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George Brough

George Brough sat astride a Matchless SS100

By 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 Superior ...............
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 perhaps 3000. 
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 impressed.

Stonedale 1925

George 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 bridge.
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.



This humble 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 service.
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 Inferior," he snorted.
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 "atmosphere disturber".
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 quoting Kipling:

"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."

He did so with innovations like the first prop stand, twin headlamps, crash bars, interconnected silencers and, of course, his exotic fours.
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 further.
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.

Old Bill
George Brough on " Old Bill " at a 1923 sprint

No 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 Superior.

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 124 mph.
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.

It 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 assess them.
The final decision to give up two-wheelers must have been a hard one.

George Riding Old Bill
G.B. riding " Old Bill "

I 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 slang.

" 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 eye.

George sat On BBBB.
GB sat upon " Barry's Big Blown Brough" Supercharged Brough Superior

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.

Mallory Park 1969

His memorial 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.




 

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