At £170 the Brough Superior cost half the price of a modest house and was easily the most expensive road machine of its time.
But for those who could afford the luxury, such as TE Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia – who owned at least six, it was money well spent.
The original 1924 design was based on the model on which Bert le Vack rode through the world speed record at a then stunning 119mph. Its 996cc air cooled, four valve OHV 50 degree V-twin was outsourced (as were many Superior components) from Tottenham manufacturer J.A. Prestwich, although the last of less than 400 machines produced were powered by Matchless V-twins.
But the stylish rounded, art deco-ish styling, highlighted by a gleaming, rounded fuel tank, was all George Brough’s, whose constant innovations meant that no two Superior’s were the same. Precision engineering and that whopping price tag saw Motor Cycle magazine label the Superior as the Rolls Royce of motorcycles – its prestige status confirmed when the car maker declined to disagree!
The Brough Superior SS100 was the top model in the range from an ambitious Nottingham company, whose small works in Haydn Road was devoted to high performance and quality. George Brough launched the SS100 at the 1924 Motor Cycle Show at London’s Olympia and shook his rivals with a signed guarantee that every model delivered had held a speed of 100 mph (161 km/hr) over a quarter of a mile. To a world where 70mph was really fast, this was the stuff of dreams, and at £170 the SS100 was priced for the wealthy’s dreams too.
Brough built his own frames, using front forks based on a Harley-Davidson design, and bought in other major components like the 1000cc JAP engine (from J A Prestwich of Tottenham, who cast the BS symbol on the timing cover) and Sturmey Archer gearbox. But the fuel tank, the focal point of every motorcycle, was Brough’s very own product. Slim in the early days of the SS100 and later filling out to carry more fuel, it always featured a graciously curved front, made from several panels carefully soldered together
George Brough himself was a very skilled rider, with hundreds of race, sprint and trials wins in his CV. When riders criticised the small brakes (5 inch – 77mm – diameter drums on the first models) he would laugh and tell them that a good rider didn’t need to slow down. But for the 1927 season he offered an 8-inch (203mm) front brake, although even that improvement struggled to cope with performance that was far ahead of any competitor.
Brough was always demanding better performance from his suppliers and in 1933 the SS100 was fitted with JAP’s development of the early engine, now producing a claimed 74 bhp. Compare that with Norton’s 500cc racing machine, almost unbeatable in European Grands Prix and giving no more than 45 bhp. But J A Prestwich were not prepared to go on pandering to Brough’s demands for greater performance and refinement, and by 1935 the SS100 came with an AJS vee-twin engine supplied by Associated Motor Cycles of Plumstead, London.
In its final form, in the late 1930s, the bike used a Norton four-speed gearbox to transmit the big AJS engine’s power to the rear wheel. The rear frame was sprung, but the Castle front forks still followed the Harley-Davidson layout of the 20s. Maximum speed was a shade over the magic 100mph, when the big twin was turning over at about 4,500 rpm.
In 15 years the price had come down from its original £170 to £155, still the most expensive road machine of its time and affordable only by the devoted few, but a bike to buy and keep for many years of reliable high speed pleasure. Both the solo and sidecar lap records at the old Brooklands speed bowl are held by Noel Pope on a supercharged SS100-JAP, proof positive that the Brough Superior truly was `The Rolls Royce of Motorcycles’. Nothing matched it, then or now.
Get a Carole Nash motorbike insurance quote for the Brough SS100.
Engine AJS-built vee-twin, pushrod overhead valves, iron cylinder heads and barrels. 85.5mm bore x 85.5mm stroke.
Claimed power (bhp) c.60 bhp @ 5,500 rpm
Compression ratio Single Amal carburettor with twin float chambers.
Transmission Four-speed Norton-Burman gearbox. Primary and secondary drive by chain.
Full cradle frame, lugged and brazed construction.
Castle-built leading link forks, plunger sprung rear wheel.
8-inch (203mm) front drum brake.
Top speed Top speed 102mph (166 km/hr)
Fuel consumption 48mpg cruising up to 80 mph.
Standing start Standing start 440 yards (400m) c. 15 seconds with 75mph terminal speed.
Current price £40,000 plus for a prize example