x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rearview mirror: The Brough Superior

George Brough built a motorcycle to surpass the achievements of his father - naming it the Brough Superior - and creating a classic that commands millions at auction.

A motorcycle that can command bids of up to US$3million (Dh11m) at auction is more than just a bike; it is a highly prized piece of motoring history. The Brough Superior, dubbed the "Rolls-Royce of motorcycles" by an early reviewer, was unquestionably the best engineered and most sought-after bike of the interwar period. But that alone would not induce a collector to make such an audacious seven-figure bid.

The Brough has become legendary because of its link with one of the 20th century's most enigmatic figures, the soldier-adventurer Lawrence of Arabia. TE Lawrence, immortalised on celluloid by the inimitable Peter O'Toole, was a hero of the First World War who cut a dashing, romantic figure as he led the allied advance in the East with a reckless lust for peril and an unwavering faith in king and country.

His adventures stood in stark contrast to the dark, dank, deadlocked misery of trench life on the western front. As well as being a first-rate soldier, Lawrence was also a motorcycle enthusiast, and it is ironic that after surviving the scrapes, scraps and skirmishes of war his life came to an end on one of his beloved Broughs, cementing this peerless British machine's place in motorcycle folklore.

George Brough was the son of a motorcycle manufacturer from Nottingham, England. But he didn't seek just to emulate his father; he wanted to surpass his achievements. His ambition was no less than making the best bike in the world. As a statement of this intent, and a less-than-subtle dig at his father, he branded his machines the Brough Superior.

He custom-made more than 3,000 motorcycles between 1919 and 1940, around 1,000 of which are thought to survive today. Annual production never exceeded 250 bikes, a result of the exacting building standards on which Brough insisted.

Although based on standard models, each bike was tailored to specific customer needs and were assembled twice, once for the fitting of components and then again once each piece had been painted or plated.

Early models used half-litre side-valve engines, but these did not prove popular and were replaced with larger 680cc and one-litre power plants. With an engine larger and more powerful than many of its four-wheel contemporaries, the Superior was one of the fastest road-going machines of its era. This was proved in 1922, when a Brough became the first bike to break the 100mph lap barrier at the banked Brooklands racetrack, the glamorous Silverstone of its day.

By the 1930s the Pendine model had a guaranteed top speed of 110mph, which at the time was in the realm of science fiction. The fastest Brough ever made was a Pendine customised by a famous racer named Barry Baragwanath. He fitted a supercharger to the bike and set a lap record at Brooklands, reaching 124mph. This bike was given the amusing monicker "Barry's Big Blown Brough".

This performance and peerless engineering did not come cheap. In the 1920s a standard model cost £180, when the average wage in Britain was £3 per week. Driving one was a pleasure and privilege reserved for celebrities and captains of commerce.

George Bernard Shaw was another Brough devotee; he helped Lawrence purchase one. In total Lawrence ordered eight Broughs, all named in honour of the king, George. But he never rode George VIII, because he was killed on its predecessor.

Production ceased in 1940 when the pressures and economies of war proved a challenge too much even for a man of Brough's talent and dedication. But he remained dedicated to the marque and continued to produce parts and help repair and maintain his models until 1969.

Towards the end of its production run, Brough made a late entry into car manufacturing, producing large, powerful, coach-built saloons similar to a Bentley. With an eight-cylinder, 4.2L engine, it was one of the fastest grand tourers on the road, reaching 0-to-60 mph in 10 seconds.

Despite its pedigree, only 85 cars were produced in a curtailed four-year production run. His car has long since been forgotten, but his bike, thanks largely to its most celebrated owner and his untimely death, has become an icon.