Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The headline could simply read, 'The World's Most Expensive Production Motorcycle', as indeed it seems Brough Superior holds that distinction, then as now.  And, while the term 'production' may be stretched a bit by actual numbers in the metal to date (three!), I'll take Mark Upham, president of Brough Superior Motorcycles, at his word that he fully intends to build his 'SS101' models on a regular basis in the foreseeable future, or at least as long as there is demand at the very top of the pyramid.

The latest Brough is a full-on replica of T.E. Lawrence's 1926 mount, 'George IV', so named after George Brough himself (with a nod to several Kings George of course), the middle number of Lawrence's 8 Broughs, and perhaps his best known, as it forms the central character of his most famous essay from 'The Mint' ('The Road' - which can be read in full here), an account his ride on 'George IV' across the English countryside, and his encounter/race with an RAF Bristol biplane.

As the factory build sheet still exist for this machine, and several photographs document Lawrence astride the actual bike, it was a fairly straightforward exercise to build a replica...excepting of course that every part of an SS100 as it came from BS was a one-off, and thus there were no patterns for the 'extras' which TEL specified, and they all had to be scaled up from photographs, with invisible details such as luggage latches, his service cane, etc, all requiring investigation for period authenticity.  Such is the obsession of Brough collectors (including Mr. Upham himself) with Lawrence of Arabia, and historical accuracy.

The 'Lawrence Replica' d├ębuted at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance last month, at the Brough Superior stand within the RetroAuto tent, which was actually open from Thursday thru Sunday, and was accessible at no charge (barring the $10 fee for vehicle access to 17-Mile Drive, motorcycle or car).  As last year, a very handsome display was assembled by US Brough importer Bryan Bossier (of Sinless Cycles), which included 3 (of 5 completed) 'new' Broughs, along with two of Bryan's personal machines.

As an added attraction, BS teamed up with legendary/notorious sculptor Jeff Decker, who happened to be mid-carve on a portrait of TE Lawrence on that very machine!  A perfect moment to share space with Decker's Hippodrome Studios, and a fascinating live demonstration of his prodigious skills as a manipulator of clay and wax.  I'm sure for Jeff the sculpture provided a welcome distraction from the stream of visitors wanting a meet n' greet, but for anyone interested in his process, it was a rare opportunity to see his masterful technique...Jeff has an embarrassment of talent, and an irreverent sense of humor which does well to balance viewer intimidation while demonstrating his skills.  (I'll give a full post to Mr. Decker shortly).

The TE Lawrence Rep (the metal one) is, as with the previous two 'SS101' models, simply a magnificent creation, and very likely a better machine than the original - certainly with its improved technical specification this is so.  As those who actually saw a new 1926 SS100 are scarce or dead, I'll have to leave a comparison of 'fit and finish' as a hanging question mark, but the new machine is nearly flawless in execution.  There are no cut corners, no easy modern replacements for items which needed to be replicated, however small, to make the 'SS101' appear as a 1926 motorcycle.  It was king of the road in the 1920s, the fastest road motorcycle you could buy, and for most of the next 14 years, the fastest motorcycle in the world, period. That's quite a pedigree.

Alas, I didn't get a ride on the TEL Rep; I'm hoping that might come about in October, back in Austria. Stay tuned.