T.E. Lawrence, the diminutive multi-lingual British scholar who led the successful Arab revolt against the Turks in the First World War, will forever be associated with his thundering Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle GW 2275 on which he was killed in 1935. Lawrence actually owned a total of seven 100 mph Brough Superiors, and is said to have rode more than 300,000 miles on them. Playwright George Bernard Shaw was another famous Brough Superior owner.
George Brough built just 3,048 motorcycles between 1920 and 1940, and they were all to customer specifications. He added the “Superior” moniker to boast that his were superior to all other motorcycles, including those built by his father William Brough. Indeed, Brough Superior advertisements even claimed that the company was building the “Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles”. In addition to the famous SS100, Brough Superiors ranged from a modest 500 cc single to an odd bike with twin rear wheels that was powered by an Austin 7 engine in 1932.
The one to have, however, is of course the iconic SS100. In 1939 it was advertised as the fastest British bike after recording 169 mph in the hands of Eric Fernihough, who would eventually die at 180 mph trying to break his own record.
The SS100 used a J.A.P. overhead valve 980 cc V-twin engine that made up to 74 hp from 1924-36. That power figure reduced reliability, however, and Brough switched to a 45-hp 990 cc Matchless twin in 1936. In all, there were 281 SS100s with the J.A.P. motor and 102 with the Matchless unit for a total of 383 Brough Superior SS100s. Unfortunately, Brough Superior production did not resume after the Second World War.
The ultimate version of the motorcycle was the Alpine Grand Sport. Six were sold in 1934 and only two in 1935. They featured two carburetors, two oil pumps and two magnetos, and were reputedly tested at 120 mph before delivery. T.E. Lawrence actually had one, his eighth Brough Superior in total, on order when he died swerving to avoid two boys on bicycles.
Brough Superior SS100s have long been among the world’s most valuable collector motorcycles and for good reason. They were the superbikes of their day, most were custom built to the individual specifications of the owner, and they are incredibly rare. Thanks to world-beating performance and famous riders, they have more than established the historical significance that makes something collectible in the first place. Along with the Vincent Black Shadow, the Brough Superior SS100 is British motorcycle royalty.