They’re at the top of the money tree today, as evidenced by filling 2 of our ‘World’s Most Expensive Motorcycles‘ spots. It’s a status George Brough would have loved, as his Brough Superiors were the most expensive motorcycle in the world when they were new. In today’s Gilded Age, the super-rich are happy to write checks for half a Million dollars for an SS100…because it takes 20 or 30 times that to buy a car of similar status. Whether George’s bikes were truly ‘superior’ to his rival’s machines is open to argument, but the truth is, a 1920s Zenith big twin with a JAP KTOR racing engine would likely sell for more than a Brough Superior today, simply because they’re far more rare, and have a better record as track-racing machines. Nonetheless, the renown of the Brough Superior is a reflection of several qualities George possessed in abundance; he was a superb rider, one of the best motorcycle stylists in the history of the industry, and equally important, he was simply a genius at PR.

My favorite shot of William E Brough, father of George Brough, enjoying a beer in his retirement, in 1927 [Brough Superior]
But George didn’t emerge fully-formed from the head of Zeus; his father, W.E. Brough, was also a motorcycle manufacturer of great renown, and an engineer of some skill, who built his own engines, among other things – something his son rarely did. Some might say William Brough was a Real motorcycle maker, while his son was a clever assembler of components, but the rules in those early years were different than the post-WW2 era, and most manufacturers used bought-in components (engines, gearboxes, wheels, forks, etc) to assemble their machines. The arrangement of a machine’s frame and tinware created a marque’s ‘identity’, of equally validity to a marque which made its own engines and gearboxes. This was in large part due to supplies of ‘loose’ sporting engines by JAP, MAG, Rudge, etc, which had performance on par with any other engine. By the mid-30s, when such engines were no longer competitive in racing, they quickly lost favor with manufacturers; even Brough Superior switched from JAP to AMC V-twin engines, which were hardly sporting, but were sophisticated and reliable, and thus Broughs became Grand Tourers in the end. Other marques relying on purchased motors either disappeared, or built their own engines, and after WW2, the era of the bought-in engine was over.

Young George Brough just after winning the London-Edinburgh race for the third time on one of his father’s machines, a single cylinder 500cc Brough. Yes, George could ride, and his father’s bike was reliable [Brough Superior]
William E. Brough emerged in the Pioneer era of motorcycling, and was a perfect example of a Victorian engineer; innovative, a clever designer with high standards, and modest. He built his motorcycle in 1902, and his first production machines appeared in 1908, which were well-built and conventional, with a standard of fit and finish to rival top-tier competitors Sunbeam and AJS. He used single-cylinder and V-twin engines, but was later convinced of the rightness of the flat-twin engine, which was vibration-free. In the early 1920s, Douglas flat-twins emerged as serious speed machines, and in 1922 a Douglas was the first motorcycle to record 100mph in Britain (with Cyril Pullin aboard), so Brough’s move to this engine type was timely.

A Brough catalog shot of their 500cc flat-twin ca.1922 [Brough Superior]
Dave Clark, a well-known Brough Superior enthusiast of many years’ standing, found a unique example of a W.E. Brough Model W engine at the Spring 2012 Bonhams Stafford auction, and here relates the tale of creating a motorcycle around his purchase. I’ve edited his account for brevity – there’s a lot more technical information about building his own ‘D’ section frame tubing and making lugs etc, which can be found via the Brough Superior Club newsletter, or via Dave himself.

George and Mrs Brough – his mother! Aboard a V-twin Brough with wicker sidecar [Brough Superior]

“I usually look through auction catalogues to see if any Broughs are listed, and the Bonhams Stafford October 2012 catalogue had Brough Superiors, but I hadn’t given much thought to the OHV 500cc flat twin W E Brough engine listed in the automobilia section. “Good external condition, and turning over with some compression.”

Dave Clark with his restored 1922 Model WS Brough [Dave Clark]
I looked again and noted that the engine had no number; I’ve dealt with several W E Broughs, and knew where the engine number should be. With interest growing I rang Bonhams, who confirmed no number anywhere, and the bike was from the granddaughter of a Brough factory electrician. The only person who might know something was Barry Robinson; I had hardly finished the story when he told me exactly what the engine was – a factory works racer which had been on display in the Brough Superior factory canteen, after being cosmetically restored by Ron Storey. It was the only WE Brough factory racing engine known, and anyway there are only 14 W E Broughs on the BS Club register.

From the Nov 20, 1922 edition of The Motor Cycle, a photo of the Model WS Brough 500cc flat twin of exactly the type restored by Dave Clark [The Motor Cycle]
I could never think of buying a Brough ‘Superior’ racing engine – I would be blown out of the water by big money collectors. But I asked everyone I’d spoken with to please keep this information quiet. Initially I thought a maximum bid of £6000 would suffice, but I set my bidding increments on a spreadsheet, and could see the final totals with commission and VAT. I registered with Bonhams for phone bidding; came the day and I was watching the auction online, and finally got the phone call…Lot number 11 came up… bidding started at £10,000. Going up in £500 steps, by the time it had got to £14,000, I was literally shaking with excitement, or was it fear? The bids kept going and at £16,500 I went for one last bid, to £17000. I heard the auction room go very quiet, and then the wonderful sound of the hammer. The Bonhams chap on the other end of the phone said, “We’ve got it.”

The Model WS Brough engine as seen in the Bonhams Stafford sale catalog [Bonhams]
Also I had taken a real step in the unknown, what if the engine internals had major problems? I collected the engine from the Bonhams depot in North London, and spent time looking it over; eventually I took off the front head and cylinder for a peek inside – and had a wonderful surprise – standard bores, plus the crank and rods were quite highly polished; it all looked good.

The very engine – at George Brough’s feet! Here on the display from the Brough Superior engineering works’ canteen in the 1950s, when motorcycles were no longer made, but the factory did specialist machine work. The bike is, of course, the prototype Brough Superior ‘Golden Dream’ flat-four cylinder 1000cc tourer (Colleen Edwards aboard) [Dave Clark]
Barry Robinson kindly sent a 1923 Model W catalogue photo, and a finely detailed 1922 picture of a similar machine. The 1922 machine had 26”x 2.75” wheels, the other 26” x 3”. Howard Wilcox also gave me a catalogue reprint; I then scanned the model W photograph found in Ron Clark’s book ‘The Rolls Royce of Motorcycles’. These few photos were all I had, there was no chance whatsoever of finding correct frame; I would have to build one.

What we have come to! A steering head lug from a Brough motorcycle, recovered from the demolished concrete foundation of the Brough Superior works, when the grounds were built over as housing units [Dave Clark]
Still, John Wallis provided a genuine Brough steering head casting! This had been used as scrap-fill for the concrete extension to the Vernon Road works in the 1930s, probably after William Brough died. In the 1980s, Mike Edwards was at Vernon Road, when part of the site had been sold off to build houses, in what is now Kingfisher Court. The yard was being broken up, and various castings emerged from their concrete tomb, mostly Brough Model G steering heads, but there were flywheels and a cylinder too, and my Model W steering head.

Laying out tubing over a life-size frame drawing, developed by enlarging period photographs to life size, using ‘known’ measurements as a guide (wheel diameter, engine width, etc) [Dave Clark]
To replicate the frame, I scanned the 1922 image into Photoshop, tweaked it to remove distortion, then drew it up life-size on white board. I was able to check known measurements (the engine, gearbox and wheels) as I gradually built up the drawing, which occupied many hours, scratching my head over the details in between the gearbox and the rear wheel. I kept a pad by my bed and woke during the night quite a few times to scribble down possible solutions; I probably redrew the gearbox/frame part at least 6 times, when I realised a measurement or some other requirement had not been taken into account.

A 1922 photo of the Brough racing team – Freddie Stevenson in the center, whose machine almost certainly housed the Model WS engine. The other two riders are Brough agents [Dave Clark]
One aspect of my frame showed clearly in the picture from Ron’s book; the saddle tube lug forks into two, totally unlike any other WE Brough frame. That Model W, registration AU 6012, was ridden by Freddy Stevenson in the 1922 Edinburgh trial.

The timing chest of the Model WS Brough, showing the lovely Victorian script of the logo [Dave Clark]
I had to make everything; the frame, the D-shaped tubing to build the frame, the lugs, the Druid side-spring forks, the exhaust pipes, the saddle, the chainguards, tool boxes, etc. The petrol tank is quite unlike any other Brough, and I suspect George Brough influenced its design [George is generally credited with introducing the ‘saddle’ tank we know today – pd’o]. It has an oval-section body, with tapered tails and what I can only describe as a shark-type nose piece. When all the components were built, after a considerable time, or so it seemed, all the parts were back from the painters and the platers. Assembly went quickly, and I only needed to file a shallow scallop in the offside rear engine plate to clear the exhaust pipe.

The frame as it took shape, with the crankcase in place [Dave Clark]
The controls are different from original; I used a Bowden quadrant-type for the front brake, and an Amal internal twistgrip for the throttle. A firm in called Motomania in Czecho makes excellent quality repro levers; you can find them on the internet ( I had made all the cables and chains before things went away for plating; eventually I wheeled the bike outside, filled it with petrol and oil, and primed the oiling system. I flooded it, and run-and-bumped down the garden path. I got some hiccoughs showing it was going to fire, and eventually it did, but not too well. Checking everything over, I readjusted the tappets – still not good.

Progress, as the tank and engine are assembled [Dave Clark]
Perhaps the Amac carburetor? I built up a type 6 Amal from new bits; next try it went! It was very noisy with straight-through pipes, and it started to smoke….I tried to leave as much original kit inside the engine as possible, but the original rings needed to go. The heads and cylinders can be taken off with the motor in the frame; I had new rings installed in just under two hours. Starting was much improved…I just need to quieten it down a bit. Next on the agenda is the Kop Hillclimb at the end of September. Probably the last time a W.E. Brough ran up Kop was in 1922, when a team from Nottingham competed in the ACU quarterly trial. And that will be about it for this year. The Brough is indoors for the winter, so I can sit on a crate and look at it.

Starting to look like a motorcycle… [Dave Clark]
To quote the Motor Cycle review for the 1922 Olympia show, “The model in question is one of the best-looking machines in the show, having a nickel-plated tank with rounded corners and of course the long separate exhaust pipes ending in an aluminum fishtail, which all good sporting models should have.” The Brough Model W is very low, with a saddle height just under 29” and the weight is less than 200 pounds. All the effort has been worthwhile, and those who have seen it think it stunning [as do I – pd’o]. One thing, it will never leave these shores while I am still about.”

The completed machine – quite a looker! [Dave Clark]
The 1922 ex-factory racer Model WS Brough [Dave Clark]
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