It might have seemed the height of pretense to label a new motorcycle company ‘Superior’ in 1919, but George Brough had a vision of building the fastest, most elegant motorcycles in the world, and delivered.  His father William built well-respected motorcycles in Nottingham from the 1890s, and commenced his own brand – Brough – that earned a reputation for high quality.  Young George was the factory’s official competitor in road and off-road events, which he often won with panache.


Young George Brough in 1912 aboard a 500c Brough 3 1/2hp single, after winning the London-Edinburgh Challenge Cup for three years in succession on his father’s machines. [The Vintagent Archive]

During WW1, George Brough envisioned manufacturing an ultimate high-performance motorcycle, but his father refused the concept, so George set up his own factory nearby. He assembled the best racing components from engine, gearbox, forks, and wheel manufacturers for his first model, the Mk 1 of 1919.  It used a J.A.P. racing OHV v-twin motor of 1000cc and a heavyweight Sturmey-Archer 3-speed gearbox, in a very robust frame with a long wheelbase, crowned with the world’s first round-nosed saddle fuel tank, resplendent in nickel plating, black paint, and gold pinstriping.  A friend suggested he call it ‘Brough Superior’, as it so clearly was, but father William was not amused, presuming the family product was then relegated to ‘Brough Inferior’.

George aboard Brough Superior #1 in 1919, a Mk1 model with J.A.P. ’90 Bore’ V-twin with vertical valves. [The Vintagent Archive]
Brough Superior wowed the world with the extraordinary beauty of his products, their superb build quality, and their world-leading speed and handling, creating a new category for the industry: the luxury sports motorcycle. George proved the point personally, regularly entering road trials and sprints on his sparkling machines (he’d take them by train to the nearest station to an event), and invariably winning.  He was the original designer-manufacturer-racer, and always cut quite a figure at events, dressed immaculately with his signature cocked cap (which he designed).  His machines were full of industry ‘firsts’, including the first round-nose ‘saddle’ tank, the first sidestand, the first dipping headlamp, twin headlamps, crash bars, and interconnected silencers.

George aboard ‘Spit and Polish’, the first sidevalve motorcycle to clock 100mph, and the prototype for his SS80 model. [The Vintagent Archive]
In 1924, with the introduction of his SS100 model, cemented his position as one of the most gifted vehicle designers in history.  The SS100 was the fastest road-legal production motorcycle in the world, with each example guaranteed to have been timed at 100mph on the Brooklands autodrome.  Every Brough Superior was bespoke; tailored to the customer’s desires and physique, with special accessories, state of engine tune, gearing, forks, wheel sizes, fuel tank size, colors, and plating all optional.  One SS100 ordered by an Indian maharajah was entirely silver plated, another came with an electric starter for an officer who’d lost a leg in WW1; anything was possible.

The superb 1927 Brough Superior Pendine replica coming up for sale at Mecum Auction’s John Parham Estate Collection at the National Motorcycle Museum, Sep 6-9. [Mecum]
If one wanted a racing SS100, Brough Superior offered the Pendine model, identifiable by three straps securing the fuel tank.  The Pendine was named for Pendine Sands in Wales, the site of racing and record-breaking, where Broughs often took FTDs.   George himself became the fastest motorcyclist on earth in 1930 at Arpajon France, when his SS100 clocked just over 130mph on a one-way run.  A mechanical glitch meant no return run for an official record, but the point was made.  Brough Superiors took the absolute World Speed Record three times between 1924 and 1937, besting BMW, Zenith, and OEC supercharged racers in a golden era of international top-speed battles.  The 1927 SS100 Pendine racer replica in the John Parham collection is a prime example of the exquisite mix of beauty and speed for this model, and is correct in every way, from its AMAC twin-float track carburetor to its three-strap tank, the whole machine resplendent in nickel plating, which was the ne plus ultra style of late 1920s track racing.  It is the most beautiful motorcycle in the National Motorcycle Museum collection, and this machine is known around the world as a peerless construction built to an absolutely period-correct standard.

The 1937 Brough Superior SS80 with Matchless MX motor: a sophisticated sports tourer. [Mecum]
Brough Superior offered other models for those not requiring the world’s fastest, introducing the SS80 model in 1923, with a sidevalve J.A.P. 1000cc racing v-twin. George raced a factory tuned version called ‘Spit and Polish’, the first sidevalve motorcycle to exceed 100mph, on which he won 51 of 52 sprint races entered. The bike finished first in that last race, although George was not aboard, having fallen off shortly before the line on the gravel course, a crash that put an end to his racing career.

The driver’s seat of the SS80 – a grand expanse of fuel tank with double fillers, and sophisticated controls. [Mecum]
The SS80 became over time the most popular Brough Superior, a perfect luxury sports-touring machine with superb handling, guaranteed 80+mph performance, and total reliability.  The 1937 SS80 from the John Parham collection is a second-series model using a Matchless 990cc V-twin, with internal parts (a stronger crankshaft and special mainshafts) and tuning (hotter cams and better breathing) specified by George, as well as stronger shafts, gears, and racing ratios in the 4-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox.  It was amazing for a factory of such limited production (only 3048 built between 1919-40) to command special parts for their engines, gearboxes, and wheels, but that was pure Brough Superior, and suppliers were happy for the association.

The 1933 Brough Superior 11.50 at the National Motorcycle Museum: a potent motorcycle with 1100cc, and performance very near the SS100, and the sleeper of the Brough line. [Mecum]
As George Brough entered his 40s, after a life of racing (and crashing), he developed a new favorite in the Brough Superior model range: the 11.50, introduced in 1933, with a J.A.P. 1100cc 60deg sidevalve V-twin motor used by no other motorcycle manufacturer. While the specification might sound ordinary, the 11.50 is anything but, and with mild tuning proved to be (whisper it) as fast as the SS100, with greater low-down torque, and with its wider vee angle, even smoother.

The 11.50 is a comfortable machine, with wide handlebars, and shifting is rarely necessary once underway. [Mecum]
The 11.50 was the sleeper of the Brough Superior line, and a favorite of police forces in the UK and Canada for its ability to catch any car. I write with experience, having owned an 11.50 since 1989, and riding one across the USA in 2014 on the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally, where it proved the fastest and best-handling machine among 100 competitors.  Fans of the Harley-Davidson EL ‘Knucklehead’ were served humble pie in a roll-on acceleration test in Colorado, where the 11.50 ridden two-up simply walked away from a beautifully restored EL.  Needless to say, prices for the 11.50 quickly doubled.  The 1933 11.50 in the National Motorcycle Museum is a superbly restored machine, just waiting for a new owner to discover what’s really behind the Brough Superior badge.  It’s a rare instance of a brand truly living up to its reputation, even the audacious boast of its name proving accurate: a Brough is Superior.

[Full disclosure: Mecum Auctions is a sponsor of The Vintagent]


Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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