Brough Motorcycles was started by William E. Brough in Nottingham, England in 1902, after some earlier experimentation with motorized tricycles. The Brough Superior company was a separate company created by his son, George Brough. He branched out on his own after World War One, a move that eventually led to the 1938 Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle. George Brough was a racer, designer, and showman.
The first Brough motorcycle had a single cylinder engine hung from the downtube. By 1908 there were a range of models with 2.5 hp and 3.5 hp single cylinder and 5 hp V-twin engines all made by Brough. In 1913 William Brough developed a flat-twin engine in-line with the frame. This 497cc engine had overhead valves and a 2-speed gearbox. By the end of 1914 Brough had replaced all other engines in their bikes, and used the new engine for the models that were planned for 1915.
Originally William Brough's son, George Brough, was a partner in his father's company, but he split from it in 1919 and started his own factory, also in Nottingham. He named his motorcycles "Brough Superior.” Upon hearing the name of the new motorcycle company, his father made the comment, "I suppose that makes mine the Brough Inferior.” William Brough continued to produce motorcycles under the original "Brough" marque until 1926.
Brough Superior motorcycles were expensive, well-finished machines constructed largely from proprietary components, most notably a 60-cubic-inch J.A.P. V-twin engine. Brough Superior motorcycles have always been rare and expensive. Prices for these motorcycles ranged from £130 to £180 in the 1920s and '30s. Since the average weekly salary during that time was £3 per week, only the wealthy were able to afford them.
All Brough Superior motorcycles were high performance and superior quality. Most were custom-built to the customer's needs, and rarely were any two of the same configuration. Each motorcycle was assembled twice. The first assembly was to fit all components. Then the motorcycle was disassembled and all parts painted or plated as needed. Finally, the finished parts were assembled a second time. Every motorcycle was test ridden to ensure that it performed to specification, and was personally certified by George Brough.
An early example was called the SS80, so named for its guaranteed top speed of 80 mph. Switching from flathead to overhead-valve engines led to the SS100 in 1924.
The exemplary engineering and construction for which Brough Superiors were famous can be seen in the leading-link front suspension with driver-adjustable damping, nickel-plated side panels on the fuel tank, foot-operated gearshift, contoured saddlebags, and plunger rear suspension. Though renowned primarily for their fine craftsmanship, Brough Superiors also held many speed records during the 1920s and '30s, culminating in a 1937 run of nearly 170 mph on a modified version.
The Brough Superior SS100 was designed and built by George Brough in 1924. Although every bike was designed to meet specific customer requirements—even the handlebars were individually shaped—sixty-nine SS100s were produced in 1925 and at £170 were advertised by Brough as the "Rolls Royce of Motorcycles". The term was coined by magazine road tester in his review of the bike, and Brough eventually obtained explicit permission to use it after a Rolls-Royce executive toured the Brough Superior factory. All bikes had a guarantee that they were capable of 100 mph. The SS100 (Super Sports) was the first custom motorcycle with components chosen from many different suppliers. The first engine (from 1924 to 1936) was the twin-cam KTOR J.A.P. (made by J. A. Prestwich) V twin and upgraded to a Matchless engine after 1936. Gearboxes were the 4-stud 3-speed from Sturmey-Archer. Brough studied the features of the Harley-Davidson forks and produced his own version to combine light weight with strength that was to become a feature of the SS100 handling.
T. E. Lawrence (known as “Lawrence of Arabia”) bought one of the first SS100s in 1925 having previously owned three Brough SS80’s. He owned a total of eight Brough Superior motorcycles with a ninth on order at the point of his death. The crash that would end Lawrence's life came while riding an SS100 on a narrow road near his cottage by Wareham in 1935. The accident happened because a dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on bicycles. Swerving to avoid them, Lawrence lost control and was thrown over the handlebars.
He was not wearing a helmet and suffered serious head injuries that left him in a coma; he died after six days in hospital. One of the doctors attending him was the neurosurgeon, Hugh Cairns. He consequently began a long study of what he saw as the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries and his research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists. As a consequence of treating Lawrence, Sir Hugh Cairns ultimately saved the lives of many motorcyclists.
Brough Superior produced many other experimental, show, and racing models. The final model was the “Pendine.” These were built in the early 1930s and had a guaranteed top speed of 110 mph. They were based on the SS100 model but with higher performance modifications to the engine.
A well known racer, Barry Baragwanath, installed a supercharger on one, and it is now known as "Barry's Big Blown Brough." Noel Pope bought the motorcycle and in 1939 set two lap record with it at Brooklands: 106 mph with sidecar, and 124 mph in solo configuration, which exceeded the previous record set in 1935 by Eric Fernihough also on a Brough Superior.
Brough Superior also manufactured sidecars. The sidecars had coach-built bodies, and some carried a spare tire, while others offered two seats for occasional use. The fit and finish of these sidecars were of the highest standard, as were the motorcycles. These sidecars all offered good protection from the elements. Many of the earlier sidecars were built to Brough Superior specification, while later sidecar frames were manufactured in the Brough Superior factory.
Later sidecars were unique in the fact that the frame of the sidecar held fuel. The sidecar frame looped over the top of the sidecar body and had a filler cap at the topmost position. Fuel was pressurized by a hand pump that transferred fuel from the sidecar to the petrol tank on the motorcycle.
George Brough made approximately 85 cars named Brough Superior. Built between 1935 and 1939, they were powered by Hudson engines and had a Hudson chassis. Three models were made, but only two reached production. Early cars did not carry Brough Superior badges as Brough thought the cars sufficiently distinctive in themselves.
During 22 years of production, Brough Superior produced a total of 2,476 motorcycles at a rate of about 100 to just short of 200 a year from 1922 to 1939. In ’39 the factory produced 118, but only 10 in its last year of production, 1940, when production stopped due to the war.
Manufacturing of bikes never resumed after WW II. George Brough was known for his dedication to his vehicles and customers. He, and later Albert Wallis, continued to service Brough Superiors after production ceased, making parts until 1969. In 2013 Brough Superior said it would return to Grand Prix motorcycle racing with a prototype machine for the Moto2 World Championships called the Carbon2, a motorcycle made by California builders "Taylormade" and rebranded as a Brough Superior
"Moto2" is a class in Grand Prix motorcyle racing. "Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix" is the premier championship of motorcycle road racing. It is currently divided into three classes: MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3. All three classes currently use four-stroke engines. In 2010, 250 cc two-strokes were replaced by the new Moto2 600 cc four-stroke class. In 2012, 125 cc two-strokes were replaced by the Moto3 250 cc four-stroke class with a weight limit of 65 kg with fuel, and the engine capacity for MotoGP increased from 800 cc to 1,000 cc.