Monday, January 05, 2009


Item #3 Worth Investigating at the Las Vegas Auction.

I'm sorry, but you just can't say you're tired of another top-tier motorcycle getting all the attention in the press. Motorcycles like the Brough Superior SS100 get all attention because they're rare, and deservedly considered among the most beautiful machines ever made. Some consider that George Brough could have 'put down his pencil' in 1924, when the new SS100 became available, such was the masterpiece he produced. But, like the the Old Master stylist he was, GB still had a few aces up his sleeve, and arguably, the late Matchless-engine SS100 was the last hurrah from the 'Rolls Royce of Motorcycles'.

When the J.A.Prestwich & Co. let the world down in 1934 by producing underdeveloped dreck for high-performance applications (single and twin-cylinder, mind you), Brough jumped ship, and sought a decent v-twin elsewhere. While he had previously used M.A.G., J.A.P, Austin, Barr&Stroud, and even a few of his own engines, none of these avenues had what he needed in the mid-30's, save A.M.C., who had recently stuck valves on top of their sv 990cc MX engine, creating the lovely MX2. With 'square' bore and stroke (85.5mm) and novel 'three cam' valve operation, the engine could not claim the rorty 80hp of the last JAP '8/75' motor, but could deliver what Brough needed - a reliable, smooth, and powerful Grand Touring device. The 40hp produced at 6,000rpm was sufficient to hurtle the new SS100 at the required 100mph, guaranteed, but in a manner a bit more refined than the old JAP racing lump could manage. Some missed the raw edge and intimidating power characteristics of the old engines, but in truth, the new MX engine suited the aging SS100 model perfectly, and my word, did it fill the 'hole in the middle of the frame' nicely.

This '38 SS100 has matching engine, frame, and gearbox numbers, according to the BS Club, and has been built to the 'Show' standard, with a little extra chrome on the mudguards and engine. A similar SS100 with MX engine sits at #7 on my 'Top 20' list, and was sold last September '08 by Bonhams for - gasp - $287,770. The economic situation will likely temper the sale price of this motorcycle, and I don't expect any records to fall. Let's hope the new owner takes it for a spin.


Guzzisue said...

one of my favourite makes of bike but being from Nottingham I'm probably biased,

Anonymous said...

I've had the luck to have been able to ride 4 different SS100s, "29 and '31 JTOR-engined, and '37 and '39 AMC-engined over the last 40 years and been able to compare them with my own '38 AMC-engined SS80 (40 years ownership) and '33 11-50 Special (30 years of ownership).

While the JAP-engined SS100s are narrower and more typically "vintage" in construction and certainly have good power, I think that it is probably the long-stroke of the engine and slower hand-shift that makes one want to exploit their pulling power by running them in top gear a lot. The AMC-engined SS100s both seemed more eager to rev - encouraged by their smoothness, I suppose. I had the use of the '39 SS100 for 4 days last summer as transport to the 50th Brough Rally and back and found it the best of the lot. Geared tall, it preferred 3rd gear rather than 4th until 45 mph when serious acceleration was wanted, but would easily carry 3rd much higher than that, of course. It seemed like a good deal more than 40 hp to me. A surprisingly easy bike to get along with and with quite good brakes and light handling considering it is a 70 year-old this year.

Anonymous said...

I was struck by the phrase 'layed his pencil down', not his wrench, a fooking pencil , that got me to thinking about broughs from a engineering point of view , get a big engine , design your frame , slap a bunch of off the shelf stuff on it , add a few styling features on it and you got a orange county brough superior , but no they won so many races ? oops , no its the handling , one famous customer swerved at moderate speed and killed himself? it must be like a Rolex and a Timex , if only paul dunstall didn't cater to the masses and Colin seeley had built touring bikes , lol dave

Apus said...

Much enjoyed your Brough blog and thought you might be interested in this story, from The Motor Cycle in 1903:

The latest comer in motor cycle engines is known as the JAP, the initials of the manufacturers, John A Prestwich and Co of Lansdowne Road, Tottenham, N. It is beautifully made and finished, every part being accurately machined to gauge.The bore in 70mm by 76mm, and at 1,600 revolutions is rated at 2¼hp.

Happy new year

Jeff Stracco said...

In response to one of the comments above:

Well, Brough is known as the "Rolls-Royce" of motorcycles. That's a make known for engineering and luxury but not necessarily handling and winning races, although in the modern incarnation they handle well and go plenty fast.

But yes, perhaps the Orange County analogy is not a bad one: Brough and OC both make bespoke machines with a bought in engine. All follow the same general pattern but customized to the needs of celebrity customers. Needless to say both have very limited numbers.

Nope. Not a bad analogy at all.