George Brough sat astride a Matchless SS100
any standards, George Brough was one of the most
outstanding figures the motorcycle world has ever known.
From many points of view he was the greatest. In a
lifetime which spanned three important phases of
motorcycle development, veteran up to 1914 and (as they
were known) vintage to 1930, and then post vintage, he
became a legendary figure throughout the world as
founder and leader of the exclusive cult of the Brough
The "Rolls - Royce of motorcycles." The real measure of
his achievement was that by life long dedication to the
cause of perfection he raised the status of the luxury
motorcycle to the point of acceptability by nobility,
aristocracy and even royalty. And the image of his own
machine to equality with the Roll-Royce car.
Brough superiors were always exclusive because so few
were made. By manufacturing standards a mere handful of
The ultimate tribute to George Broughs genius is that so
few machines achieved so much in the world of motorcycle
sport and contributed so much to British prestige.
Achievements out of relation to their numbers.
In the formative years just after the first world war
George Brough was not by any means the only
designer/manufacturer/rider, yet from the moment he
announced his intensions to market his own machine - The
Brough Superior, so as not to be confused with the
flat-twin Brough made by his father- he stood head and
shoulders above the rest. He
planned and built his personal " ideal " machine while
still on war work at Coventry at the end of 1914-18 war
after trying out over 30 different machines. It had a
thumping great vertical-valve 1000cc JAP in a light
frame. There was nothing very original about it apart
from the beautiful plated saddle tank.
His father, still living in the world of flat tanks
though once a trend setter who had made a rotary-valve
single and was then sold on the flat twin theme, was not
Brough takes his SS100 to the top of Stonedale 1925
Father and son were a generation apart in years and an
age apart in motorcycle outlook. A gulf too big to
Young George claimed his patrimony, his £1,000 share in
the family business, and blued most of it on a plot of
land in Haydn road, Nottingham, and the erection of a
single-story building of prefab concrete.
building was to become a veritable shrine of a heroic
cult. Before it was finished George built his first
three or four machines in his father's house, assisted
by another youngster, Ike Webb fresh from military
Oddly enough George Brough did not think up the trade
mark Brough Superior himself. It arose from a discussion
over pints in a pub. A crony chipped in with the
suggestion, "Why not call it a Brough Superior? "When
George was stuck for a name. George's father was not
best pleased. "I suppose that makes mine the Brough
The first Brough Superior advertisement appeared in
November, 1920. It was written by George himself, as
were all subsequent adverts, was right to the point and
sprinkled with the motorcycle slang of the day, an idiom
which was never updated and in consequence developed a
Wodehouseian ring to it. A bike was a "bus", the
throttle a "tap". The machine he referred to as an
He did not deign to quote a price but within hours
deposit cheques were pouring in.
In one bold leap George Brough sprang to the top of the
motorcycle tree. By his personal prowess in races,
trials and sprints he was to hoist his banner to the
topmost branch. In this select field there was only room
for one at the top and he was determined to stay there.
Success attracts competition and soon others were
copying his ideas and his methods. Always the
opportunist, he made capital out of their attempts by
"They copied all they could follow
But they couldn't copy my mind
And I left 'em sweating and a'stealing
A year and a half behind."
did so with innovations like the first prop stand, twin
headlamps, crash bars, interconnected silencers and, of
course, his exotic
In all success stories there are points at which
seemingly unimportant occurrences have profound effects.
I do not think that when H. D. Teague, then Midland
Editor of The Motorcycle, summed up in his road test of
the first SS80 Brough Superior by suggesting that it was
The Roll-Royce of Motorcycles, he though more of it than
a convenient and popular synonym for the superlative in
the motoring field. Seized upon and manipulated
skilfully by George Brough, The arch opportunist and
publicity man, it became an accolade beyond price.
Every subsequent advertisement and catalogue bore it
proudly, though he was always careful to attribute the
quotation to the motorcycle. Where George Brough
differed from so many rider manufacturers was in the
unswerving way he followed His idea of what a motorcycle
should be. He did not allow his vision to be confused by
the demands of experts, the trade, or the press. He
built the machine He wanted to ride, tested it and
developed it in competition until he had proved it and
publicised it, and then made replicas for those who were
of the same taste.
Through the models year by year, from the mark 1, the
replica of his own "special" to the Golden Dream which
faded finally in the cold light of post-war conditions,
you can in the evolution of the machine clearly follow
the evolution of the man from the swashbuckling
extrovert of the 20's to the seasoned connoisseur of the
30's, and finally to the idealist dreaming of flat-four
shaft drive super bikes. The first Super Sports model
was the SS80 which came out in 1923. It was a production
replica of G.B.'s first personal racers. The Mark 1 type
with it's pre-war type engine had not been fast enough
in sprints and hill climbs, and was to gawky. So he
built a lighter, lower model with a highly tuned
side-valve JAP and set out to prove it's capabilities at
Brooklands in 1922, the only suitable racing circuit.
His Brooklands career was short and sweet. He won a five
lap experts, scratch race and was reputed to have lapped
at over 100mph, but subsequently the beaded-edge front
tyre left the rim at full chat and G.B. created
something of a record for sliding on his backside. No
matter he had proved his point.
His second racer had a frame so light that it had to be
strutted externally from ahead of the crankcase to the
rear spindle, to keep it from bending in the middle when
the power was turned on. The engine, a side valve 1000,
was very special, the pet of no less than Bert le Vack,
the JAP development engineer and record breaker.
It was the track -tested prototype of what was to be a
production super sports engine. G.B. tuned it still
With the bottom end guts of a side-valve and the top-end
revs of an ohv, this was probably the most potent
side-valve ever. It was nicknamed "Old Bill" after Bruce
Bairnsfather's immortal First World War Tommy.
George Brough on " Old Bill " at a 1923 sprint
grass grew under anyone's feet at Haydn Road. Before the
copyists could produce a match for the SS80, G.B had
another trump card up his sleeve. Le Vack had finally
developed the Val Page-designed 8/45 ohv to the tune of
taking the World maximum record at 119.05 mph, a record
which was to last for two years…..and G.B. had seen to
it that the tank was Brough Superior whatever the rest
of the machine had been made up from ( The forks were
pure Harley Davidson ).In this magnificent
"world-beater" engine G.B. saw the chance to realize his
first great ambition in speed. A road going motorcycle
with BS refinement which would safely top 100 mph on the
road. Sheer speed was not enough, it had to handle.By
the time G.B. had tried and tested it, it did handle.
This was the SS100 model which in 1925 was G.B.'s idea
of the ultimate in motorcycling and a breakthrough to a
new dimension in motorcycling. The SS100 had for all
it's potential, line soft delicate grace…….the lines of
a greyhound.It was G.B's greatest triumph as a designer.
And this line was perpetuated in every subsequent Brough
With the aid of Freddie Dixon he built himself a world
beater. It was a SS100 shortened a bit and fitted with
the latest long-stroke JAP. Dixon developed it at
Brooklands, doing 103 mph for five miles, and then
George then went to Arpajon in 1928 for a serious crack
at the record then held by Baldwin on a Zenith JAP at
His failure became another legend, a failure so
magnificent as to achieve much of his object. He did 130
mph one way but a piston failed on the return run. One
way runs didn't count officially but for all that, he
was for quite a while ( until next year when Le Vack
took over the bike and the record at 129 mph ) the
fastest man on two wheels.
His fabulous fours , the one-off experimental jobs which
stole the annual show in 1927, 1928 and 1931, and again
in 1938 were commercial failures which cost him a great
deal of money but were such magnificent failures as to
be publicity scoops. These fours, first an in-line vee,
then a straight four next the twin-rear-wheel, shaft
driven Austin engine machine (which did reach token
production of 10), and finally the h.o four, were
symptomatic of a recurring dream which drove G.B. on and
ever in the search of the ultimate motorcycle.He
believed as long ago as the middle 20's, as did many of
his contemporaries, that to reach finality in design and
in acceptance by the greater public the motorcycle would
have to have four cylinders, perhaps shaft drive, but
certainly the silence and refinement of a car.
Accordingly he felt, as leader of the exclusive class,
that the B.S. should lead the way to that goal. I feel
that he developed a split mind over his luxury fours. He
felt he ought to make fours yet still hankered
subconsciously for the rumbustious vee-twin with it's
rollicking good humour. He fell in love with a dream of
four cylinders but his first and true love was the big
vee-twin. Never in any conversation did I detect any
real affection for fours, only idealism. Get him talking
about bikes and always he was away over the hills on a
great big bounding vee-twin.
Of all the dreams, the Golden Dream was the most
enduring…….and expensive. Conceived before the war with
the expert help of H.J. Hatch, the former Blackburne
designer, on the design side it had all the features of
an ideal design, A real Rolls-Royce on two wheels. In
essence a pair of flat twins mounted one atop the other
with their cranks geared together, it should have been
completely vibration less, and with over-square
dimensions it was very compact.
To put the dream on the market would, it was estimated,
cost £80,000 - £100,000. The firm, expanded by war work,
could now manufacture it completely, but that would have
meant sacrificing a flourishing precision engineering
business.The final snag was that materials could only be
obtained on Government permit against the promise of
export performance. G.B. could see, too, that the
markets for expensive luxury machines were dwindling.
There was a new generation and a new scene which G.B. no
longer understood and which no longer understood him.
was the end of an era, the autumn of G.B.'s life, though
he did not at this point give up altogether.
Following still his four-cylinder dream, he negotiated
for a time with Gilera for the manufacture of their
four, with continental scooter manufacturers for the
manufacture of a scooter……after riding many makes to
The final decision to give up two-wheelers must have
been a hard one.
riding " Old Bill "
was a latter day BS enthusiast who had never been able
to contemplate a Brough before the war & being brought
up to respect my elders and betters, would not have
dared to touch the hem of his stormgard had I met him !
But when " Old Bill " came my way and was duly restored
after a lifetime of hard labour on the road, I had the
temerity to suggest, through a mutual friend that G.B.
might like to see it again, might like to have a ride.
After 36 years he jumped on "Old Bill" and blasted off
in the manor born. No "what's this for?" no hesitatant
trial runs.......... "Wham" - just like that - leaving a
cloud of dust and the reek of "R".
The letter I received afterwards was in priceless period
" I thoroughly enjoyed my reunion with my dear old
pal, "Old Bill ".............
the kick in the pants which you get when you turn up the
wick was there as of yore."
The Brough Superior Club was formed to carry on where
the Vintage Club had left off, G.B. became the patron
and was in demand at rallies. The rumble thump of
broughs was heard again to the glee of the old-timers
and the mystification of the new men. Flash bulbs popped
again, articles began to appear in the papers. It was
meat and drink to him and the gleam came back to his
upon " Barry's Big Blown Brough" Supercharged Brough
His last ride when, defying doctors, he rode Albert
Wallis's Austin engined outfit round Mallory on full
chat at the Vintage Founders meeting created the final
legend of his lifetime. Intuitively he knew that was how
his fans both young and old would wish to remember him.
is the hundreds of very superior motorcycles cherished
throughout the world and the fund of legends that
endures with them.
Text taken from " Brough Superior from 1923 by C. E. "
Titch " Allen.