Ian Thompson – The Brough Superior 1919-1940
I’ve always liked motorbikes (although I’ve never had one, apart from a Peugeot moped I bought from my Physics teacher for £4.00 when I was 14). When I was a kid it was all about Moto Guzzi and Harley Davidson, but as I’ve got older it’s really vintage British bikes that look the most interesting to me. The Brough Superior was considered to be the Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles for the 21 years they were in production in the inter-war years from 1919 to 1940, when the factory was turned over to produce Rolls-Royce Merlin aero-engines for the war effort. It was made in Brough Superior works on Haydn Road in Nottingham. A total of 3048 of these were made and third of this run still exists, in the hands of museums and collectors. Famously, 8 were bought by T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and in fact he died riding his 7th. The 8th was on order at the time of his death and is now on display in The Imperial war Museum.
Design doesn’t exist in a separate world to its context. There’s no question that the T.E Lawrence story contributes to the caché of this object, but it is now part of what the object ‘is’ and represents – no different to the associations we have with leather jackets, jeans and other cultural icons. It looks British. It’s less showy and styled than its American or continental contemporaries although it was always a premium product. It looks like real Boys-Own stuff and it’s a product of a time when Britain was emerging from one of its darkest hours, only to be plunged back in again. It looks like a bike for proper hard-cases, even though only poshies were able to afford them, even in the 20s. But men raced on these in the days when, if you crashed, you almost certainly didn’t walk away. If a bunch of blokes turned up with old leather hard hats and goggles to take on a load of Hell’s Angels, I know who my money would be on.
I’m certainly neither man enough or rich enough to ride one of these, but we can all dream.
Thanks to the originator of the photo, whoever they are. Unfortunately, I can’t find out who it is, but it has appeared on a great many blogs.