The Quail Motorcycle Gathering 2019

This year’s annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel Valley, California, highlighted the 100th anniversary of Brough Superior motorcycles.

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by Robert Smith
A group of 10 Brough Superiors held court, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the marque.

In 1919, George Brough started building luxury motorcycles in Nottingham, England, under the name Brough Superior. A test ride on one so impressed a journalist that he wrote that the marque was “the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles.” George, a marketing ace in addition to being a designer, picked up the phrase and used it repeatedly in his advertising.

Rolls-Royce was not happy seeing their good name used by an upstart motorcycle manufacturer. They wrote a stiff letter of complaint to Mr. Brough, who responded by inviting representatives to his factory. When the Rolls-Royce delegation arrived at the immaculately clean Brough factory, they saw a team of white-glove-wearing technicians putting together a Brough Superior. The fit and finish was superb. Impressed, they let George use the phrase. George had failed to explain that the bike was a special, destined for that year’s London motorcycle show.

George would be very happy to see 10 of his hand-built creations on display as one of the four featured classes at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering, celebrating its 11th year in Carmel Valley, California, with over 3,000 participants, over 350 show bikes, the usual delicious lunch on real china plates and free ice cream. One of the Broughs at Quail had been George’s own personal bike. Brough Superiors are rare: Only 3,048 were built between 1919 and 1939, and about 1,000 of these are still in existence. It was a sporting gentleman’s motorcycle: The top of the line SS100 was capable of 110-120mph, and cost 180 pounds sterling. In the 1930s, 110mph was serious racing speed, and the average annual salary in Great Britain was 200 pounds per year.

Broughs are prized, not only for their rarity and value, but also for their riding qualities. There are several rallies sponsored by the Brough Superior Club in England every year. Two of the Broughs displayed at Quail sported number plates: a 1926 machine owned by Brian Bossier had carried well-known vintage photographer and writer Paul d’Orleans across the United States in the 2018 running of the Cannonball cross country event for vintage motorcycles.

Owner Brian Bossier rode another one of his Broughs (he owns several) in the Cannonball. A New Orleans, Louisiana, native, he has a unique perspective on his bikes: “This one is Margaret Ann. She’s a fat ugly woman who can cook. Also has a sense of humor. Darlene is the redhead over there. She gave us trouble.” Darlene is indeed eye-catching — a photo of this 1925 SS 100 was used on the cover of the program given out to all Quail participants — but Margaret Ann (No. 38 in top photo), a less pristine machine, made it to the Cannonball finish line, and Darlene didn’t.

Another of the 10 on display was a Brough Superior Alpine Sports sidecar outfit. This Brough factory-built sidecar features a roll bar that doubles as an auxiliary gas tank. Jack Wells, the owner, explained that since the outfit only gets 25 miles to the gallon, the 2 gallons in the roll bar extend time between fill-ups an additional 50 miles. The side car also featured leaf springs for a comfortable ride and a four-point attachment to the motorcycle for rigidity (the industry standard was just three points). Chris Allen, a friend of Jack Wells who helps him work on his Broughs, says that the sidecar almost feels like it is rubber mounted. “Broughs were very innovative for their time. The Brough is a great bike. It runs well, is easy to start, and interesting to work on,” Chris says. The 12th edition of the Quail Motorcycle Gathering is scheduled for Saturday, May 16, 2020. MC

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