When you look at public motorcycle auction prices, two of the most expensive motorcycles ever sold that are also two of the top 10 most expensive pre-WWII motorcycles ever sold, were English Brough Superiors. They were a 1922 Brough Superior SS80 known as “Old Bill,” which sold for over $415,000 in 2012, and a 1929 Brough Superior 986cc SS100 Alpine Grand Sport that was previously owned by Lawrence of Arabia, which sold for over $450,000 in 2014.
The founder of the motorcycle brand bearing his last name was George Brough (1890-1970). The English company produced 19 models from 1919-1940 with a total of a little over 3,000 motorcycles built. From the time George was a kid until he ventured out on his own in 1919, he worked building, testing, and racing motorcycles he and his father, William Brough Sr., built under the Brough brand.
The two worked in a shop attached to their home that was built in the mid-1890s by Brough Sr. who saw the possibilities of cars and motorcycles early on. Seeing the future this far in advance made Brough Sr. a visionary, but his vision was a little too early to capitalize on the future popularity of cars and motorcycles. The problem was the capabilities to produce cars and motorcycles at any volume, let alone at a limited volume, at a price that could be afforded by a large enough part of the population just wasn’t feasible.
With his own vision of motorcycles, George ventured on his own to start building motorcycles under the name Brough Superior. Although there were nineteen different standardized models of Brough Superiors, the majority were customized for their buyer. The company came out with a number of innovations and their motorcycles’ high performance won the company a number of races and broke a lot of records for both race times and speeds.
Brough Superiors were known for their superior quality, performance, and finish. A writer for a motorcycle publication referred to the Brough Superiors as “The Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles,” and this became the slogan of the company. Just like a luxury car, the motorcycles were expensive with the price of anywhere from half-a-year’s to a full-year’s average annual salary during this era.
Each motorcycle was assembled once to ensure the fit of all of the parts, disassembled for plating and painting, and reassembled. Afterwards, each motorcycle was test driven to ensure they met the performance specs. A Brough Superior SS100 model was tested at 100 mph and an SS80 was tested at 80 mph.
There were also ten of the infamous Brough Superior Straight Four models made. Each of these utilized an Austin 7 automobile engine and transmission and had a guaranteed top speed of 110 mph. If any motorcycle did not perform well at their spec speeds, they went back to the factory until they did.
Production of the motorcycles ended when the factory was converted during World War II to an airplane engine plant. Although George wanted to produce motorcycles after the war ended, there were too many challenges from engines and materials not being readily available to make it happen. Because of the performance and craftsmanship of Brough Superiors, almost one-third of the 3,000 produced are in the hands of collectors, so there is a good chance, if you check out enough vintage bike shows that you will see one of these cool bikes.