Sunday, November 30, 2008


from the Times of London
"Letters by Lawrence of Arabia in which he says how well his Brough Superior motorcycle is running and speaks of his love of book collecting have sold at auction for £10,000 – almost three times their estimate.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence was stationed on the Isle of Wight, building rescue boats for the RAF and the Navy, when he wrote the letters between April 1932 and November 1933 to an RAF flight sergeant. He uses the sign-off “Woof” after saying that Captain Liddell Hart had written a study of him; he describes 1933 as a “vintage year for books” after listing some of those that he had read; he enthuses about how his old motorcycle is running “like a new one”; and he says that he has been spending money on his cottage in Dorset, to which he had moved his book collection.
Lawrence died less than 18 months later in a motorcycle crash near the cottage in Bovington. The correspondence, which had remained in the flight sergeant’s family, was sold by Henry Aldridge and Sons of Devizes, Wiltshire."

It would seem that Lawrence mania is still in full swing. Many argue that the motorcycle on which he died (pictured) could be worth millions, and is perhaps the most valuable motorcycle in the world. His final SS100 Brough Superior is currently at the Imperial War Museum, London, following a successful T.E.L. exhibit there (seen in the photo below). It's rumored that the current owners has turned down offers of seven figures... but you know how rumors go.

Lawrence bought his first Brough in 1922, a few years after his exploits in the Middle East which gained immortal fame. He purchased a 'Mk1' model with JAP sidevalve v-twin engine (see below), and he became a devotee of the marque and a friend of George Brough. There have been rumors through the years that he never paid for his motorcycles or that they were gifts from his good friend George Bernard Shaw (whose play 'Arms and the Man' is one of my favorites), or that Brough himself gave them away for the publicity. These rumors have been denied over the years by George Brough himself, who steadfastly maintained that Lawrence paid for all his motorcycles from the proceeds of his books ('The Seven Pillars of Wisdom', and 'The Mint' - a sample from which I posted last year, which is one of T.E's best works).

Lawrence owned 7 Broughs sequentially, which he named 'George I' thru 'George VII' and number 8 (with a 'Two of Everything' engine) was being prepared for him at the time of his death on May 13, 1935. The motorcycle on which he crashed (wearing no helmet; he was trying to avoid two young bicyclists on a country road near his home in Bovington) was a '32 SS100 with JAP v-twin engine and Bentley & Draper rear suspension; it cost him £170 new. The motorcycle wasn't heavily damaged in the crash, and while a few of the original dents etc are preserved on the machine today, George Brough himself reparied many of the bent parts (footrests, kickstart, gearchange, and scuffed saddle).

The photograph above shows the bike being trucked away during the inquest into his death - as T.E.L. was a war hero and celebrity, there has been considerable speculation about the circumstances of his accident, and even today a small publishing industry is built around his story (and here I am contributing to the pile). There are many books about conspiracies and debunking themp even one solely about the crash per se (with the gramatically akward title of 'The Crash That Killed T.E. Lawrence').

Lawrence had a talent for writing, and 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom' is readily available if you have an interest - it recounts his remarkable story of being an underling in the Army (stationed in Cairo) who happened to speak Arabic, and was brought along with English military brass to translate negotiations with the Saudi tribal elders - including the future King Faisal (pictured below, with Lawrence behind, at the Paris Conference, 1919). The Arabs took a liking to Lawrence, as he apparently respected and had an interest in their culture (rather than a colonizer's attitude), and was rapidly given responsibilities as an envoy, and leader of a united band of Arab troops, fighting against the Ottoman Turks (who were aligned with Germany during WW1).

He proved extraordinarily successful in his guerilla tactics, and although he probably did little to help the greater cause of the Allies in the war, his exploits became a huge propoganda tool, and Lawrence 'of Arabia' became very famous. He had mixed feelings about his fame, and was a complicated figure psychologically, never truly emerging from the War as a civilian. He took assumed names and rejoined the military in the basic ranks, in order to hide within the system. Beyond this, he felt used and betrayed in the aftermath of the War, as he watched the Allies carve up the Middle East by creating politically convenient borders (for the Allies, not the residents), in contrast to many promises and assurances which had been given to the supporting tribes. And of course, those border decisions continue to haunt us! The places mentioned by Lawrence and his books (Basra, Mosul, Baghdad) were once exotic, but now have a far more ominous and personal meaning for us Yanks...

Enjoy this clip from David Lean's epic film, 'Lawrence of Arabia', with Peter O'Toole as the man himself (the Brough in the film isn't 100% accurate - but the idea comes across that TEL was nuts to ride so quickly through the English hedgerows).


Anonymous said...


As usual, I am simply overwhelmed by the vast, diverse, and interesting material on your blog.

Ed Youngblood

smitty said...

I got to ride a Brough after watching a live reenactment of a WWI Bristol fighter racing a Brough (recorded in The Mint). I only moved it hangar to hangar but it's one of my favorite memories of my half-assed round the world attempt on my '65 Ducati. Just got back from a short Round 2 (Premature Jacked up nation) and need to find a job and start saving up for Round 3.


Anonymous said...

Super nice site you've made, thanks loads. Run this letter form "The Mint" with your Brough piece-

Best bit of motorcycle writing I've read. Except for ypour site of course. Thanks again.

Lawrence of California.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your passion for all things vintage - especially the motos. Your blog is rich and has become a daily stop for me.
Perhaps you can help me. I am reproducing a Cyclone racer - nothing to the level of Paul's Excelsior at Flashback - and am having a great time with it. Since starting it a few years ago, more pics and info have shown up on the web. I have been looking for the tank emblem to reproduce. Of the shots I've found online (flicker, etc.), I have found only low res. shots that l would have to basically produce from large pixels. Wondered if you had any hi-res shots of the tank emblem from Tomkin's bike?
Any assistance is appreciated and keep up the info,
Dave Meyer
Kansas City

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,

Thanks for a lot of intresting reading in your site!

I have not been reading it all,but very nice.

There was only one supercharged JAP v-twin to my knowledge [in Sweden].
It was a 1930 world record Royal Enfield JTOR bike with sidecar.
First go it was charged but it disintegrated the blower in practice.

Getting the record it was back to the carburetters.

As there was not a good straight road in Sweden this was run
on a frosen lake in the winter.That was not easier to do!

all the best, Lasse

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

You struck gold once again with me. I've been a big fan of Lawrance and British motorcycles ever since I attended the 1962 premier of David Lean's "Lawrance of Arabia" Absolutely one of the world's 10 best movies ever made. And the opening scene of Lawrence topping up his oil tank and then starting the bike (what an incredible mechanical symphony in full theater sound) for his fatefull last ride is burned permanently into my brain. Your excerpt from "The Mint" hangs proudly on my garage wall. Thanks for the video clip. Congrats again, Jerrykap

Anonymous said...

i,m surprised that that te,s letters went for so low , its like a brand name; or was it another boneheads sale ? i would have gone for it

lforney said...

That bike just, I don't know, what is it? The complicated man's Vincent? It is so magnificent.