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Brough Superior Club gets a diamond jubilee of a drenching

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  Soft grass surfaces and motorcycle parking are not congenial companions, as this Brough enthusiast is finding out. Incidentally, the plate tells me that this particular Brough was registered in Nottingham, home of the Brough factory, so it probably has a particularly interesting history
Soft grass surfaces and motorcycle parking are not congenial companions, as this Brough enthusiast is finding out. Incidentally, the plate tells me that this particular Brough was registered in Nottingham, home of the Brough factory, so it probably has a particularly interesting history

[Note: Updated with more accurate information from the Brough Superior Club on 22 September 2018]

After a rather magnificent summer of endless sunshine and unusually high temperatures, little old England has returned to form. Over the last weekend, the August bank holiday, thw weather returned to what we locals charitably call “changeable.” Changeable is a euphemism for wet and is to be expected on holiday weekends.  So it was I got near drowned on an odd quest, to see a display of legendary motorcycles that were made before the second world war.

  Stop me and buy one: George Brough might not have envisaged his powerful vee-twin hitched to an ice-cream sidecar, but there
Stop me and buy one: George Brough might not have envisaged his powerful vee-twin hitched to an ice-cream sidecar, but there’s no discounting the value here. Sadly the sidecar was not stuffed with 1930s cones, bricks and choc bars. Just imagine what you could get for tuppence or, even, a penny in those days. A penny cone now costs 500 times as much and is probably half the size. (More information: The ice cream sidecar was one of a fleet of such operated by the Creamax company in the 1930s. Creamax was owned by the mayor of Bury St Edmunds who purchased a succession of BS SS80s for this purpose. Very strange)
  A magnificent Brough Superior SS100, the very epitome of 1930s two-wheel superiority. Another example originally registered in Nottingham
A magnificent Brough Superior SS100, the very epitome of 1930s two-wheel superiority. Another example originally registered in Nottingham
  On the other hand, here
On the other hand, here’s an everyday side-valve Brough Superior SS80, not in Concours condition but still a motorcycle for riding hard

When I met my old friend Nick Jeffery at Brooklands ten days ago he sparked my interest by mentioning the Diamond Jubilee rally of the Brough Superior Club which was scheduled for the bank holiday weekend near Oxford. Now I’ve never owned a Brough Superior — unlike the marque’s most famous acolyte, Lawrence of Arabia, not to mention George Bernard Shaw and Orson Welles (Note: Nick tells me that he knows of no reliable source that attributes BS ownership to either George Bernard Shaw or Orson Welles. Shaw’s wife, Charlotte, gave T.E. Lawrence many gifts including a new BS in 1929 and he believes that is where the GBS connection came in. He also has no idea how the suggestion of Orson Welles’ ownership arose).

I’ve always been fascinated by these bikes which gained the reputation of being “the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles”. This description was coined by H.D.Teague, one-time Midlands editor of The Motor Cycle, and taken up with enthusiasm by George Brough. At one time, as many of you know, I worked in the London office of that magazine but by that time Bob Currie had taken over Teague’s office in Birmingham.

  Oh dear..... Fresh from the grass car park, this was my first sight of the rally. Water, water, everywhere. All the polished metal and meticulously fettled engines battled with the downpour
Oh dear….. Fresh from the grass car park, this was my first sight of the rally. Water, water, everywhere. All the polished metal and meticulously fettled engines battled with the downpour

The combination of a diamond jubilee, a delicious collection of lusty vee twins and a noted country house, at Middle Aston, meant I could hardly refuse to go. On Sunday, therefore, I set off for Oxfordshire in reasonable weather and in high spirits. But the weather soon turned exceptionally nasty. The car’s satnav had difficulty as we approached the target and sent me off down a three-mile single-track lane, barely wide enough for the car, where I drove in dread of anything coming in the opposite direction. Satnavs are known for this sort of thing.  

  Brough Superior cars were indeed very superior, reminiscent of a Mercedes-Benz or Horch of the period. Below: A Coys
Brough Superior cars were indeed very superior, reminiscent of a Mercedes-Benz or Horch of the period. Below: A Coys’ umbrella inspects another wonderful example of the Superior car

Fortunately, nothing did come along (in six miles, must have been the bad weather) but I got to the end of the lane and found no sign of the house and nary a Brough Superior. I had to resort to Apple Carplay where the ever-knowledgeable Siri had an instinctive knowledge of the whereabouts of the rally. So back I went down the same lane, scraping the hedgerows on either side of the car. Once more, though, nothing came in the opposite direction. Despite the rain, I led a charmed life last Sunday.

   Middle Aston House    — a smart resort for well-heeled countryphiles — as a backdrop to the rained-off Brough Superior Club Diamond Jubilee. Note the lowering skies as they lowered by the minute. Centre-right, in the yellow jacket and woolly hat, is my friend Nick Jeffery, still looking for a parking place to exhibit his Brough
Middle Aston House — a smart resort for well-heeled countryphiles — as a backdrop to the rained-off Brough Superior Club Diamond Jubilee. Note the lowering skies as they lowered by the minute. Centre-right, in the yellow jacket and woolly hat, is my friend Nick Jeffery, still looking for a parking place to exhibit his Brough

By this time the rain was sheeting down and the front and rear wipers were working overtime. Middle Aston House hove into view — I realised I had probably passed it twice in the morning without realising — and I found a parking spot with some difficulty. I met my friend Nick, looking rather bedraggled as he wrestled with his 1928 Brough, and discovered a huge collection of Brough motorcycles and Brough Superior cars. Why hadn’t I realised George Brough also manufactured a rather tasty line of superior saloons? I suppose they can’t be called the Rolls Royces of motor cars but they do look equally impressive.

  I know about this car because there was a helpful notice in the windscreen. It had arrived at Middle Aston all the way from    Fúrstenfeldbruck    county in Bavaria, to the west of Munich. It is owned by Heinrich Klimaszewski-Blettner and is a Brough Superior Hudson 3500cc six-cylinder originally registered in Cornwall on November 16, 1938. I hope he didn
I know about this car because there was a helpful notice in the windscreen. It had arrived at Middle Aston all the way from Fúrstenfeldbruck county in Bavaria, to the west of Munich. It is owned by Heinrich Klimaszewski-Blettner and is a Brough Superior Hudson 3500cc six-cylinder originally registered in Cornwall on November 16, 1938. I hope he didn’t have a satnav like mine or he might still have been wandering the narrow lanes of rural Oxfordshire. Heinrich says that he and his wife Barbara have travelled over 10,000 miles in the car without major mishap. The torque, he says, is great and copes magnificently with the mountains of Austria and Italy

Why so Superior you might ask? Well, George Brough who was the scion of the Brough engineering family in Nottingham was searching for a distinctive brand for his new muscular vee-twin motorcycle shortly after the end of the 1914-18 war. A friend in the pub suggested “Brough Superior” which George quite liked. His father though, also a motorcycle engineer of repute, wasn’t impressed. “I suppose,” he said, “that makes my bikes Brough Inferiors”. This anecdote I gleaned from another old friend, the late “Titch” Allen, so called because of his modest dimensions. But if his knowledge of motorcycles and motorcycling had been the yardstick he would have been known as “Huge” Allen. 

The photograph below of the Austin 7-engined Brough Superior is particularly interesting, according to Nick Jeffery: “It was one of the ‘Bodmin Broughs’ sold at a Bonhams auction. They were then little better than polished rust. This example sold for £331,000 in that state. This is an amazing transformation.”

  This, I thought, is one of the more unusual Brough Dream four-cylinder models but I was wrong. Don Morley has pointed out in a comment that this is an Austin 7-powered Brough with reverse gear, and a rather nice example at that. George Brough had a dream that motorcycles should be as smooth and quiet as a prestige car but he could never shake off his love for the lusty, throaty big twins as exemplified by the SS100.
This, I thought, is one of the more unusual Brough Dream four-cylinder models but I was wrong. Don Morley has pointed out in a comment that this is an Austin 7-powered Brough with reverse gear, and a rather nice example at that. George Brough had a dream that motorcycles should be as smooth and quiet as a prestige car but he could never shake off his love for the lusty, throaty big twins as exemplified by the SS100.

Anyway, while I was pondering all this, the rain continued to fall by the bucketful. Motorcyclists are well used to the British climate and invariably come prepared for the worst. They are used to getting wet. I, having arrived in a sissy car with sat nav and a tin roof, was getting wet. Worse, there was a clear and present danger threatening whichever camera I intended to use. Discretion encouraged me to leave the M10 in the car and I decided to sacrifice the newly acquired Leica X2 on the altar of Brough superiority. If I’d realised the weather was going to be so bad I would have brought the weatherproofed Panasonic G9 and a suitable lens. 

  The kilt isn
The kilt isn’t the ideal gear for a rumbustious SS100, especially on such an ingloriously wet day. This impressive gentleman is the Reverend Michael Staines, one of the earliest members of the club in 1958

But the rains came a-tumbling down, heavier than ever, and the camera was getting soaked. Not good. In the end, I left in a disappointed frame of mind. I had had high hopes of this Diamond Jubilee (coincidentally, the club was formed the year I got my motorcycle driving licence) but all I got was a nondescript collection of snapshots. Still, I’m sure you will be interested to see these legendary beasts, despite the gloomy surroundings. At this remove, it’s hard to see them as two-wheeled Rolls Royces, but the enthusiasm of the members of the Brough Superior Club is palpable if a little dampened on this occasion. 

Looking at these photographs you might be excused for thinking that Brough Superiors are ten a penny. Not so. They are valued in the tens of thousands and, in some cases, the hundreds of thousands. Pushing your Brough through the waterlogged grounds of Middle Aston Hall may look a bit mucky. But this is a true case of where there’s muck, there’s brass.

Disclaimer: Any Brough Superior Club members who happen across this page will rapidly conclude that I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. The devil is in the detail when it comes to Brough lore. I plead ignorance and submit that the average Macfilos reader (with the honourable exceptions of my old mates Don Morley and Nick Jeffery) doesn’t have much of a clue about George Brough and all his works. Remember, this is a photographic site, not a motorcycle blog of record. However, if you spot any factual errors let me know and I will put them right.

See some more Brough Love here

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16 COMMENTS

  1. You will be grateful that I had never heard of George Brough until I read this, so if there is any factual inaccuracies in here I wouldnt have a clue. However I do like the photos, and good to see that the old British spirit of standing around in the rain even in a kilt, which must have been a bit chilly around the old barnacles, is still a happening event. 🙂

    The X2 has done you proud given the variable but typically British weather, I just hope that it is still working.

    • Indeed, Dave, the X2 recovered well from the drenching and has been taking more photographs. I don’t know about the old barnacles but I was certainly wet enough, barnacles excepted, to prompt a quick departure. I don’t suppose I was on site for more than 20 minutes before I got rained off. There were free coffee and biscuits in the house but they’d run out and, faced with a 15-minute wait for a new brew, I skedaddled and repaired to a Starbucks on the Oxford bypass. Still, as you say, I did get a few photos.

  2. The bloke in the kilt under leaden skies is great Michael.
    But for your weekend holiday photography "perhaps you need an X-U in addition to your X1/X2".
    There’s a poem in that last line just waiting to be written.

    • Funny you should mention that. I was thinking about an X-U and wondering whether it would make a good camera for outings to events all over Britain. It would get a lot of use and I needn’t worry about it getting wet. I’d better tell Ivor to keep his eyes open for one.

  3. Mike , the rain gods must have had it in for motorcycles in the UK last weekend for as you undoubtedly know the MotoGP at Silverstone was cancelled due to the conditions.
    We certainly could use that rain and some over here. The drought is seious on the east coast of Aus. We had a little rain last weekend-the first for over 3 months -but not enough to make any difference and the forecast is bleak . We will all be taking showers with a friend soon.

    • No, I hadn’t realised that the race had been cancelled. Strangely enough, the motorway exit for Middle Aston was the same one as Silverstone (from the M40 that is) and I saw notices warning of severe traffic delays. I though it odd at the time there was little bike traffic —just a few bedraggled diehards at the service station.

  4. More bike articles please Mike, I know nothing about motorcycles but they do hold a fascination for me like cameras. I am sure Anything to celebrate fine design and engineering is of interest to readers. While talking about Brough we shouldn’t forget the late camera dealer Robert White who had a collection. Happy birthday to Macfilos.

    • Thanks, Chris. I’ll do my best and, since I am a frequent visitor to Brooklands Museum there is always something to tempt the lens, as with the Paris taxi earlier this week. I’ve written about Robert White on several occasions (you can search Macfilos) and also did an article on the sale of his magnificent Brough collection to Jay Leno.

  5. I wondered when you would do a piece on motorcycles, given your background, unless I have missed one before. I hope you got some enjoyment out of the day eventually mike. I never managed getting anywhere near a brough superior but I did manage a ride on the back of a Vincent Black Shadow, quite some experience.

    • Paul,

      I have done some bits and pieces on motorcycling in the past but I do need a photographic theme as with last weekend. I never rode the Vincent Black Shadow, but my former and very late colleague at The Motor Cycle Magazine (technical editor) was a great fan.

      I remember him returning from a road test blast up the A1 where he had been stopped twice for speeding within about ten miles. Unfortunately for him the second offence came up first before the lady magistrate. The officer opened his notebook: “And when stopped the defendant said ‘Jesus Christ, not again!’” He was fined heavily.

      But I suppose the Black Shadow, perhaps the true successor to the Brough SS100, encouraged such antics. It was a beast and no mistake.

  6. So few know of Brough bikes, much less his cars. I love singles and v-twins and the SS100 is probably my favorite dream motorcycle, even over the VBS. Just look at it!

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