Having already claimed the world record price for a motorcycle at auction – £280,000 for a 1929 Brough Superior SS100 – H&H Classics is now offering another Brough, which many aficionados regard as the most historically significant powered two-wheeler ever to come to market. The machine in question is ‘Old Bill’, the personal 1922 racing SS80 of the company’s founder, George Brough, which will go under the hammer at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford on October 4. It carries an estimate of £250,000-270,000.
This extraordinary motorcycle was originally known as ‘Spit & Polish’ (due to its immaculate appearance) and achieved its first victory at the Brooklands circuit, Weybridge, Surrey, but also put its rider in hospital later the same day, following a burst front tyre. Undeterred, Brough rebuilt the motorcycle with special forks and a prototype JAP engine, renamed it ‘Old Bill’ in memory of Bruce Bairnsfather’s WWI cartoon character, and went on to win no less than 51 sprints in the 1922/1923 seasons. In the 52nd, at Clipstone, Nottinghamshire, it made fastest time of the day; even though the bike and rider crossed the line separately! With Brough once more in hospital, ‘Old Bill’ was converted to road trim and sold to fund the factory’s wages.
During WWII the machine was damaged by a bath falling from above and remained in storage until the late ‘50s, when it was acquired by ‘Titch’ Allen – the founder of the now 16,000-strong Vintage Motor Cycle Club (VMCC) and renowned Brough enthusiast. With the assistance of George Brough and his one-time Works Manager Ike Webb, the bike was restored to its 1923 specification and demonstrated at Clipstone in 1959 with George Brough astride once more (this time without incident), and at Brighton Speed Trials and Brooklands by ‘Titch’ Allen before the motorcycle’s title passed to his son Roger in 1988.
Then Chairman of the VMCC’s racing section and an accomplished historic racer, Roger Allen equipped ‘Old Bill’ with a sidecar so he could enter the occasional sprint with his wife Sue as passenger. He also ran it in solo trim in the 1991 classic Isle of Man TT races – the first time a Brough had ever competed on the island. It was while running a Triumph there the following year that he sadly lost his life, at which point his motorcycle collection, including ‘Old Bill’, passed to his wife. Since then it has been on display at the Nottingham Industrial Museum.