Not all show-stoppers are polished concours champs. Richard Morris took the top prize at last year's 2006 Popham Megameet with his workaday Brough Superior sidevalve V-Twin...
Richard Morris' Brough Superior was one of 32 SS80s which were built in 1935, and among the first to be fitted with the Matchless V-twin engine (earlier bikes used the JAP sidevalve motor). The model had been first mooted in 1920, not long after George Brough left his father's firm and set up his Brough Superior concern.
In his time, George Brough was a major innovator in the field of motorcycle engineering, developing the first sidestand, the first 'ride off' centre stand, twin headlamps, crash bars, balanced and interconnected silencers, and more. The SS80's model designation reflected Brough's brilliance at marketing - it was guaranteed to reach 80mph in roadgoing trim.
The SS80 was a magnificent motorcycle, finished to a standard that was far beyond the resources of most riders of the time (and today!). Its curving, shining saddle-type petrol tank caught the eye and became a key feature of the Brough Superior models which followed.
The SS80 attracted more attention when George Brough used a version of it to tackle the Brooklands circuit. One his first attempt, Brough's SS80, nicknamed 'Spit and Polish', became the first sidevalver to lap the track at over 100mph. The same bike then went on to win a stunning 51 out of 52 races, and the only time it failed to win was down to a punctured tyre!
The SS80 of the mid-1920s used a 988cc sidevalve JAP engine which carried it to the magic 80mph, and it could indeed sustain that speed effortlessly and almost indefinitely. The overhead valve SS100 became the star of the show after its introduction at the end of 1924, but the SS80 sold steadily nonetheless. In 1935 the SS80 was fitted with the 982cc Matchless V-twin engine, which was similar to the one fitted to AMC's own Model X (although Brough preferred a different big end arrangement).
The SS80 used the Matchless motor until production ended in 1939. In total, some 460 Matchless-engined SS80s were built, and it's believed that 300 or more still survive today. That's a good survival rate - in the full 21 years of Brough Superior production, the firm built 3050 or so motorcycles across the model range, and of that 3050, just one-third are believed to be intact today.
When Richard bought his SS80 in early 2006 it was in running condition but 'in need of various minor mechanical adjustments.' Richard hasn't restored it in any way, and reckons that if any previous owner has reconditioned the Bruf then 'they could and should have made a better job of it!' The previous owner did convert the SS80 to run on 12v electrics and fitted a screw-on oil filter.
Like any septuagenarian, the SS80 has its good and its bad days, which Richard reckons 'is half the fun of it! You never know quite what will happen and no two days rare the same. It does tend to rattle - but I hear they all do that - and I don't want to change it much because I just want to ride it, not tamper with it. It's very comfortable and it looks like a bike should and I have to admit that when I look down at the speedo and headlight it feels like riding back in time. It's just begging to clock up some serious miles…'
One of Richard's rides last summer was to the Popham Megameet, an annual get-together of classic motorcycles at Popham Airfield near Winchester. Like hundreds of other classic bike riders, he turned up on the day without any particular expectations. However, Richard's bike was chosen by the judges to be the Bike of the Show, and he went home with a handsome award to remember the day by.
'Although every time I ride the Brough it turns the day into a special occasion, winning the prize at Popham was a total surprise and really made my day.'
Classic and British bikes like this one appear every month in the pages of RealClassic magazine. Our in-depth articles by expert and enthusiast authors reflect the old bikes we buy and ride in the real world: frequently fabulous; occasionally awful, but always interesting…