How does a new 2018 Brough Superior SS100 compare to an original 1936 SS80?
On the road with a 1936 Brough Superior SS80 and the all-new SS100. Does biking get any more majestic?
If you were drawing up a list of iconic V-twins, it’s a fair bet that Brough Superior would be somewhere near the top. George Brough’s engineering gift to the motorcycling world might only have remained in production from 1920 to 1940, but the impact of the Brough Superior is undeniable.
Incredibly, given the reputation of the marque, total production was only just over 3000 bikes. But the Brough Superior became the benchmark for luxury motorcycles, attracting the wealthy, titled, famous – and infamous – to the thrill and pleasure of motorcycling. These days, nearly 80 years since production at the factory in Vernon Road, Nottingham ended, there’s no sign of any slackening of interest in – or demand for – George Brough’s vision of what a motorcycle should be. Prices have spiralled and Brough Superior ownership remains a rare privilege for the committed and wellheeled. So does the reality match the legend?
There’s no doubting that the legend is still very much alive – so alive, in fact, that the Brough Superior name has been revived and applied to a new breed of luxury machines. Brit Mark Upham has owned the Brough Superior brand since 2008, but thanks to a collaboration with French designer Thierry Henriette the new Broughs are manufactured in Toulouse, France at Boxer Design’s production facility. In 2016 the first new Brough Superior SS100 models started rolling off the assembly line – slowly, with just 60 bikes built over the first year of production. No more than 300 will be built before the factory introduces a new model. Still exclusive and still expensive at around £60,000 (depending on specification), are the new generation Broughs still the real deal? To find out, we’ve taken up the offer of riding a 1936 SS80 and a brand new SS100 back-to-back. One of the few people in the country – and maybe the world – who’s able to make that offer, is classic dealer and new Brough Superior agent, Anthony Godin. Anthony’s Mereworth, Kent business sells classic cars and bikes as well as being one of a handful of authorised Brough Superior dealers in the UK. He has specialised in classic and vintage Broughs for years and he normally has at least a couple in stock. He also has a 2018 Brough Superior demonstrator read to roll. But he doesn’t just sell Broughs, he has a deep-seated passion for them.
“I bought my first Brough – an SS80 like this one – in 1989,” he reveals. “It was awful really. It had loads of incorrect parts – my mates thought I was mad, but I really liked it. We all had old British bikes when we first started riding – they were so cheap and you could have a go at mending them when they broke down. But the Brough was something else. I’ve owned a few since then and I still have a soft spot for the SS80 models.”
Anthony feels that, while an ohv SS100 might be the obvious model to hold up against the new version, the economics and practicalities of ownership make the side-valve SS80 a more likely option for someone contemplating Brough ownership for the first time.
“The Matchless-engined SS80 was one of Brough’s bestselling models in period,” he explains. “I think about 460 were built out of a total production of 3025 Brough Superiors of all models. And, because the Matchless V-twin engine was also used in the Matchless Model X, there are plenty of spares about. The SS80 remains a practical bike to use and it’s considerably cheaper to buy than the SS100. I’ve got this one up for £89,995 – a lot of money and considerably more than £60,000 for one of the new SS100S, but a lot less than the £250,000 you’d need for a Matchless-engined SS100 or £300,000 for a Jap-engined bike in this sort of condition.”
I’m not going to pass up the chance to ride two Broughs in one day and, as Anthony effortlessly goes through the drill to fire up the SS80, I turn the key on the new SS100’S ignition switch and thumb the starter button on the right-hand ’bar. The fuel-injected 997cc short-stroke 88° V-twin engine rumbles into life instantly and I’m away.
The engine is an absolute gem. George Brough would have given his back teeth for a unit like this. His longterm aim was to produce his own, bespoke engines for his bikes – and that’s exactly what this compact V-twin is. Brough Superior commissioned French engineering outfit Akira to produce an engine especially for the revived version of the Brough. The four-valve-percylinder mill produces a punchy 100bhp with a broad spread of torque in standard trim. Optional ‘sports’ parts can lift that to something approaching 130bhp according to the factory if you’re a latter-day Lawrence of Arabia, bent on wringing the last ounce of performance from your exotic V-twin.
‘INCREDIBLY, GIVEN THE REPUTATION OF THE MARQUE, TOTAL BROUGH SUPERIOR PRODUCTION WAS JUST OVER 3000’
The test bike, with optional ‘sports’ pipes, certainly feels lively enough as I accelerate into the traffic flow on a fast A-road. The revs build rapidly and the six-speed gearbox feels as crisp as a new fiver, with a short, positive throw that allows me to keep the engine spinning hard. Brough Superior claim top speed in stock trim is around 130mph, and with the bike’s impressive lack of bulk (it weighs 410lb/186kg) I’d reckon that to be a reasonable claim. Certainly it whips up to the legal limit briskly enough, the torque is mightily impressive and I can’t see many potential owners being disappointed with the performance.
But if the engine is (relatively) conventional, the SS100’S chassis is anything but. The main frame – if you can call it that – is formed from machined titanium sheet, while the rear subframe and suspension mounting triangles are a mix of tube and sheet. The engine is a stressed member of the chassis and the concept isn’t a million miles away from a Vincent design. The cast alloy swingarm pivots in the rear of the crankcases and, while the linkage-type single shock rear suspension is conventional enough by modern standards, the Fior-designed double-wishbone forks dare to be a little bit different.
In practice, though, the bike handles pretty much like a modern bike. Despite a relatively long, 1540mm (60.6in) wheelbase, a steep 23.4° head angle keeps the steering relatively quick. And, once I get used to the flyscreen bobbing up in front of me under braking due to the action of the forks, I can exploit the Brough’s agile handling and excellent high speed stability.
As for the brakes? Wow! At first glance the front discs look pretty small for a high-performance machine – and that’s because they are. The SS100 uses tiny 230mm Beringer discs on both sides of the wheel. But look again. There are actually four discs gripped by fourpiston radial calipers, with three brake pads per caliper – the centre pads have friction material on both sides and are sandwiched between the twin discs. Brough Superior claim the novel design reduces cornering inertia and looks more in keeping with the retro styling of the bike. That may be so, but it also produces a staggeringly powerful brake set up. On our Euro 3 specification test bike, there’s no ABS (although there is on the new production Euro 4 machines) and I really have to remember how effective they are. One restrained finger is all I dare deploy on the beautifully-forged and adjustable alloy brake lever. It takes a little while to get used to the ferocious bite of the set-up, but once I’ve got the hang of it I realise the brake is one of the best stoppers I’ve ever come across.
Overall, the SS100 is certainly a fine motorcycle: fast, handles well, comfortable, sounds great and stops like nothing else. But it’s something more than that – it’s a work of engineering art, too. Every component has a sublimely well-crafted look and feel about it. Whether it’s the trademark, hand-beaten alloy fuel tank, the
‘THE SS100 IS A FINE MOTORCYCLE: FAST, HANDLES WELL, SOUNDS GREAT AND STOPS LIKE NOTHING ELSE’
beautifully sculpted cast alloy fork legs or the lovingly machined alloy switchgear, everything about the bike screams class. No wonder it takes the production team at the factory around a week to assemble each bike.
That attention to detail and the care and thought that has gone into every aspect of design and manufacture is the main reason behind the Brough Superior’s hefty price tag. But it’ll take a lot more spare cash to give yourself the option of owning a classic Brough Superior.
The 1936 SS80 I’m about to ride is one of the first Matchless-engined SS80S. It was originally supplied to a Bury St Edmunds dealer and sold to its first owner attached to a Watsonian sidecar. Restored back in 1989 by renowned marque specialist Tony Cripps, it has covered a few thousand miles since. It’s a well maintained, matching-numbers bike that’s in good, rideable condition. Just how I like ’em.
And like it I do. Hoisting the long gearlever up to reach the first of four ratios in the four-speed Norton ’box is a boot-off-footrest affair, but easing out the clutch lever reveals a smooth and light action. There’s a bit of a jump to second, but the delightfully smooth and soft power from the low compression side-valve engine takes all that in it’s stride. A couple more lifts of the right foot and I’m loping along effortlessly in top at 60mph. The engine feels delightfully understressed and there’s no need to adjust the ignition advance on the Lucas magneto (using the left-hand twist grip) except
on the steepest of inclines. Progress feels smooth, sophisticated and stately. I feel like I’m the king of the road – Brough Superiors do that to you.
Handling perfectly suits the Brough Superior’s grand tourer image. The long, low chassis (wheelbase is 58in) makes for great stability, but couldn’t be accused of being sporty, and the Monarch forks and ample sprung saddle help isolate the rider from road imperfections. Everything works well and exudes a quality feel.
Everything, that is, except the front brake. A bit of research has led me to conclude that virtually all Broughs with Monarch forks suffer from ‘indifferent’ front brakes, but the seven-inch single-leading-shoe unit on this one is the antithesis of the brick-wall stoppers on the 2018 SS100. Luckily, the rear brake is much better, combining great feel with decent stopping power.
After my ride on Anthony’s SS80, I can start to see what all the fuss is about. The bike feels like more than the sum of its parts – perhaps unsurprisingly, as it’s a collection of what George Brough considered the finest proprietory parts of the day, lovingly blended into what he firmly believed were the best motorcycles of their era. Some may say a Brough Superior is nothing more than a posh ‘bitsa’. Others will fervently believe it’s a sublime fusion of the best engineering of a generation.
Whichever camp you’re in, you’re going to attract a lot of attention on a Brough Superior – but that’s the least you expect from a £60,000-90,000 motorcycle. Whether you think no bike is worth that sort of money or the exclusive allure of Brough ownership makes it a bargain, probably depends as much on your view of ‘engineering as art’ as it does on your personal wealth.
If you can afford a Brough Superior – old or new – you’re buying into something that’s special. Something that is so far from the mainstream that it makes its own rules. Think of a Brough in the same way as you might a painting or a sculpture. Not everyone will like it, not everyone will appreciate it – and certainly, not everyone will be able to afford it. I can’t, but that hasn’t stopped me enjoying a fantastic day out on two very special motorcycles. But if you can and it makes you feel good, why not? The most important thing is to enjoy it.
‘WITH A BROUGH SUPERIOR, OLD OR NEW YOU’RE BUYING INTO SOMETHING SPECIAL’
ABOVE: Smooth, sophisticated progress on the SS80 made our man feel like King Gez
RIGHT: Front brake is not confidenceinspiring. The rear’s better
Matchless side-valve engine was first offered by Brough in late 1935
As you can see from the barrels, this SS80 is in ‘rideable’ rather than ‘museum’ condition
Fuel tank top features beautiful detailing
A 130mph speedo may be a tad optimistic
Punchy engine and sixspeed gearbox makes for rapid progress New SS100’S fuelinjected V-twin is a bespoke unit
New Brough has plenty of front, with double-wishbone forks
Small discs, but there’s four of ’em – and three pads per caliper
Alloy fuel tank is a modern interpretation of a classic trademark
You’ll create a stir riding either one of these beauties