Brough Superior SS80 - Late season 1936 model

Marque Brough Superior
Model SS80
Year 1936 late season model
cc 1000
Engine 4 stroke V-twin side valve
Starting Kick
Gears 4 (foot)
Top speed 80mph

Here is the Brough with the pillion seat attached, which takes about 2 minutes to do.


Road Test - Getting to grips...

Ever since I became aware of Bruffs, I thought it would be nice to own one some day without thinking that I ever would own one. The same goes for a long list of ‘big league’ bikes that include a V-twin NUT, Series A HRD and cammy Chater Lea. They were always beyond my reach and I admired them from a distance starting from the age of about seventeen. Having entered my forties and sold my flat not so long ago, I realised that for the first time in my life that if I was prepared to be financially reckless, that I could have a Bruff.

I spoke to Darren Vickers who although relatively new to Bruffs, is quite an expert and gave me the low down (thanks Darren). I realised that there are few really good Bruffs that come up for sale and a handful of overpriced dogs that a newcomer should avoid. The adverts in the owners club magazine are sparse too, so I needed to read as much as I could and be ready to pounce when the instinct called. The late 30s Matchless powered side valve SS80 models are the cheapest and are also known as the MX80 (OHV Matchless powered SS100 models are also known as the MX100). The SS100 is generally considered to be the ultimate connoisseur’s mount and was ridden most famously by T.E. Lawrence. He often wrote poetically about them in letters to George Brough about how he explored the English countryside and even raced against military aircraft across the Southern English landscape (and beat them too - according to T.E.). To Lawrence, the experience was spiritual and he spent many hours each week riding Bruffs and having Bruff adventures.

With the decision made to enter the world of Bruffs, I found one (or it found me if you like) that seemed to have the right credentials. Bruffs were issued with a ‘works record card’ on completion at the factory in Nottingham and these cards detail the components that were fitted to the accompanying machine. This is especially useful as Bruffs were generally made to customer specification, which means that each one is individual. According to the ‘works record card’, mine is a late 1936 model and was made with a set of Druid forks. The forks have been replaced by the Brough ‘Castle’ forks which would have been a more expensive option. These forks owe their design roots to the Harley Davidson and looking over the machine there are other design points that were inspired from across the pond, probably because when George Brough started to make his own machines the Americans were leading the world in motorcycle design.

The deal was done, and I had to ride the SS80 about 350 miles from Norwich to Exmoor. The weather reports were abysmal and chance was going to play a role in getting me home. Looking around the bike, I realised that probably because these bikes are so prized, they really are looked after with no rounded fasteners or ham fisted fixes. I sat on a Bruff for the first time ever and set off for my overnight stop in London. First impressions were that the handlebars were very narrow and that the wheelbase was very long. The engine ticked over nicely, although the cold rear piston slapped as its cylinder had been overbored to avoid seizure when hot.

The advance lever hardly needs any use and the big soft engine is very comfortable to use. Out on the open road, the Bruff really comes into its own with long legs and a very stable feeling in a straight line regardless of wind buffeting and changing road surfaces. The rear brake is good but the front brake is the only real Achilles heel that I’ve found. It’s too soft and if there’s anything that I can do to improve the machine, then it’s to find a way to get more bite from the front anchor. I held 60mph for most of the way to London and the weather gods were smiling. Cornering is different to what I’m used to. You need to think more about corners in advance and drive the Bruff through without changing the plan half way around. If you’re used to Nortons or other smaller sports bikes, then you need to understand that the Bruff may not be able to help you if you get the corner badly wrong. Also, the footrests have end stops, which can trap the riders boot if the rear brake (the only one that makes a difference) pedal needs to be found in a hurry. This is not a problem once you understand the rules and I really began to enjoy this high speed tourer with its big soft engine and solid feel. This really is a gentleman’s mount. Apart from a little mechanical whine there’s a lovely fat exhaust burble and that fine cantering lollop of a big V-twin.

Somewhere on the A4 in Slough, the gear lever went floppy. The return spring had broken and this meant that I needed to return the lever manually when swapping cogs. The gear lever is very long and requires thigh muscles rather than ankle muscles, but the Norton type dolls head gearbox makes confident changes without any dragging or hesitation. After a six hour ride from London to the far end of Exmoor, I was still very comfortable! How can this be when there’s no rear suspension and a semi sports position on the handlebars? I could have ridden all day.

Summing up, I’m thrilled with Bruff ownership and the grin is wide. Everything works as well as it did in 1936 and I keep getting the urge to go out for another ride. Life can now be divided into Pre and Post Bruff periods and I wonder how I’ve survived all these years without one. It’s a shame that I had to wait all these years to own one, but the best things are worth waiting for and this is a best thing. If the SS100 is the ultimate connoisseur’s mount, then the SS80 must be the ultimate gentleman’s mount.

Post road test comments...

The side stand is really nice to use but if it's not tight then the bike will fall over. I'm really careful about this now as it's been over a couple of times and fortunately the tank wasn't touched. I've been up to about 70mph and it was still pulling hard. The ground clearance is quite restrictive and I've scraped the pegs on several occasions, so cornering is something that I do very carefully. The front brake is really inadequate when riding with a pillion in a mountainous region such as Exmoor. Also, the steering lock is not generous enough for some of the Exmoor hairpins. Imagine coming down a 1 in 4 gradient with a pillion with the brakes fading  and then you hit a tight hairpin! (somehow I stayed on). It's a pleasure out on the open roads and that's where I like to take it. The effortlessness of the quiet engine gives the rider confidence that they'll get to their destination without breaking down.

There is also a road test in Real Classic magazine (February 2005).

Here are the spares...

1. Original petrol tank with tap and knee pads
2. Barrels, heads, pistons, gaskets, tappet covers, valves etc
3. Clutch basket
4. Gear lever
5. Font mudguard
6. Oil filter
7. Tyre pump

You’ll notice that the tappet covers on the spares are different to the ones on the bike. Looking at the factory card (on the web page) you’ll see that it was labelled as a ‘late season 36’ which I guess meant a 1937 type (although no two Broughs are exactly the same). The spare barrels with tappet covers are of the 36 type and the ones on the bike are the 37 type so either is ‘correct’.