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Scene: Brough Superior 8/75 SS 100

The big hammer

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Can a 1000 cc motorcycle that only runs 100 mph be worth a whopping 200,000 euros? Yes, says Britain’s most respected motorcycle auctioneer: Bonhams called for a Brough Superior 8/75 SS 100 to be auctioned at the Classic MotorCycle Show in Stafford.


George Brough was a modern man in an age particularly affectionate to the modern. The Roaring Twenties liked it hectic and boisterous, the motorization of the masses began, product advertising celebrated its first bloom. But even though Brough came up with a bunch of good advertising ideas, the comparison of his motorcycles with the automotive icons of Rolls-Royce, accepted by all over the world (apart from HRD-Vincent owners), goes back to a journalist: He had in his respect for the extraordinary qualities the machine just tested simply couldn’t find any other words.

The young motorcycle manufacturer from Nottingham liked to use the catchy slogan until one day a high-ranking representative from Royce arrived and urged us not to. In the further conversation he even threatened legal consequences, but then George asked Brough to visit the company. His handpicked band of mechanics were preparing motorcycles for the upcoming Olympic Show in London, and they were all wearing gloves to protect the exhibits from fingerprints. With his presence of mind, Brough declared this exceptional situation to be modus ope randi, and the uninvited guest was so impressed that he expressly allowed the comparison with Rolls-Royce.

A true story? Yes, and at the same time part of a myth that explains why the SS 100 with the registration number AAU 925 and the frame number 1057 is causing such a stir today. It was built in 1934 and belongs to the 8/75 series. This in turn became commonly known as "Two of everything" because – unlike the previous SS 100 – it has two magnets and two carburettors as well as two separate oil pumps. In addition, of course, two cylinders, because with a few exceptions, a V2 always provided propulsion at Brough Superior. In the SS 80, which made its debut at the Olympic Show in 1923, the side-controlled JAP engine, a year later the head-controlled JAP engine in the SS 100, and Matchless engines from the mid-1930s.

Not just Vincent owners, but often enough people who couldn’t afford Brough Superiors liked to complain that the Nottingham-based people were simple clothing manufacturers. But just like with Bimota half a century later, this limitation only opened the way to build excellent chassis with a manageable team and limited finances and to concentrate on a production quality that was sensational for the time. This is why it is true of all Brough Superior that they are better than the sum of their components; Exceptional, stylishly designed, active, powerful motorcycles namely, built to be admired, but also to be moved quickly. In short: worthy of their nickname (“superior” means “superior”), the first superbikes in motorcycle history.

While the normal SS 100 stood out stylishly from the rest of the world thanks to the 49 hp of its JAP-V2, an 8/75 played in one with the 73 hp that its further developed 50-degree high-compression V2 produces at 6200 rpm own league. That is why it is one of the most desirable in the 20-year history of Brough Superior. A little more than 3,000 motorcycles were built on Haydn Road between 1919 and 1939; BSA would have produced that many within a month in good times. According to documents from the Brough Superior Owners Club, exactly 281 JAP-fired SS 100s left the factory, just half a dozen of them in the even more powerful 8/75 version.

From my own experience, I know the sublime feeling of owning an SS 100. My "Brufsup" had the smoother running Matchless engine, of which only 102 were produced. On top of that, she had the addition in her documents "ex Mr. Brough". In fact, the company owner insisted on putting every new model through its paces and then selling it on. And George knew what was important, in countless trials and drag races, he personally demonstrated the performance of his motorcycles. His SS 80 was the first side-steered motorcycle to be stopped at 100 mph in Brookland in 1922.

In 1924, Bert Le Vack set the two-wheeler speed record at 119 mph on an SS-100 forerunner, and George Brough marketed that triumph with one "The Vack Replica". The machine with which Eric Fernihough brought this record of 169.786 mph back into the house after BMW had dared to kidnap him to the German Reich was also based on a 100 series. And it was a Brough Superior that was the first motorcycle in the world to deliver more than 100 bhp: with the supercharged one "Leaping Lena" Australian Alan Bruce broke the speed record for teams.


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The myth

Thanks to the SS models, commercial and sporting success were equal. Brough promised considerable top speeds in their name, namely 80 and 100 miles per hour, respectively. From 1925, Brough guaranteed every SS 100 buyer in writing that his motorcycle would have run across the Brookland course with at least 100 items before it was delivered. The engines hang in single-loop tubular frames, the front wheel of the SS 100 is guided by a Springer fork, which Brough had learned to appreciate in a Harley and which he then developed with his friend Harold "Oily" Karslake into the so- called Castle fork. Later there was an optional rear wheel suspension, which was always praised for the amazing handling and the outstanding roadholding of the SS 100 in view of the length.

Notwithstanding a few hundred "Poor people broughs", including a 500 V2, which the company boss did not particularly like, the cars from Nottingham quickly conquered the hearts of all speed freaks. An Arab potentate ordered a silver-plated copy, the Archduke Wilhelm von Habsburg won the Grand Prix of Baden on a Brough Superior, and the legendary officer, secret agent and writer Thomas owned Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia and a good friend of the company’s boss several broughs in a row. Lawrence – he died in 1935 as a result of an accident with his Brough Superior through no fault of his own – was a miles junkie who sometimes left the factory on Friday evenings and returned the bike early on Monday morning with the rear tire almost worn out and 1000 miles more on the odometer. Such escapades were only possible on very few motorcycles in the early 1930s; they cemented the reputation of the Brough Superior.

Factory manager Ike Webb, George Brough’s right-hand man, added another act of fame to all of these acts of fame by riding 175,000 miles on his private motorcycle, despite using nothing other than those parts during the inspections that did not meet Broughs’ strict quality standards for delivering to customers had. The news that the SS 100 with the registration number AAU 925 would be auctioned in April set my memories going. Hard to believe, but it was precisely this motorcycle that electrified me as a child, whenever its owner drove through our village on his house tour.

The history of AAU 925 shows that it was via the dealer Matthews & Co in Stratford-upon-Avon was delivered to a Mr. Bomber with a sidecar. In the 1950s, I went to a certain Ralph Varden without a sidecar, I saw him as a boy – and heard him! – when he drove this terrifying, silvery-black mechanical symphony orchestra through our village near Stratford, accompanied by bangs and puffs when he slowed down in front of our village green; leaving a cloud of scorched Castrols when he vanished with powerful acceleration.

Then I switched to university, but later – I had long since become an annual TT pilgrim – I discovered this SS 100 on the Isle of Man in the famous Murray Motorcycle Museum, and another 30 years later it is, completely renovated, for the photo op in front of Wootton Hall. But although it starts straight away, runs smoothly and sounds comfortably powerful from its fishtail mufflers, my request is very kindly refused after a short round.

So I look at this still huge motorcycle, call up the driving experiences with my Matchless and a JAP-SS 100 that I was able to convey to a friend, bring the brakes, which were rather poor even by pre-war standards, in relation to the price demanded today, and practice myself in insight. I don’t want to have to sell my house just to have this 200,000 euro bike repaired.

Instead, I lull myself in the comforting memory of the impressive power delivery of the SS 100, whose acceleration of course does not come close to today’s superbikes, which emphatically sweaters off at barely more than 10 miles per hour in the last gear. With a grin, I ask myself what the even more powerful 8/75 is supposed to do with a Sturmey-Archer four-speed gearbox, especially since the last three gears are very close together: You can cruise around the area at 70 to 80 mph with no effort , you might be happy about the protection of the frequently used acrylic glass windshield.

Yes, on the streets of the 1930s, this stable, calmly strong motorcycle must have been an unbeatable mile eater, on today’s asphalt, thanks to the well-sprung Lycett saddle, you could even get by with a rigid rear. In a further developed form, the SS 100 would certainly have found friends for many years to come. However, George Brough had to end civilian production during the World War and, ironically, manufactured crankshafts for the Rolls-Royce engines of British fighters and bombers, among other things. After the world slaughter, he couldn’t find a suitable engine supplier and never built motorcycles again. Perhaps one reason for the enormous price development of his rare masterpieces.

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