Much of the Brough’s appeal is due to its association with T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, who owned eight examples and was killed on one in 1935. But the Brough Superior also harked back to an era where bikes were built in smaller numbers with an emphasis on quality. And as they are now around 90 years old and extremely rare, the Brough’s status is even higher.
George Brough was originally involved in a partnership with his father, William, producing the Brough motorcycle. After World War I, George wanted to build a luxury motorcycle for gentlemen, but William wasn’t so enthusiastic. So in 1919 the 29-year-old George decided to go it alone. George bought a small plot of land on Haydn Road in Nottingham and erected a small workshop, office and store. He then bought some engines from J.A. Prestwick in Tottenham. These engines were about 6 years old at the time. Recent research suggests George probably offered to take the first examples off JAP’s hands for a job lot price. With frames and other accessories emanating from Coventry and Birmingham, the Mark 1 Brough Superior was born.
Known as the “90 Bore,” the JAP engine was a 986cc 50-degree V-twin with a 90mm bore and 77.5mm stroke. The two overhead valves were set vertically, with the valve guides set in detachable port blocks and the valve seats in the top of the cylinder barrel top. As the special alloy steel valves were removed by unscrewing the valve guides, working on the JAP engine required special skills. The three-ring pistons were aluminum and the valves operated by external pushrods and two camshafts. After August 1920, George Brough requested JAP incorporate several modifications, including four rows of rollers for the big-end, a heavy duty ball bearing for the drive side of the crankshaft and straight rockers.
Fit and finish
The engine finish was exceptional, with plated valve gear and cylinders, sandblast finished crankcases, and finned aluminum heat-dissipating exhaust ports. A beautiful cast-aluminum silencer connected to a perfectly straight exhaust pipe on the left. The silencer shape was replicated in a specially designed aluminum casting attached to the multiple jet AMAC two-lever carburetor and forming an induction pipe.
The Brough uses a “paint-scraper” block stirrup bicycle-style front brake setup. This bike also has an Acetylene headlight, which was optional.
The gearbox was a Sturmey-Archer CS 3-speed. While most other British motorcycles also used this gearbox, Sturmey supplied it exclusively to Brough with a shock absorber contained in the clutch body and strengthened shafts. Ignition was by an M.L. magneto with handlebar control, the contact breaker return spring neatly housed so as to obviate the usual unsightly external spring. The magnets were plated to resist corrosion, and a Lucas Magdyno was fitted if lighting was supplied. Although optional, and not legally required until 1930, most Mk 1s were supplied with Acetylene lighting, including a small taillight.
A strong open diamond frame supported the engine. The Mk 1 used either Enfield or Webb wheels with 26 x 3-inch Dunlop Magnum tires. For increased strength the automotive type wheels featured 10-gauge spokes and hubs, which did not require constant adjustment and were designed to prevent dirt entering the bearings. While the rear end was rigid, the front fork was initially a Brampton No. 2 or Brampton Biflex fork. From 1921 a Druid or Montgomery fork was also fitted. Stopping was also poor, with an archaic Ferodo block stirrup bicycle-style front brake and a dummy rim rear brake. These brakes were sometimes described as “paint scrapers” because all they could do was remove paint from the wheel rim. But as traffic was almost non-existent by today’s standards, the brakes were actually considered adequate in the early 1920s. The light Mk 1 could cruise at 60mph and top out at an impressive 80mph if required. Few motorcycles (or cars) could match those speeds in the early 1920s.
A new style of tank
Apart from the exceptional finish, what really set the Mk 1 apart was the trademark saddle tank. While other motorcycles had angular tanks sitting underneath the top frame tubes, the Brough included a beautiful hand-beaten curvaceous saddle style tank set off with sparkling nickel plate. Two internal compartments were interconnected through dual filtered fuel taps to the carburetor.
Also included inside the tank’s bulbous nose was a half-gallon oil tank, with a pump plunger connected to a regulator. A bespoke leather tool bag sat behind the saddle tube, conveniently filling an empty void.
As the supply of JAP overhead valve engines was limited, for sidecar work Brough soon offered a 25-horsepower side-valve 1,000cc JAP engine. This had a bore and stroke of 85.5mm x 85mm and as it was slightly cheaper, it proved to be even more popular than the OHV “90 Bore.” Also at this time a Mk 2 version was offered with a long-stroke 750cc Swiss MAG engine, but very few were built.
With the introduction of the new SS80 in 1922, Brough expanded production from just over 100 per annum in 1922 and 1923 to nearly 200 in 1924. This encouraged more development and led to the spectacular SS100 that would set the standard for performance motorcycles until 1939.
With no production records surviving it is estimated about 100 “90 Bore” Brough Superiors were built between 1919 and 1923. Only a handful survive today. This example was found in Australia around 20 years ago in a very dilapidated state. Using celebrity Brough collector Jay Leno’s example in California as a guide, this Mk 1 has undergone an extensive and painstaking restoration over several years by Jon Munn and Geoff Knott in Melbourne, Australia.
Broughs continue to set auction records, and Brough hysteria reached fever pitch in 2016 when a hoard, “The Broughs of Bodmin Moor” in Cornwall, came to auction following the death of owner Frank Vague. Despite having been stored outside in the weather for decades the eight bikes reached $973,000 (£752,100). At the H&H Classics National Motorcycle Museum Sale in the U.K. in March 2019, a basket case Brough Superior set a new auction record of $550,000 (£425,500). Our feature bike sold at the 2020 Mecum auction in Las Vegas, Nevada, for $308,000, the top sale at the Las Vegas 2020 auction.
The 986cc 50-degree V-twin has a 90mm bore and a 77.5mm stroke. It is fed by a single AMAC 50 carburetor.
Compared to the drab flat-twins William Brough was building at the time the Mark 1 was on another level. Always expensive, the Mark 1 was designed for the connoisseur who wanted the fastest and best motorcycle available.
George Brough was extremely proud of his creation and his first advertisements referred to it as an “Atmosphere Disturber.” In 1921 he published in the Mark 1 leaflet, a letter from a satisfied customer stating, “I certainly think your machine is the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles.”
After George Brough won a gold medal in the 1921 Scottish Six Days Trial, The Motor Cycle was also prompted to promote the Brough Superior as the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles. With permission from Derby the Brough Superior was thus forever known by this systasis of terms. MC