The world-renowned ‘Old Bill’, which has featured in every book ever written about the incomparable Brough marque, ticks all the above boxes and just about every other one too. It has been consigned by H&H for auction as part of the Roger Allen Collection at the company’s Duxford sale on October 4. However, it can be viewed as early as April 28/29 at the International Classic Motorcycle Show, Stafford. It carries an estimate of £250,000-270,000.
The motorcycle originally known as ‘Spit & Polish’ (due to its immaculate appearance) was manufactured in 1922 by the Brough Superior factory for the personal use of its charismatic founder George Brough. Powered by a 1000cc side-valve, V-twin engine, it made its debut at Brooklands, giving Brough his first win and becoming the first side-valve machine to lap the historic Surrey track at over 100mph. It also put its rider in hospital later the same day, following a burst front tyre.
Having convinced his family that sprinting and hillclimbing were safer pursuits than circuit racing, Brough rebuilt the motorcycle with special forks and a prototype JAP engine, and renamed it ‘Old Bill’ in memory of Bruce Bairnsfather’s WWI cartoon character. With George in the saddle, it went on to win no less than 51 sprints in the 1922/1923 seasons. And in the 52nd, at Clipstone, Nottinghamshire, it made fastest time of the day; even though 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 cast iron bath falling through ceiling above. It then remained in storage until the late ‘50s, when it was acquired by ‘Titch’ Allen – the founder of the now 16,000-strong Vintage Motorcycle Club (VMCC) and renowned Brough enthusiast. With the assistance of George Brough and his one time Works Manager Ike Webb, the bike was duly restored to its 1923 specification. It was demonstrated at Clipstone in 1959 with George Brough astride (this time without incident) and at Brighton Speed Trials and Brooklands by ‘Titch’ Allen before 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.
Said George Beale, Principal of H&H’s motorcycle department: “If I could bring any motorcycle in the world to auction, it would probably be this one – the combination of significance and provenance is simply unrivalled in my view. Clearly, the value has been difficult to estimate but, based on our success with the SS100 in 2010, there is no telling what it could make on the day. It is an absolute privilege to be handling the sale of such an automotive icon and we very much look forward to being able to show it to the world’s serious collectors from the Stafford show onwards.”