc engine was now longer stroke (80 x 99mm) with a roller bearing lower end and Brough and FP Dickson entered two in the Alpine Trial, both winning trophies. Eventually the Alpine Grand Sports evolved into the Pendine, named after the Welsh racetrack and guaranteed to exceed 110mph (177km/h).


In 1928 (as on the example here) an optional frame featuring a triangulated rear section and under seat springing was offered on the Alpine Grand Sports. The Achilles heel of all Broughs were the pressed steel single leading shoe brakes, simply because George was more interested in going fast than stopping.


During the 1930s the SS100 gained a foot gearshift, and in November 1933 it received a new twin carburettor dual magneto JAP engine and a four-speed transmission. But eventually George Brough grew tired of dealing with JAP quality control issues and switched the SS100 to an overhead valve Matchless 50-degree V-twin. The Matchless engine was not as powerful as the JAP, but more refined and the SS100 remained in production as the spearhead of the range until motorcycle production ceased in 1940.


Other Broughs emphasised quietness and comfort but the SS100 was always unashamedly performance oriented, and because of this the JAP powered versions considered the more desirable.


Why is the Brough Superior so revered? In these days of mass-production it is difficult to envisage how Brough Superior survived. Between 1920 and 1940 only about 3000 Brough Superiors were built, with a handful of SS100s, and the company was virtually a one-man concern.


Every aspect of the Brough Superior placed it beyond the reach of the average motorcyclist. George Brough was happy to build just one high quality motorcycle in preference to ten cheaper machines and his obsession with quality and performance has ensured his motorcycles are still amongst the most coveted of all. Always built to the highest standard, they represent a bygone era; one where quality came first and profits second.


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