Brough Superior: the 'Rolls-Royce of motorcycles' reborn

Brough Superior is back on the road. Almost three years after a new-generation SS100 was unveiled at the Milan bike show in 2013, and more than seven decades after production of the original model of the same name ended following the outbreak of the Second World War, one of motorcycling’s most glamorous marques is set to complete an unlikely return.

The new SS100’s look, dominated by a polished aluminium petrol tank above a big V-twin engine, will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the original model. George Brough advertised his Nottingham-built flagship as the “Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles”, with the car manufacturer’s consent. Enthusiastic customers included T E Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, who died in 1935 after crashing the last of his series of SS100s.

This homage to motorcycling’s finest pre-War roadburner is a collaboration between Brough marque owner Mark Upham, an Englishman based in Austria, and French designer Thierry Henriette. It will be produced at Henriette’s Boxer Design factory in Toulouse. Like the original, the new SS100 is hand-built and very expensive, costing £49,999. Despite that, more than half of this year’s run of 60 bikes are already sold.

Henriette, who has a string of outstanding concept machines to his name, has excelled himself with the SS100. With its shiny, hand-crafted tank, muscular powerplant and a host of eye-catching details including motorcycling’s first four-disc front brake – whose small diameter gives the look of an old-style drum – the Brough is as innovative as it is stylish.

Its engine is a 997cc, dohc V-twin with cylinders set at 88 degrees. It was developed in conjunction with Akira, the French specialist that builds Kawasaki’s World Superbike championship-winning ZX-10R powerplants. By contrast the Brough unit is softly tuned, aimed at flexible roadgoing performance with a modest maximum output of 100bhp in standard form.

It’s sufficiently powerful to give the SS100 strong if not ferocious acceleration, especially when fitted with accessory silencers that lift the maximum to 130bhp. That output is coupled with a rider-friendly delivery and a free-revving V-twin character. There’s no ride-by-wire throttle, multiple modes or traction control. Just a generous supply of controllable torque, backed up by a smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox, and enhanced by a tuneful V-twin bark.

Back in the Thirties, every SS100 was delivered with a certificate, signed by George Brough, confirming it had recorded 100mph. The new model is good for 30mph more, and cruises at the legal limit with long-legged ease. Its rider leans gently forward to the slightly raised one-piece handlebar, gaining some wind protection from a flyscreen that moves up and down with the front suspension. The riding position is fairly roomy but some buyers will doubtless opt for the touring kit, comprising higher bars and lower footrests.

The Brough’s chassis is ingenious and immaculately detailed. The frame uses the engine as a stressed member, with lightweight titanium subframes bolted to front and rear. The wishbone front suspension system, based on the French-designed Fior layout (also used by numerous BMWs), is light and tuneable. The delicately spoked, forged aluminium wheels are an oversized 18 inches in diameter, to enhance the period look.

Despite its unconventional chassis the SS100 handles in reassuringly normal fashion. Its fairly sporty geometry, slim rear tyre and light weight of 186kg dry help make it respectably agile despite a relatively long wheelbase. Suspension travel is typical of a sports bike, but the single shock units at front and rear providee a good ride quality as well as a taut, well-controlled cornering feel with which to exploit the generous ground clearance.

The only aspect of the prototype test bike’s chassis that required work was the unique front brake. The radial calipers from French specialist Beringer bit the four small, 230mm discs with a ferocity that was fine at high speed but too sharp at lower velocities, especially as this year’s production, homologated to outgoing Euro 3 emissions regulations, will not feature ABS braking. Henriette agrees, and is modifying the brake for a more gentle response.

The first SS100s were set to begin rolling off Brough’s assembly line in October, at a rate of one per day. Each is a bespoke build, allowing customers to choose from three petrol tank styles (traditional polished, black or titanium), plus various seat and wheel options. The newly appointed UK agent is setting up a small network of dealers but will sell this year’s batch of 20 bikes from its Dorset showroom.

A further 350 or so SS100s are due to be built next year, as Brough owner Upham aims to consolidate the marque’s return and expand into new markets, initially in Europe. Long-term plans include further models, some with a turbocharged engine.

Prices will remain high and production levels low. “We build bikes for gentlemen,” Upham says. “We want to produce other models but we won’t devalue their product or flood the market.”

His predecessor George Brough, as talented a salesman as he was a rider and engineer, would doubtless have concurred. Almost half a century after Brough’s death in 1970, the story of the marque that bears his name looks set for an improbably exciting new chapter. 

(Roland Brown)

 

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