Monday, September 23, 2013


Sam Lovegrove, Mark Upham, Viktoria Upham with the 'Baby Pendine' 750cc Brough Superior - JAP (MotoTintype wet plate photo) 
Mark Upham pocketed the deed to Brough Superior back in 2008, and for the first time in many decades, Things Are Happening with the magic old name.  Upham has sufficient charisma - plus, apparently, the cash - to have gathered a talented crew about him in wide satellitic orbit, as near as the fortress-stone Austrian farmhouse he calls home, and as far as racetrack workshops in California. Whether you're a fan or not (and as he said to me last week, 'Not everyone loves me, Paul'), one must give credit to the man for raising the visibility of the Brough marque out of its comfy post-production wall-niche, where it lay dormant, velvet-cosseted and expensive.  Brough Superior's deeply lacquered reputation - established by George Brough's ad-man bluster, and snowballing ever since - has become a blanket thick enough to protect the investments Broughs have become.  Those of us who've owned the things know them to be actual motorcycles, with 'particular characteristics' one just might call (whisper it) flaws.
Mark Upham 2013 (MotoTintype wet plate photo)
Broughs are at the top of the heap today - a glance at my 'Top 20' will confirm that handily - and poking that Reputation with the sharp stick of analysis is generally frowned upon, as is the rather outrageous ambition of Mr Upham to leverage the name and build New things, like 'continuation' SS101s, Bonneville salt flat racers, MotoGP2 racers, and coming soon - you heard it here so it must be true - brand new motorcycles bearing the gilded Jazz-age logo of Brough Superior.  Who would have expected such things from an old-school motorcycle/parts dealer and auction house veteran?  Nobody predicted the Enzo Ferrari of resurrected motorcycle brands.
The 1150cc Brough Superior - JAP record breaker (MotoTintype wet plate photo)
Mark Upham has earned my respect, and continual puzzlement (is he barking mad, or fox-crazy?) by carving against the grain of contemporary moto-business wisdom.  Building very, very expensive motorcycles is an excellent way to spend money, and a lousy way to earn it.  Sponsoring a MotoGP2 team, the same.  Commissioning a large crew to design, build, and develop TWO racing semi-vintage motorcycles, and shipping the whole circus to Utah to break speed records, double or triple ditto. Here's how to make money with a dead motorcycle brand: sell logo t-shirts.  Or design logo clothes, drape them on Kate Moss, rack them in fancy department stores, and eventually sell the label at a massive profit in a few years.  Repeat.
Rider Eric Patterson aboard the 1150cc Brough (MotoTintype wet plate photo)
Yet Upham the contrarian carries on, doing as he pleases, leaving a wake of observers scratching their heads, wondering what on earth he thinks he's doing, or getting pissed off that he's doing it. The answer to that, backtracking 14 words, is 'as he pleases'.  Having built a successful business selling old bike spares at British Only Austria, he seized the opportunity to purchase grandeur via the Brough Superior name, and it's a cloak he wears comfortably, with a wink, being primarily dedicated to doing as he pleases with the title 'Mr Brough Superior'.
Close up of the Big Brough (MotoTintype wet plate photo)
Something interesting has happened with the rising interest in Bonneville and El Mirage - while they've been a mecca for speed-mad bikers and hot rodders for decades now, we've passed over a lull in the 1990s and 2000s, when frankly, a lot of people didn't give a hoot for the place.  Speed records became irrelevant, because the machines setting them were no longer motorcycles, but two-wheeled missiles, whose fan base is miniscule indeed.  But the clever fellows at the SCTA, and latterly BUB, have made a seemingly infinite number of categories in which one can set a record, many of which have no record at all, even today.  The variety of rules equals a variety of bikes making records; BSAs, Indians, Triumphs, Harleys, etc. That's smart business, and has revived interest among the home-tuners and thrill-seekers eager to add their own tales to the fabled romance of the place.
Rider and TV presenter Henry Cole (MotoTintype wet plate photo)
The Salt Flat Broughs can't exactly be called 'new', because they use plenty of vintage parts: the 750cc 'Baby Pendine' Brough has a 1954 JAP racing engine with alloy top ends and a magnesium crankcase - proper racing fodder.  Apparently the engine is one of only 6 or 7 built for racing in an Italian 750cc monoposto car class, one of which was campaigned by Scuderia Ferrari (who also fielded a motorcycle racing team prewar - see the story here).  The 1150cc machine competes in a 1350cc class, and uses another 1950s JAP Mk2 magnesium/alloy engine, initially intended for sidecar Speedway and Cooper racing car use.  The following comes from the Brough Superior website:
Paul d'Orléans aboard the 'Baby Pendine'
The Brough Superior 1150cc machine competing in the  1350 - APS – VF class achieved a speed of 110.454 mph in the first run and 116.882 mph on the return run to set an aggregate speed of 113.668 mph, a new AMA record. Later in the week, after further tuning of the bike and rider, the partial streamlining was removed and competing this time in the 1350 – A – VF class the motorcycle flew through the clocks at 122.614 mph in the first run and on the return run at 126.075 mph for an aggregate speed and new AMA record of 124.334 mph. This last run was actually the very last by any motorcycle in the entire competition as immediately afterwards the sky opened and there was a catastrophic storm and downpour of rain.  Rider Eric Patterson and chief engineer Alastair Gibson were very pleased with the performance of what is essentially an engine that is well under the maximum class size.
Moto-journalist extraordinaire Alan Cathcart
The Brough Superior 750cc machine nicknamed the “Baby Pendine” by the team and prepared by Brough Superior designer and engineer Sam Lovegrove was even more successful as it achieved two FIM world and two AMA records. On the first day of the event it set two FIM and one AMA record in the 750 A-PS-VG classes. Ridden by famed motorcycle journalist Alan Cathcart the first ride was very much a shake down run at 97.260 mph over the flying mile. But he blitzed through the clocks at 105.004 mph on the return run for a new record average speed of 101.328.
The team quickly turned the bike around, and after patiently sitting in the sun for nearly three hours the team's third rider, TV presenter Henry Cole, rode in the 750 A-PS-VF class, and set a speed of 103.941 in the first run and 95.619 mph for the return creating a new AMA record of 99.780 mph. This bike ran smoothly and trouble free throughout the entire event and only required very minor changes to jetting, gearing and timing.
The ever-expressive Alistair Gibson, former Honda F1 chief, now the builder-tuner of the 1150cc Brough racer
Brough Superior CEO Mark Upham pronounced himself satisfied with results achieved by the team. “We have attained the goals that we set ourselves at the beginning of the competition and continued with the story that is Brough Superior. This is the beginning of a new era for Brough Superior and with planning in place for our new modern machines the future looks very exciting”.
Observing the Baby Pendine in the flooded salt flats; rain stops play
Baby Brough on the salt
Alistair Gibson wheels his creation...
The 1150cc Brough Superior ready for a run...
The distinctive nose fairing built by Alistair Gibson
Spares and repairs on the salt
Experimenting with a change of gearing; fine-tuning the machine on-site is always necessary at Bonneville....
Rider Eric Patterson getting ready for the off...
Eric Patterson paddling through wet salt on Thursday...
Veteran of the motorcycle wars...Mike Jackson, formerly General Sales Manager (or mangler as he prefers!) of Norton-Villiers (NorVil), Norton-Villiers-Triumph, and co-owner of the BSA Group.
Mechanic Sam Lovegrove and his 'baby', the 750cc JAP-engined racer
Sam Lovegrove checking points the old-fashioned way
Sam Lovegrove and his 750cc Brough Superior racer
This is what the salt flats looked like on Wednesday afternoon...Lake Bonneville returns!
Brough Superior CEO Mark Upham and the Vintagent in 2013
Brough Superior CEO Mark Upham 'then', ca.1976, rolling up a cig before a lineup of British moto-constabulary, with his BSA A10 chopper, complete with 2-into-4 'zoomer' pipes and Bantam tank, and a spectacular set of dreadlocks!


GuitarSlinger said...

Hey .... as long as the man is remaining consistent to the mark ( the MotoGP2 thing being the questionable exception ) .. having a boatload of fun ... using his cash .. and not tax payers / investors etc . Who cares what the man does ? At the very least the ' new ' Brough saga has been very entertaining so far .... and at best ... well .... the darn thing might just work .

But errr ... for those of us for whom purchasing a Brough ... any Brough is out of the question ... perhaps the good sir wouldn't mind stooping down a bit and selling a few T's and ball caps ? Please ? Promise .... I'll wear em on stage ( even in the likes of Aspen etc ) and everything ... please ?

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the guy ran "British Only"....glad I bought a DU42 off him now, and put a few pennies towards the cause.

Mike Hallam

Anonymous said...

hose guys were awesome people and super great racers. Congrats!

Jaylin Billig

Anonymous said...


Wowee! I just read your latest is brilliant, and was well worth waiting for!
I still don't know how you do it in the time, but the "pressure" seems only to improve the
quality of the text. Your piece was particularly insightful about Mark, who is of course
dyslexic in Polish, but I will be interested to hear his reaction....after he has [somehow
or other] managed to digest the text.

Repeated congratulations on a most interesting 'report'.

Best regards,


The Vintagent said...

Hi Mike,

I'm glad you like it! Many thanks for your kind words. Upham is a puzzle I've been working out for years now, a complicated beast (as we all are), charming and maddening both.

I still don't have a handle on Mark, but I do have some perspective on the situation!

all the best, Paul